The transition from undergraduate studies to graduate research can be daunting.
But for first-year students at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center UT Health Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences (GSBS), the school’s Core Course is cushioning that bumpy ride.
“The Core Course helped me adjust to the life of a researcher in a big way,” says Kimiya Memarzadeh, a third-year graduate student in Neuroscience. “It really helped me become more analytical and not take things at face value.”
The GSBS premiered the course for incoming first-year students in the fall of 2014 to give them a foundation of science and research skills they’d need to succeed in their individual programs.
Previously, each of the 13 GSBS programs had its own curriculum and graduation requirements, with no course standardization and very little communication between programs. Dean Michelle Barton, Ph.D., knew a core course for every first-year student would help new students become acclimated to the many aspects of the academic biomedical research world.
“We develop the leaders of the future here,” she says. “In any field they enter — research, science policy, law, pharmaceuticals or biotechnology — it will be ingrained in them to use their leadership skills and work collaboratively.”
Starting from scratch
Based on input from all 13 GSBS programs, the course, titled Foundations of Biomedical Research, launched in January 2014 with 41 students enrolled. A different faculty member led each of the 15 weeks, with guest lecturers from various departments giving overviews of their areas. Wednesday mornings were reserved for biostatistics, since that had been identified as a weak area for young researchers.
There were no exams; instead students were evaluated on take-home exercises and group projects. By the time the course ended, students had interacted with more than 70 faculty members from different specialties.
“Because this was so different from anything we’d done before, we had to really come at this with an open mind,” Barton says.
The course evolved as students and instructors adjusted to the new format. Students gave feedback in weekly surveys on what worked and what didn’t, and their suggestions were included in the following week’s sessions.
The nontraditional structure also meant students were able to pick up some of the soft skills necessary for becoming successful scientists.
“I had to give a presentation to about 30 people in another course, which I normally would have found nerve- racking,” Memarzadeh says. “But because we’d received practice and tips on presentation skills each week in the core course, I was confident I’d deliver a solid presentation.”
Students also formed friendships that may someday further their careers.
“People often say that it’s not what you know, but who you know,” Memarzadeh notes. “I’ve formed relationships with fellow students and faculty members I wouldn’t have encountered otherwise. These people are my future mentors, collaborators and potential employers.”
This story originally appeared in Messenger, MD Anderson’s magazine for employees, volunteers, retirees and their families.
Education and Training
With a commitment to educating and training the next generation of cancer doctors, researchers, nurses and healthcare professionals, MD Anderson offers a number of degrees in biomedical sciences and allied health professions, as well as nursing training programs and more.
Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences
- Master of Science 11
- Specialized Master of Science 9
- Combined M.D./Ph.D. 4
- Ph.D. 59
Most degrees awarded
- Cancer Biology 14
- Biomedical Sciences 13
- Experimental Therapeutics 10
- Medical Physics 9
- Genetic Counseling 8
School of Health Professions
Bachelor of Science degrees awarded: 143
- Diagnostic Imaging: 34
- Molecular Genetic Technology: 13
- Radiation Therapy: 21
- Medical Dosimetry: 16
- Clinical Laboratory Sciences: 14
- Cytogenetic Technology: 18
- Histotechnology: 15
- Diagnostic Medical Sonography: 6
- Cytotechnology: 6
Master of Science degrees awarded
- Diagnostic Genetics: 6
- Clinical: 1,693
- Research: 1,847
- Special programs: 56
- Student programs: 810
- School of Health Professions programs: 317
- Nursing programs: 1,499
- Observers: 782