University Of Pittsburgh School Of Medicine: A Promising Institute Focused On The Pursuit Of Change, For Good!

By Harvey L. Fiser, Dean
University Of Pittsburgh School Of Medicine: A Promising Institute Focused On The Pursuit Of Change, For Good!
Harvey L. Fiser,Dean One of the main funding sources for biomedical research in the US, the National Institutes of Health, has included career and professional development as a mandate in the training of graduate students.

Other funding agencies have also committed significant budgets towards career development for trainees – an example is the Burroughs Wellcome Fund (BWF) - the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Graduate Studies received a grant from the BWF, and developed a program, titled the Career Club, to prepare graduate students for the wide range of careers available to them, which was well-received.

This synergy between funding agencies, academic institutions, and workforce development entities indicates a promising future for students pursuing higher education in not just the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine but also in the USA.

The University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine provides world-class research and teaching, and is involved in transforming graduate education in the US.

“The members of our institution have been very involved in the Graduate Research, Education and Training arm of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), and our previous Associate Dean for Graduate Studies (John Horn) served on the board and as chair of this group (2016- 2019).

The School is also committed to high mentoring standards, and a school-level graduate council reviews all faculty interested in becoming graduate mentors. In addition, the University contributes to research regarding higher education in biomedical sciences in the United States”, speaks Saleem Khan, PhD, the current associate dean for graduate studies and academic affairs.

Thriving on its Unique Offerings
The University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine offers multiple graduate programs (courses of study) at both the PhD and MS levels. The college has 16 graduate programs (11 PhD and 5 MS programs).

These programs train students in a variety of disciplines in biomedical science, and set them up for a wide range of careers. These graduate programs span a range of areas of biomedical research, such as biomedical informatics, computational
biology, cell biology, pathology, genetics, pharmacology, microbiology, immunology, systems biology, structural biology, neuroscience, and clinical and translational science.

All the programs are open to international students. “Our programs provide an excellent foundation in biomedical research, introducing students to fundamental issues and experimental approaches in their field of study, and promoting and allowing them to make significant contributions. There is great intra- and inter-university collaboration, creating a rich ecosystem for research and innovation”, says Anantha Shekhar, MD, PhD, senior vice chancellor for the health sciences and John and Gertrude Petersen Dean, School of Medicine.

A Place of Promises for Indian students
Today, Indian students are interested in every field of research whether it is pursuing a degree in Integrative Systems Biology, Biophysics and Structural Biology, Computational Biology, and Neuroscience or participating in Interdisciplinary Biomedical Graduate programs and specializing in one of the four domains such as Cell Biology, Genetics, Pathology, or Pharmacology.

The supportive team of professors at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine closely mentors each student on their research, teaching, presentation, writing, and mentoring skills, preparing them for both academic success, and careers within and outside of academia. Simultaneously, members of the School of Medicine are integrally involved in national-level consortiums and research in workforce development and graduate career and professional development.

“The University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine is committed to creating a welcoming environment for all its students, including international students. All students, including those from India, are well-integrated within their graduate programs, and are involved in all graduate activities. The University and School of Medicine recognize that students often need community, and is supportive of student groups.

The Biomedical Graduate Student Association is a student group supported by the School of Medicine Graduate Programs; several Indian students are committed and involved in the organization’s activities. In addition, the University of Pittsburgh has an active Indian Graduate Students Association.

Upon joining the University of Pittsburgh community, Indian students can join the organization’s regular meet-ups and events to celebrate Indian holidays and culture.
Students can also find community in other ways – for example, during the height of the pandemic wave in India, Indian staff members and faculty communicated with Indian students to help share experiences, and offer any needed assistance”, highlights Dr. Khan.

To add to this, all PhD students, including international students, receive full tuition, health insurance coverage, and a monthly stipend. This funding is competitive, and keeps up with cost of living and inflation.

Equipping Students for Future
The University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine has developed a range of internship opportunities, specifically in fields that employ biomedical scientists, and are further growing this aspect of graduate training. More importantly, for international students, the college assists in working with the University’s Office of International Services regarding internship opportunities for international students.

“We have several notable Indian alumni in different careers (examples: Drs. Kamal Khanna and Vidya Gopalakrishnan - faculty at leading universities in the US, Dr. Giridhar Akkaraju - leadership role and faculty at a university, Dr. Prajakta Sonalkar - patent attorney at a reputable firm, Dr. Abhishek Garg - business development at a biotech company, Dr. Krithika Ramani - a principal scientist for a biopharma company, Dr. Melanie Rodrigues - director at a biopharma company, and Dr. Ravi Patel - a program director for a health-data science company). Our school has a dedicated staff member to build relationships with our alumni, and helps connect our alumni to our current graduate students”, shares Dr. Khan.

Signing off by sharing his thoughts on future learners willing to pursue courses in the USA, Dr. Shekhar says, “A higher education institution someone chooses should excel in access to teams of scientists in one’s field of interest, as biomedical science is extremely collaborative in nature. Specifically, high-quality research training facilities, faculty, and trainees should be taken into consideration.

Of equal importance, prospective students should be aware that the workforce landscape continues to change quickly, and having the support at their institution to tailor their own journey accordingly is valuable. A priority several current students reflect on is that since a significant amount of time is spent in an institution’s city/ town, a location with excellent amenities (transportation, city parks, a vibrant cultural district), and that is affordable and is welcoming has enhanced their experience”.
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