May 29, 1998

Basic science career options explored at symposium

Basic science career options explored at symposium

The recent Biological and Biomedical Sciences Career Opportunities Symposium drew a packed crowd of pre- and post-doctoral students interested in exploring career options in the basic sciences.

The event was sponsored by the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program for Biomedical Sciences and supported by all of the major medical center training grants, and the medical center.

The program was organized by Larry L. Swift, Ph.D., professor of Pathology; Jeanette J. Norden, Ph.D., associate professor of Cell Biology; and Roger Chalkley, D. Phil, director of the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program.

"This is the first time we have done anything like this at the medical center, reaching out to graduate students and post-doctoral fellows in all departments. All the feedback from the students has been incredibly positive," said Jeanette Norden, Ph.D., associate professor of Cell Biology.

The Biological and Biomedical Sciences Career Opportunities Symposium was held in Light Hall and was created to shed light on some of the career options open to those who study the basic sciences, and judging to the turnout, the event was a success.

The symposium began with a presentation by John Perkins, Ph.D., dean of University of Texas Southwestern's Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, called "Are There Too Many Ph.D.s."

Perkins discussed employment opportunities for people with Ph.D.s and whether there are enough jobs to sustain the number of Ph.D.s produced every year. Perkins also indicated that the unemployment rate for Ph.D.s is below 2 percent

"The only people hurt by competition between Ph.D.s for jobs are least well-prepared. Everyone else, including industry and society, benefits from competition," said Perkins.

Three sessions followed that included presentations from forum members and a question-and-answer period.

The first session focused on teaching, writing, and technology transfer. Panel members included: Nancy Wall Ph.D., assistant professor of Biology at Lawrence University, who spoke of teaching at a liberal arts college; Cecilia Hofmann, Ph.D., president of C. Hofmann and Associates, who spoke about science writing for the pharmaceutical industry; and Larry Steranka, Ph.D., director of VU's office of Technology Transfer, who spoke about the process of technology transfer at a large university.

The second session focused on research and administration. Panel members for this session included Todd Verdorn, Ph.D., associate director of Neuroscience Drug Discovery at Bristol-Myers Squibb, who gave a presentation about working in drug development at a pharmaceutical company; Glenn Friedrich, group leader of biological analysis at Lexicon, who gave a talk about the benefits and risks of working for a small start-up gene company; and Linda Distlerath, Ph.D., executive director of public policy at Merck and Co., who discussed working in public policy for a large pharmaceutical company.

Later in the day, Dr. Mark Boguski, director of the National Center for Biotechnology Information at the NIH, gave a presentation describing opportunities in the field of computational biology.

The third session focused on working in academia, the NIH and other foundations. Kenneth Olden, Ph.D., director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Services for the NIH, gave a talk that examined the different responsibilities and backgrounds of people who work in the NIH. Dr. Raymond N. Dubois Jr., Mina Cobb professor of Gastroenterology and Cancer Prevention, gave a talk about the difficulty in obtaining and the sacrifices necessary to maintain a career in academia.

The symposium closed with a talk by Jules Lapidus, Ph.D., president of the national Council of Graduate Schools, who ended the day with his talk entitled, "The Value of the Training of a Ph.D."

"It used to be that when someone got a Ph.D. they would look for work first in the academic world then in government, business, and other opportunities," said Lapidus.

"Now the focus has moved to other opportunities and industries. Today, more then 50 percent of Ph.D.s do not go into academic positions," said Lapidus.