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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Thinking About a Research PhD? Here’s Some Grad School Advice

Here’s some really good grad school advice from Slate’s Quora Contributor.

I could quibble with some of what’s said, but overall it has some very good insights that anybody considering the research doctorate path should heed.

Since the point of Gradschoolmatch is to help prospects focus on fit, that often means think more about the best programs for your interests, not necessarily about the ‘best school’. The following bit of insight from the article is particularly appropriate to highlight:

Choosing your institution is your least important choice.
Is a Ph.D. from Harvard any different than one from Fresno Tech? No—you are both called doctor. What matters is who you did your work under, not the name on your degree. Yes, the institution carries prestige, but it is your adviser’s connections and reputation in the community that matter the most. Additionally, you need to think about lifestyle a little bit. The stipends are pretty close to parity without regard to institution. This means your stipend is the same in Boston as it is in Bloomington, Indiana. Different parts of the country are more expensive than others—take this into consideration. Generally, save the big name-brand institutions for your postdoc. It looks better on your CV to show continued improvement in brand than it does to get you degree from a big name-brand and postdoc at a second- or third-tier institution.

A bit of advice for those of you at big-name institutions: You are good, you are working with some of the best in the field, and you should be proud of that. However, at every second-tier and third-tier university, there is someone there who is as good or better and smarter than you are. The first truly scary genius I ever met did not come from Harvard, Stanford, or MIT. She came from a third-tier school in North Dakota.

 

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