Job Preparation and Placement Part II:
The School of Pharmacy
For my second blog, I wanted to look more closely at a success story at KU with the hope of gaining insights about practices that I could use in my own work with graduate students and share with others. I met with two faculty members from the School of Pharmacy to learn more about what they do to prepare their graduate students for careers in pharmaceutical sciences. I did not previously know much about the School of Pharmacy, and I learned a lot from this experience. Founded in 1885, the School of Pharmacy was KU’s first professional program and the third public school of pharmacy established in the US. One of its unusual features is that unlike typical pharmacy programs, which are a division of a medical school, KU’s School of Pharmacy is independent and is located on the main campus instead of at the medical school in Kansas City. The School of Pharmacy has four graduate programs: medicinal chemistry, pharmacology & toxicology, pharmaceutical chemistry, and pharmacy practice. At KU, you hear a lot about the School of Pharmacy’s success—the program is consistently ranked as one of the top programs in the country and one of the top recipients of NIH research funding (top five every year since 2001), and it is one of the highest-ranked graduate programs at KU. The school has had tremendous success placing its graduates in industry.
I sat down with Teruna Siahaan, professor of pharmaceutical chemistry, and Sue Lunte, distinguished professor with a joint appointment in chemistry and pharmaceutical chemistry. One of the first things Professor Siahaan and Professor Lunte acknowledged is that even in their field, job placement has gotten harder as the pharmaceutical industry has consolidated more and more. Graduates used to get multiple offers from industry right out of their program, but many now have to do postdocs before finding a position in industry. Both professors talked about several previous students who went on to do postdocs before taking positions in industry.
One big help for the school has been an NIH biotech training grant aimed to help with better preparation for job placement. One important aspect of this has been a required internship program for graduate students. The school has also actively tapped into its alumni network to identify graduates in industry who are looking to hire. In 1996, the Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry established the Globalization of Pharmaceutics Education Network (GPEN), which holds a two-day conference every two years, allowing graduate students both to present their research at a conference and network with professionals in the field. (This year’s conference will be held in Helsinki, Finland.) Additionally, pharmaceutical chemistry hosts a breakfast at the annual American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists (AAPS) meetings, which gives current graduate students the opportunity to meet and network with alumni and other professionals. This has directly contributed to finding internships for students. Both professors emphasized repeatedly the importance of networking, in particular with alumni.
To help students better prepare for future careers, the Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry has a required weekly seminar. Seminars consist of presentations by guest speakers (including people from industry), faculty members, and students. Students are expected to present their research at least twice at the seminar during their time in the program. Every student must also do an oral presentation or a poster at the yearly departmental retreat. Unlike many PhD programs where a large number of graduate students intend to enter the professoriate, well over 90% of pharmacy doctoral students go into industry. Because teaching is not a priority for graduate students in pharmacy (graduate students in the School of Pharmacy are all GRAs), finding opportunities for students to present their work publicly is important since, as Professors Lunte and Siahaan agreed, you cannot thrive in industry if you do not have good public presentation skills. In addition to stressing the importance of networking, both professors maintained repeatedly that it is crucial that students find as many occasions as possible to share their research publicly.
Based on what Professors Siahaan and Lunte told me, I am left with a few questions that I think we can all ask ourselves in regards to our graduate programs:
- What internship opportunities are available for our students, and what can we do to develop or improve these opportunities?
- How well are we tapping into our own alumni network? Are we bringing alumni to campus and connecting them with our current students? Are there other activities we could be promoting?
- What can we do to help our students present their research in public forums?
My thanks to Sue Lunte and Teruna Siahaan for talking with me. Feel free to share with me and the KU community any thoughts you may have on this topic.
Associate Professor, Department of French & Italian
Faculty Fellow, Office of Graduate Studies
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