Program Spotlight: Biomedical Sciences, UT Southwestern

With a seasoned group of world-renowned faculty, diverse professional development opportunities for students, and robust research facilities, UT Southwestern has one of the most prestigious biomedical sciences programs in the nation.

Learn more about Ph.D. programs available in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at UT Southwestern from Assistant Dean Lisa Gardner, Ph.D.

GSM: What are some of your main objectives in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences?

As an Assistant Dean, my main role is overseeing and directing domestic applicant recruitment, review, and admission to the Division of Basic Science, which is the umbrella program for 10 biomedical Ph.D. programs. Being an academic medical center makes it challenging for us to recruit undergraduates. Very few undergraduates have ever heard of UT Southwestern, and so one of my main objectives is always to increase our exposure to top notch science majors across the country and introduce them to the caliber of research and education we have here across all biomedical disciplines. The bottom line for me is to always bring the best and brightest students to UT Southwestern.

GSM: About 5 years ago, UT Southwestern revamped their website presence as a university, and recruiting for the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences starting moving heavily in a digital direction. How has technology affected how you and your team recruit?

We made a conscious decision to significantly decrease our nationwide travel to undergraduate institutions as technology advanced. The new website in 2011 enabled us to use more photographs and videos to capture the personality of UTSW online. We are fortunate to have a marketing department with web service experts who understand the strength of the research enterprise here, and in the past two years, they built and launched an entire website that houses pages for each lab on campus. From this page, a prospective student can search by term or by faculty member to find labs of interest.

GSM: How useful is Gradschoolmatch to you and your programs as a recruiting tool?

The majority of interactions I have had with students on Gradschoolmatch have been very promising. The dialogues are comparable to or better than any conversations I have had in person with students on their home campuses when I traveled extensively. With the ability to reach many more campuses and highly qualified students from my office, I can be much more effective at a fraction of the cost.

I particularly love when a student uses the “What makes me unique” section to highlight his or her research experience. Research experience is one of the biggest factors in our admissions decisions, and being able to identify the candidates with really strong basic science research experience saves me time up front that I can use to have more meaningful conversations with those students during the application process. Additionally, I can continue to help the students by email as they decide where to apply and complete the applications.

biomedical sciences
The newest class in the Division of Basic Science at UT Southwestern began classes on August 24th.

GSM: What do professional development opportunities look like for students?

We introduce scientific writing during the first semester as part of the course in Responsible Conduct of Research, where they also learn about other modes of science communication and technology transfer. As part of their regular program requirements, faculty train students in critical reading of scientific papers and critical thinking during journal clubs and lab meetings, and provide guidance in oral presentation skills at works-in-progress seminars.

Our newly created Office of Graduate Career Development provides programs and seminars, internships, and resources that help students develop skills and gain experience needed to become successful scientific citizens of the world. Some of the seminars and workshops we offer include advice on creating resumes and CVs, job search strategies for biomedical scientists, interview preparation, interpersonal communication, project management, and negotiation strategies.

Additionally, graduate students have the opportunity for teaching partnerships with the Honors College at the University of Texas at Dallas and part-time internships at the UT Southwestern Office of Technology Development. The office also maintains strong links with BioNorthTX, a regional nonprofit life science trade association in bioscience research.

GSM: What are some typical career paths for graduates that aren’t just academia related?

The majority of our students complete postdoctoral lab training. Following their time as postdocs, our graduates have found success in many different fields, including biopharmaceutical industry research and business, science media and communication, consulting, tech transfer/intellectual property/patent law, science non-profit organizations, and science foundations. We have a number of student-organizations focused on careers, including a Consulting Club and a Science Policy, Education and Communication Club.

biomedical sciences
A glass enclosed corridor connects buildings on campus to facilitate communication and collaboration between basic science and clinical researchers as well as across different scientific disciplines.

GSM: The Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at UT Southwestern is considered an umbrella program. Walk us through the application process for students, and how they can select their academic path once accepted.

Our umbrella program is called the Division of Basic Science (DBS). The best way to start the process is to visit our website and have a idea of the top three programs of interest. On the website, there are degree plans and course descriptions, as well as student profiles for each program.

The online instructions and application for the DBS can be found on the Admissions page, by following the “Ph.D. in the Basic Sciences” link. Each applicant completes one common application for all 10 Ph.D. programs in the DBS. Within the online application, the student must check between 1 and 3 programs they feel they would be most likely to join if accepted. This allows us to set up the best interview and visit to UTSW if the applicant is chosen for an interview. Our interview weekend introduces applicants to the institution in terms of meeting the program chairs, seeing the core facilities available, and talking with faculty and students in programs of interest.

