The Arizona Desert Lamp

White Paper: Graduate Programs in Molecular Life Sciences

Posted in UA Transformation Plan by Evan Lisull on 20 October 2008

Graduate programs + molecular science. Gulp. Well, here goes nothing:

The main concern in this proposal is the attracting of top-notch graduate students in Molecular Life Sciences (MLS), and the tenuous rankings of the UA in the field:

When students who chose to go elsewhere were polled as to why they preferred other institutions, a common response was that they chose another institution because of a program with larger numbers of faculty mentors and a wider range of research areas.  Many of our peer institutions have established a large umbrella program, which is much simpler for students to understand and negotiate compared to the 40 or more programs at the UA that offer students degrees in life sciences.  This proposal is an attempt to address these issues and advocates for the establishment of an umbrella program that would simplify recruitment and admission of graduate students, highlight the large number of excellent faculty and training programs currently here at the UA, and standardize first year education; all of which should enable the recruitment of more of the best graduate students in the country

Umbrellas, scalpels, and milkmen, oh my!

II- The Umbrella Program would consist of research interest areas (potential interest areas might include, but are not limited to, the following:  Microbiology/Immunology; Genetics/Genomics; Cell biology/cell signaling; developmental biology; bioengineering; metabolism/physiology/pharmacology…).  Importantly, this umbrella program would not grant degrees (see details in second year and beyond below).  What this program would do is provide one-stop shopping for students to see the breadth of opportunities at UA, coordinate recruitment activities, and for matriculated students provide a first year core curriculum in molecular life sciences that all students would take, providing uniformity to training without being too restrictive and building networks and interactions across pre-existing training programs.

Basically, this is a creation of a mini-University-College in a graduate setting. The paper later goes on to describe the workings of the umbrella plan. Students would apply to the Umbrella Program, with an option of indicating a preference in a certain program. Once accepted, the student’s first year would consist of “3 standard courses”, along with a forth elective of the students’ choosing.

At the end of the first year, the student must declare a concentration, along with a faculty member associated with the concentration. At this point, the student becomes distanced from the umbrella program.

How does this affect the budget? In a prevailing trend, budgetary concerns seem to have come last:

Cost savings to units could potentially be achieved through pooling resources and staff now being used in duplicative rather than combined recruitment and admission activities. In addition, developing a single set of core courses for first year students would reduce the need for every unit to teach their own core courses and should result in savings within the teaching budgets of the multiple units and colleges involved.

In other words, very slim reductions. Another trend to notice is the use of disclaiming words in the budget section. Cost savings could be achieved, reductions might be realized, the program may be able, etc. For further criticism, be sure to read the comment by Michael Cusanovich, who seems to have had some first-hand experience with the matter.

Finally, this post would not be complete without linking to this consideration of the umbrella program.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Skylar

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