Bolstering Graduate Education and Research Programs

October 2, 2014
Marilyn E. Morris

Marilyn E. Morris, PhD, is the 2014 AAPS president; memorris@buffalo.edu.

AAPS supports graduate-level programs impacted by cutbacks in funding and resources.

The 2010 Commission on the Future of Graduate Education in the US concluded, “Our key assumption is that the competitiveness of the United States and our nation’s capacity for innovation hinge fundamentally on a strong system of graduate education” (1).

Funding and resources are crucial to ensuring success in graduate education. In the pharmaceutical sciences, this is especially true as these tools allow programs to better prepare and train our future scientists to perform the cutting-edge research needed for the development of therapies to improve global health.

Research activities are dependent on both the funding environment and the success of faculty to secure this funding. Currently, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) budget for 2014 is 11.7% below that of the 2004 budget (2). Lack of funding will lead to a delay in medical progress and a risk to the scientific workforce. This loss of pharmaceutical scientists will result in decreased vibrant and relevant graduate training programs and decreased drug discovery and development. As stated by NIH Director Francis Collins in a recent commentary, “We have a serious risk of losing the most important resource that we have, which is this brain trust, the talent and the creative energies of this generation of scientists (3).” It is not only this generation of scientists but the future generation of scientists that are at risk. During these challenging economic times, there is a crucial need for support by industry, government, and foundations to provide graduate fellowships, graduate internships, and research funding to create successful graduate training programs for all research sectors.

To develop competitive and innovative scientists, not only is funding necessary for training in cutting-edge scientific areas, but also for training in “soft skills,” also known as survival skills, needed for successful pharmaceutical careers. These soft skills include communication, collaboration, problem solving, multidisciplinary perspective, risk taking, entrepreneurship, management, leadership, and team-oriented skills.

Mentoring and collaboration
To address these issues, the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists (AAPS) established two taskforces charged with addressing issues of importance to the future of graduate education.

The charge of the first taskforce was to determine how AAPS can assist our academic pharmaceutical scientists to become more competitive with respect to research funding. The taskforce emphasized a need to increase awareness of funding opportunities and emerging areas of interest likely to receive funding, a need for mentoring of junior faculty, and a lack of focused attention on the pharmaceutical sciences within NIH. The taskforce recommended greater collaboration between industrial and academic members, facilitated by intentional programming that is designed to encourage new collaborations through increased awareness of ongoing work.

The second task force addressed how AAPS can enhance its internship, postdoctoral fellowship, and career postings and increase its professional development programs. Also, last November, AAPS initiated the AAPS Foundation with two initial priorities: to support graduate education and new investigators by providing stipend funding for graduate students and research funding for new investigators, and by developing a Leadership Institute.

It is important to recognize that life-saving medicines are developed by well-trained scientists who are the product of graduate programs and mentors involved in cutting-edge research. The right training is contingent on funding, resources, and opportunities. Graduate programs need to produce professionals with the problem-solving, scientific, and professional skills necessary for success. AAPS is playing an expanded role in supporting graduate education through scientific and professional development programming and fellowship and research support.  

References
1. ETS, The Path Forward: The Future of Graduate Education in the United States (2010), Accessed Sept. 8, 2014.
2. J. Porter, Science, 344 (6189); 1207 (2014).
3. L. Szabo, NIH director: Budget cuts put U.S. science at risk, USA Today, April 23, 2014.

About the author
Marilyn E. Morris, PhD, is the 2014 AAPS president; memorris@buffalo.edu.