Staying in Touch

Alessandra Salgueiro

Originally published April 4, 2015

photo by: kristen thomas and jadiel wasson

photo by: kristen thomas and jadiel wasson

All too often scientists get caught up in the nuances of their individual research projects. They are so focused on the function of their protein or gene of interest that they forget about the ultimate goal of biomedical research: understanding and curing human disease. However, Emory has made several efforts to make sure that this is not the case for their graduate students. Emory graduate students have access to several avenues that help them stay in touch with the human aspect of research. These include the Molecules to Mankind Doctoral Pathway, the Certificate Program in Translational Research, and interactive courses such as Cancer Colloquium.

The Molecules to Mankind Doctoral Pathway, or M2M, is an interdisciplinary effort that combines existing laboratory and population science Ph.D. tracks to create “a new breed of scientist.” Students that graduate from M2M are well suited for careers in public health as they are able to not only design and analyze laboratory experiments, but they can also integrate bench science to help solve population based health issues. Ashley Holmes, a third year Nutrition Health Science student in the M2M pathway, shared her perspective on the importance of keeping science in context:

“I think it's pretty easy to become hyper-focused on your dissertation topic and in doing so, you can unintentionally reduce people to data or biological samples.  The M2M program addresses [this] issue in its awesome weekly seminars: the speakers usually have interdisciplinary backgrounds and interesting collaborations that address basic, clinical, and population sciences.  Even when the details of their experiments or statistical analyses get tedious, they "bring it home" by reminding us of the public health implications of their work and how they are helping people.”

Rachel Burke, an Epidemiology student also on the M2M pathway, agrees.

“I like how the M2M seminars try to bring things back to the practical application of the research — the ‘so what’ factor. I think that having this background has helped me in turn think about what are the implications of my research and how can I focus those towards helping mankind.”

Emory’s Certificate Program in Translational Research provides Emory graduate students, post-doc fellows, and faculty with an opportunity to bridge the gap between basic bench science and clinical research. This program has 14 credit requirements, including a clinical medicine rotation which allows program participants to shadow a clinician and interact with current patients. Katherine Henry, a third year student in the Molecular Systems Pharmacology program appreciates the unique perspective of translational research:

“I have always been more interested in the translational aspects of science. I like science that I can explain to my family and it's a lot easier to do that when you can relate your work to some disease or physiological process. The hope is that this program will set me up for a career in clinical/translational science, for example at a clinical trials firm (CRO), or a public health agency like the CDC.”

A third way Laney Graduate students can stay in touch with the human side of bench research is through courses with context such as the Cancer Colloquium course. This course is the capstone for the Cancer Biology Graduate Program. The course director is clinician Dr. Ned Waller, who treats patients as well as runs his own basic research laboratory. Dr. Waller brings oncologists and patients into the classroom setting to create an interactive and collaborative learning environment. The goal of this course is not only to explain to students how the cancers they research are treated but also to remind them of why they are performing this research. Katie Barnhart, a third year Cancer Biology student currently enrolled in Cancer Colloquium says:

“Courses like Cancer Colloquium allow students to make a connection between what they learn in a lecture setting and apply it to real world applications. We learn about molecular pathways and drug development, but to hear about how these therapies are affecting the lives of cancer patients helps put what we do in the laboratory into perspective. Courses like this help students to take a step back and remember the big picture.” 

Cancer Colloquium is offered every other Spring under the listing IBS 562.

Emory students want their research to make an impact in the lives of patients and their families. M2M, the Certificate Program in Translational Research, and Cancer Colloquium provide pathways for students to reach out from their lab bench and stay in touch with the context of their research. In the age of interdisciplinary research programs like these will become critical for advancing medicine.

Edited by: Brindar Sandhu