When a student begins on campus as a full time graduate student, they are part of an “umbrella” class of approximately 60 students. Some students enter umbrella programs with a clear focus on what they want to research, and others enter with a broad range of interests. The majority of the class will take one eight-week core course covering the foundation of knowledge needed for the biomedical sciences. In those same eight weeks, to help them isolate their particular interests, they attend a graduate program fair and poster session that includes all ten programs, talk with faculty members, and rotate in labs of interest. Official declaration of their Ph.D. program is required by the end of the first year, typically while finishing up all of the required courses.

biomedical sciences
The Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at UT Southwestern is centralized in the newest research building pictured here.

GSM: What makes UT Southwestern such a prestigious research institution, and what types of research opportunities are available to students in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences?

UT Southwestern has a number of distinguished faculty. We rank second in the world, among stand-alone medical institutions, in number of Nobel Laureates with six faculty members and one alumnus. Twenty-two faculty members have been inducted into the National Academy of Sciences and seventeen members into the National Academy of Medicine. Our faculty includes sixteen members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and thirteen Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigators.But what makes it truly amazing is the overwhelmingly supportive attitude of every faculty member. Whether they happen to be a Nobel Laureate, a department chair, or an assistant professor, their door is always open.

In terms of research opportunities, our 10 Ph.D. programs are:
  • Biological Chemistry
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Cancer Biology
  • Cell and Molecular Biology
  • Genetics, Development, and Disease
  • Immunology
  • Integrative Biology
  • Molecular Biophysics
  • Molecular Microbiology
  • Neuroscience
With 10 interdepartmental graduate programs and more than 250 labs/mentors to choose from, there are no boundaries that limit the type of research a student can pursue. Our umbrella program teaches all students the basic foundational knowledge and skill to follow their project and its science wherever it leads.

To learn more about UT Southwestern and the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, visit us at Gradschoolmatch.com.


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How Valuable is Work Experience Before Grad School?

As we showed in a recent article, only 16% of graduate students immediately continue their education by enrolling in an advanced degree program straight out of their baccalaueate. Why do recent graduates shy away from a graduate education and go to work right out of school?

Many recent bachelor’s earners simply need a breather after four years of undergraduate work. Others are unsure of what path they want to take in graduate school, and aren’t willing to front the costs until more certain. A great reason for recent undergrads to delay an advanced degree is the desire to gain work experience due to the many personal and financial benefits that often result.

While work experience is not always required to apply to or succeed in postgraduate education, prospective students often underestimate how important it is when competing for increasingly more coveted seats in graduate school.

 

Why Does Work Experience Before Grad School Matter?

While not all master’s programs require work experience in order to be considered, it often gives candidates applying to competitive programs a serious edge.

For example, if you plan on getting your MBA, you can bank on needing work experience prior to applying. While most full-time programs prefer candidates to come in with 1-2 years of experience, students entering top-tier business schools have on average at least 3 years of work experience. At the Wharton School of Business, whose MBA program is ranked 3rd in the nation, students enter the program with a whopping 5-6 years of prior work experience.

In MBA programs, as well as many other master’s and Ph.D. programs, work experience is a differentiating factor in the admissions process. Program admissions directors use work experiences as a way to measure an applicant’s motivation for the field of study, and ensure they aren’t someone just experimenting with an idea that seems interesting.

Savvy applicants understand that program recruiters are looking for highly qualified candidates with work experience that sets them apart from the pack. Relevant work experience is also valuable to graduate programs because it adds depth and enriches the learning environment; if you don’t have any, you’re at a disadvantage because you are competing with peers who are more attractive in the admissions race.

Take it from Robert Farrington, a renowned expert on personal finance and college. His advice?

“Getting an MBA [is about] combining the degree with work experience. That’s what makes it extremely valuable. When I went to grad school, I was the youngest in my class. While this was amazing from a networking and learning perspective, I couldn’t contribute as much as others.”

 

Make It Count- Personal and Financial Benefits to Working Before Graduate School

It’s no secret that graduate school can be expensive. For an average 1-2 year master’s program, you’re looking to get set back between $30-40k.

