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Shelley DurazoShelley Durazo received her bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry from the University of California at Santa Barbara in 2008, and since fall of 2009, has been a graduate student in the Pharmaceutical Sciences Department at University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Center.

Universities are notorious for teaching theory and scientific thinking, but, in my experience, they fail to provide real-world examples. Internships and case studies are highly encouraged and are expected for some undergraduate programs. However, Ph.D. programs have dropped their emphasis on these important professional development opportunities. Without the experience, are graduate school programs equipped to train students for this rapidly evolving healthcare industry?

Doctoral programs train students for academic careers but leave it up to the students to train themselves in other beneficial fields including patent law, regulatory affairs, and entrepreneurship. With considerable cutbacks to NIH funding, the job market has changed significantly for scientists. Each year 1200 graduated doctoral students compete with more skilled and experienced scientists for only 300 faculty jobs. Thus, 86% of hired Ph.D. graduates end up in nonacademic careers based on 14% that enter tenure-track careers, whether they are prepared or not.

Without modifications to our training programs, Ph.D. students will continue to progress to postdoctoral positions for a median of 4 years prior to entering the workforce, and many will seek ancillary degrees (e.g., M.B.A., M.Ph., J.D., or regulatory affairs). How can programs change to better prepare students for jobs? Scientists are trained to be specialized experts, but somehow most university programs are missing the mark in thinking about the big picture.

The American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy’s report on The Future of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Graduate Education presented a summary of guidelines for universities to better train pharmaceutical scientists. Specific skills needed by scientists in the pharmaceutical industry include: business skills, globalization, leadership, communication skills, grantsmanship, entrepreneurial skills, and more. Graduate programs of the future should not forget areas such as professionalism, soft skills, and enhancement of career development. Other suggestions included decreasing time to degree, improving degree completion rates, increasing exposure of clinical and translational research, and interacting with employers to provide internships.

Johns Hopkins University, for example, has considered the value of real-world experience and is starting to implement Ph.D. internship and developmental programs. Will your university follow the footsteps of Johns Hopkins University and others by providing internships and real-world experience?

More About the Author

Shelley Durazo’s research is focused on ocular drug delivery and nanotechnology; however, she has broad expertise in patent law, technology transfer, and regulatory affairs. Currently, Shelley is an active student member in the AAPS Regulatory Sciences section and the Non-Clinical Dosage Formulation focus group. She is also a student representative for the Bioinnovation and Entrepreneurship certificate program at University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.