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Biomedical sciences journey starts from Simple Beginnings

Sep. 6, 2018, 8:56 AM

Victoria Stephens, center, and her younger brother, Chandler Stephens, celebrate the beginning of her graduate school training with Lawrence Marnett, PhD, and Kathy Gould, PhD. (photo by Anne Rayner)

by Bill Snyder

Vanderbilt University School of Medicine welcomed 112 new doctoral students on Aug. 31 during the ninth annual Simple Beginnings ceremony in a Light Hall lecture room filled with family members and other well-wishers.

“Every one of them will take a different path,” said Lawrence Marnett, PhD, dean of Basic Sciences for VUSM, in his opening remarks. “They’ll take different courses, they’ll work in different laboratories … and most exciting, they’ll make different discoveries.

“Those discoveries will help us understand how the human body works and how it goes wrong in disease,” Marnett said.

Kathy Gould, PhD, associate dean for Biomedical Sciences and director of Graduate Student Support, explained that the ceremony’s title comes from the last paragraph of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species: “From so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”

“From so simple a beginning as graduate school,” she added, “we cannot yet imagine the breadth of discoveries that will result from the research you will conduct or the impact you, as trained scientists, will have on our world.”

Hassane Mchaourab, PhD, right, helps incoming graduate student Joseph Cleland put on his personalized lab coat during last week’s Simple Beginnings ceremony. (photo by Anne Rayner)

Last month Gould, the Louise B. McGavock Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology, received the Earl Sutherland Prize for Achievement in Research, Vanderbilt University’s most prestigious scientific honor given to faculty members.

After the first two years of preparatory course work, she told the students “that (the) falling away of structure should begin to feel incredibly liberating. Your future is now really in your hands, and the time you spend in graduate school should be about the most fun you ever have.”

Nevertheless, students may feel overwhelmed at times, and internal motivation and confidence may lag. Faculty members, postdoctoral fellows and other supportive programs “are here precisely to help you through, over and around whatever rough spots may come up during your training,” she added.

Marnett, who holds the Mary Geddes Stahlman Chair in Cancer Research, told family members that their students will need their support and encouragement. “But they won’t be alone,” he added, “because Vanderbilt has a wonderful, supportive and very respectful environment in the training of graduate students.”

This year’s students come from eight countries including the United States, 32 states and two U.S. territories: Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Island. The largest group, 57 students, entered graduate school through the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program (IGP).

Roger Chalkley, DPhil, speaks to incoming biomedical sciences graduate students at last week’s ceremony. (photo by Anne Rayner)

Other biomedical programs and departments welcoming doctoral students were Biological Sciences (10), Biomedical Informatics (1), Biostatistics (4), Chemical and Physical Biology (2), Epidemiology (7), Hearing and Speech Sciences (3), Neuroscience (6), Quantitative and Chemical Biology (14) and the Vanderbilt School of Nursing PhD Program (8).

With Roger Chalkley, DPhil, senior associate dean for Biomedical Research Education and Training (BRET), Gould, Marnett and representatives of the graduate programs presented each student with a personalized white lab coat, a classic symbol of scientific training.

Faculty, staff, alumni and family donations provided support for the ceremony and lab coat gifts. The BRET office organized the event.

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