Additionally, time in grad school is opportunity cost to earn a salary. In order to be able to more comfortably pay for a graduate education when the time is right, consider working for a few years to financially support yourself when you won’t have a steady income as a student.

After working and gaining experience,  you’ll also be in a better position to compete for scholarships when you do apply for graduate programs.

Don’t forget- many employers will pay for a master’s degree after a certain amount of time spent with the company, especially if more schooling beefs up a skillset that will make you a better asset to the company. While you might be itching to stay in school and get your master’s, consider how great it would be to have it completely paid for by your employer just a few years down the road.

 

The Bottom Line of Gaining Work Experience Before Grad School

While you might not take your dream job directly following undergrad, working for a few years, being accepted to a stronger graduate program, and excelling in your graduate education can lead to more lucrative job opportunities down the road.

Remember, those who possess a master’s degree are likely to earn much more income in their lifetime than their bachelor’s degree counterparts…and those with doctorates even more. Think about what you can do with a bit of work experience and admission into a top-tier graduate program because of it!


Like this article? Sign up for Gradschoolmatch blog updates, and visit us at Gradschoolmatch.com to start matching with graduate programs for free.

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Gradschoolmatch Survey

In order to better serve and understand both prospective graduate students and graduate program administrators on our site, Gradschoolmatch is conducting a survey of current graduate students.

Michelle Giddens, an intern serving as our newest member of the Gradschoolmatch team and a current 5th year Neuroscience Ph.D. student at Emory University, has been working hard to develop and implement this survey.

Michelle got involved with Gradschoolmatch because of her passion for helping prospective graduate students in their program search.

As a double major in biology and psychology, Michelle decided to pursue her interest in research and the brain through a cognitive psychology graduate program.  As a student in her Senior year of college, Michelle was overwhelmed and confused by the process of finding and applying to graduate school. During the interview process, Michelle spent a lot of time of talking to students and faculty about their daily activities and the nature of their work and she realized that her interests were much more aligned with a biological approach to studying the brain. With this revelation, Michelle decided to turn down her offers from the cognitive psychology programs and instead build her resume with work in the field of neuroscience while she prepared to apply to neuroscience graduate programs. Michelle used what she learned from her previous application experience to seek out the right schools, ultimately deciding on Emory University for her Ph.D. program.

Read some of Michelle’s tips from what she learned during the application process, as well as more about the Gradschoolmatch survey and the benefits it will provide for our users.

 

How did you get involved with Gradschoolmatch?

I met TJ Murphy, one of the co-founders of Gradschoolmatch, through the department of Pharmacology at Emory. I contacted TJ about Gradschoolmatch because I have so much advice that I would give my prospective graduate student self. I want to make sure that prospective graduate students can learn from the collective experience that current graduate students have, so they too can look back and be happy with the program they chose.

 

What is the most valuable lesson you learned from the grad school application process?

To be open minded to a lot of different possibilities. A coworker had recommended Emory to me when I was looking for neuroscience programs. I had never heard of Emory and was not too keen on moving to the south. However, the application was free and the breadth of faculty was unmatched so I applied. Thankfully I fell into the right program because I took a few risks, and I have been quite happy in both my program and Atlanta since!

 

What is some advice you would give to prospective graduate students?

Contact students and faculty! Had I interacted with actual cognitive psychology students/faculty before applying to graduate school, I would have realized that my interests were more aligned with Neuroscience. Though I learned a lot from my experience working as a technician in a neuroscience lab, I might have saved myself a few years in deciding what I wanted to do if I had more interaction with students and faculty.

 

Describe your main goals for the Gradschoolmatch survey.

This survey is a tool that will help Gradschoolmatch figure out what prospective graduate students need to be successful in their program search. I can tell you my story and maybe gather up the experience of my friends, but whatwe really need is an accurate perspective into the thought process of all graduate students. We want to know if the majority of students had trouble choosing their program. We want to know how many people ended up in a program that is a good fit and how many look back and realize that they would do things differently if they could. What we really want to know is what can be done to help students find their best graduate school match?

If we can get answers to these questions from the students themselves, Gradschoolmatch can help to make the graduate program search less confusing, and hopefully result in much happier and more successful students.

Look out for a blog post later this summer detailing some of the results from our survey, as well as how we are continuing to improve the graduate program search for both students and administrators here at Gradschoolmatch.com.

Like this article? Sign up for Gradschoolmatch blog updates, and visit us at Gradschoolmatch.com to start matching with graduate programs for free.


 

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