a Crossroads: The Future of Graduate Education at Emory
to develop a broader curriculum . . . to better prepare students
for non-academic career paths.
--Bryan Noe, Director of the Graduate Division of Biological
and Biomedical Sciences.
the curriculum to prepare students for non-academic careers could
be a gross mistake.
--Pam Hall, Director of Graduate Studies in Women's Studies
tale of three Ph.D.s
findings on Emory graduate students
Bryan Noe has been director
of the eleven-year-old Graduate Division of Biological and Biomedical
Sciences (GDBBS) since 1991. The division trains some three hundred
Ph.D. students in eight separate programs composed of faculty
from many departments, the medical school, Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention, and Yerkes Primate Center.
The Academic Exchange What do
you see as the greatest challenge facing graduate education,
nationally and here at Emory?
Professor Brian Noe Right now, we're doing a fine job
of preparing students for academic positions and not so well
for people seeking a different career path. The decline in the
last decade in the number of faculty positions means that some
of our students will have very different careers from their academic
mentors. Yet most of our trainees' experience is limited to their
mentors' laboratories and the scope of the research university.
We and many other institutions need to develop a broader curriculum
with more options to allow us to better prepare our students
for non-academic career paths.
AE What kinds of careers?
BN New career opportunities have evolved in intellectual
property and in the biotechnology and pharmaceutical sectors.
The GDBBS and the new office of postdoctoral education in the
medical school have sponsored a career development seminar series.
Speakers who come to talk with graduate students and postdocs
are trained in the biosciences and are now working in biotechnology,
the pharmaceutical industry, law, or science journalism. For
students who would like to enter these non-academic careers,
we could offer joint degrees or specialized training in law or
business, along with the bioscience Ph.D.
AE Do you have any sense of how many of your graduates
go into academia and how many into industry?
BN Our data is somewhat incomplete. Most of our graduates
are still doing their post-doctoral training. Of those who have
completed that, many have secured faculty positions at research
universities, and a few have teaching positions at smaller colleges.
But a significant number of our graduates are going into pharmaceutical
and biotechnology arenas. Currently, I would say our graduates
are probably 70 percent in the academic arena and 30 percent
in the other direction. But over the years, I think that will
even out to 50/50.
AE What do you see as the role of your division in the
preparing graduates for alternative careers?
BN I don't like the term "alternative." That
sounds like it's not really an acceptable career path. I would
prefer to say that students are choosing for themselves a career
path that differs from academics. "Alternative" smacks
of consolation prize. We have to get away from that attitude
to be successful in developing a broader curriculum.
AE A few years ago, Elaine Showalter, the head of a major
humanities association, was heavily attacked for suggesting departments
do more to increase their students' viability on the non-academic
job market. Does that kind of controversy color this conversation
in the sciences?
BN Yes, it does. I think most of our faculty were trained
in the traditional way. The attitude is, "what's worked
for me should work for my students. This has gotten me where
I wanted to be. I don't see the need for changing things significantly."
But it becomes incumbent upon us to examine what we're offering
students and whether we're giving them everything they would
in terms of preparing them best for careers they might wish to
AE Are you attracting the students you want?
BN Yes. We lose some to Harvard, Duke, and other top schools,
we get our fair share too of students with offers of admission
into those schools who decide to come here instead. The national
trend, though, is for potential applicants to bioscience Ph.D.
programs to be lured away from graduate school by opportunities
provided by the current strong economy. This is a major challenge
that we in bioscience training are going to have to face very
aggressively. I don't believe we should dilute our effort to
offer "classical" research training. By offering more
options in the Ph.D. curriculum, however--adding something like
an MBA, for instance--we would attract a subset of applicants
that currently might not apply to Emory. It's something not too
many schools are doing, so it might be quite attractive.
AE What are some barriers to doing that?
BN Bioscience faculty are already fully committed to teaching
and research. It would be difficult, and perhaps even inappropriate,
to persuade these faculty to develop and teach new parts of the
curriculum. Emory has a business school and law school, however.
Perhaps we could provide ways for our students who so desire
to tap into these other disciplines. I suspect that neither business
nor law has any difficulty attracting students, but they could
help fill a unique niche by providing additional training for
tuition-paying students with bioscience backgrounds.