April 23, 2004

Master’s degree in laboratory science now offered

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Brent Anderson, a laboratory technician in the Laboratory of Gene Discovery, will be one of the students seeking a master’s degree in laboratory science. Photo by Dana Johnson

Master’s degree in laboratory science now offered

As any principal investigator will tell you, a highly-skilled laboratory assistant is a researcher’s best friend.

Through a new master’s degree program in Laboratory Science, the Vanderbilt School of Medicine is making it easier for lab assistants to enhance their skills and become a more integral part of their lab’s research.

The program also adds incentive for lab assistants to remain at Vanderbilt.

“This degree was created because of our research emphasis and the strong need for highly-trained support personnel in our labs,” said Roger D. Chalkley, D.Phil., senior associate dean for Biomedical Research, Education and Training. “We also wanted to make the career of the tech support staff more rewarding, allowing them career development opportunities.”

Chalkley said the Master of Laboratory Science degree program will help lab assistants better understand the science behind their research, and will provide training in new technologies and lab management. Most of the courses offered will be through the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program.

“We want to develop the careers of some of our best research support staff. We hope to develop cadres of people who could really support our senior investigators,” Chalkley said.

The program is available to interested support personnel who have been chosen by the chiefs of their laboratories, or through special arrangements made between laboratories and interested technicians.

The lab assistants will continue to work in their labs as they earn their advanced degrees over the course of three years. The program will offer evening and weekend classes to create a flexible course schedule.

“They’ll take six credit hours a semester, making it doable for someone working full time,” Chalkley said. “Besides night and weekend classes, if the students need to take any daytime classes, they can work out a contract with their PI saying they’ll make adjustments in their work schedule to make up the time.”

The flexibility of the program made it a great fit for Brent Anderson, a laboratory technician in the Laboratory of Gene Discovery who has enrolled for the fall.

“I’m married with a 2-year-old daughter, so I have a lot of responsibilities at home. That’s why this program is perfect for me,” Anderson said. “With a mortgage and bills to pay, I wouldn’t be able to quit working to earn an advanced degree. Through this program, I’ll be able to continue my research while getting a graduate degree.”

The program’s coursework is also accommodating, allowing students to emphasize research or high technology learning, while taking the standard didactic course credits.

“Depending on the student and the mentor, the path is flexible, allowing for them to choose a path that will be of the greatest benefit to their career. It’s a very open program,” said Ann Richmond, Ph.D., professor of Cancer Biology and director of the new program.

The tuition is also reduced, with the help of the University’s desire to invest in laboratory support staff and a grant from the U.S. government. Each credit hour costs $870 and a 12-credit year would add up to $10,440. However, students will pay only $750 per year, and their lab’s principal investigator will pay $750 per year.

“We’re also planning to pay back one year of the research assistant’s tuition cost for each year they stay with Vanderbilt after earning their degree,” Chalkley said.

“A lot of these employees had to forgo going on to graduate school for some reason — be it family or other personal reasons. They’re excited to go back without the financial sacrifice,” Richmond said. “All in all, this is a great option for professional growth for our support staff, and our labs and our ongoing research at VUMC will benefit from highly-skilled research assistants.”