August 18, 2006

Back to School ’06: Graduate students attracted by strong, diverse programs

Featured Image

At Saturday’s welcome orientation for incoming graduate students were, from left, Rachel Ostroff, Mary Conniff and Klarissa Hardy.
Photo by Susan Urmy

Back to School '06: Graduate students attracted by strong, diverse programs

From left, graduate students Louise Li, Kefeng Sun, Luping Lin and Kavitha Surendhram talk at the orientation.
Photo by Susan Urmy

From left, graduate students Louise Li, Kefeng Sun, Luping Lin and Kavitha Surendhram talk at the orientation.
Photo by Susan Urmy

Vanderbilt University's reputation, the flexibility and range of choices in the medical school's graduate programs, and a supportive and friendly “feel” helped attract the newest graduate students to campus.

The 79 entering students were selected from a group of applicants that was “really outstanding — better grades, better test scores, from better schools, with more research experience than ever before,” said James Patton, Ph.D., director of the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program (IGP), one of the options for graduate students interested in biological and biomedical research. “The start of every graduate class is exciting because of the enthusiasm new students bring to campus.”

That enthusiasm was palpable at the group's first orientation event — a meet and greet in a nearby park.

“I'm very excited to be here,” said Klarissa Hardy, a graduate of Jackson State University. Like some of her fellow students, Hardy participated in Vanderbilt's Summer Science Academy, a program that offers biomedical research opportunities to undergraduates.

“The thing that really impressed me about Vanderbilt was that the faculty and students all seemed so happy,” she said.

Other new students echoed that sentiment.

“Before my interview visit, I e-mailed seven professors, and all of them responded within one day,” said Rachel Ostroff, a graduate of the University of Massachusetts. “During my visit, everyone I met seemed happy to be here.”

Ostroff has spent the last four years in Hawaii, studying papaya genetics at an agriculture/biotechnology non-profit research organization with ties to the University of Hawaii.

She noted that Vanderbilt appears to be very supportive of its graduate students.

“The program has features that go that extra mile and demonstrate that the school cares about us,” she said.

A new feature of the graduate program this year is IMPACT (Intensive Mentoring Program for Advancement and Career Training). IMPACT will split the large group of IGP students into small groups of eight, each with a faculty mentor. The IMPACT groups will meet weekly for discussions that include how to choose labs, balance time between laboratory research and coursework, read the literature and make presentations.

“We're trying to give a small department feel to a large interdisciplinary program,” said Roger Chalkley, D.Phil., senior associate dean for Biomedical Research Education and Training.

He's optimistic that the small group sessions will ease the students' transition to graduate school.

“We're adding another mechanism for the students to interact with faculty,” Chalkley said. “It is an opportunity for the students in each small group to work together on issues of professional development.”

The IGP welcomed 69 new students, and the Chemical and Physical Biology (CPB) Program enrolled 10 new students. The 79 students graduated from 61 colleges and universities. The group is 51 percent female.

The IGP, now in its 15th year, recruits and educates graduate students who are interested in biological and biomedical research.

The CPB program was launched in 2001 for students with a quantitative sciences background who wish to pursue research in areas that span the boundaries of the chemical, physical, and biological sciences.

Both programs organize the training — coursework and laboratory rotations — of students during their first year at Vanderbilt. At the end of the first year, students choose mentors and home departments or programs where they complete their coursework and doctoral dissertation research.

IGP mentors include faculty members in the seven basic science departments of the Medical Center, the Neuroscience graduate program, the program in Human Genetics, and the Department of Biological Sciences in the College of Arts and Science.

The CPB program includes a subset of IGP faculty interested in structural and chemical biology as well as members of the departments of Chemistry, Mathematics and Physics.