Over the past three years, the George Washington University (GW) School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) has thoughtfully cultivated a blossoming research enterprise.
“The research enterprise has grown significantly … as a result of investment from the school and from the university,” explained Robert Miller, PhD, senior associate dean for research, Vivian Gill Distinguished Research Professor, and professor of anatomy and regenerative biology at SMHS.
Key to that growth, which includes an unprecedented increase in both the number of grant awards and the volume of grant applications, is SMHS’ focus on several areas, such as new talent and education.
With the 2015–18 strategic plan as a model, the school has hired more than 40 research faculty, a move that signals the school’s commitment to research growth, said Alison Hall, PhD, associate dean for research workforce development and professor of neurology at SMHS.
“New faculty are bringing new ideas to GW and new energies to our research groups,” she explained. “It’s really exciting, and we’re trying to do quite a lot to help them be successful here because they’re what makes us strong.”
As Miller added, an influx of talent is critical to shaping the future of research; the new faculty act as a catalyst for collaboration across disciplines and can lead current faculty researchers into fresh areas of inquiry.
New and updated educational programs at SMHS attract researchers, including those just entering the field.
The GW-SPARC Program
The GW Summer Program Advancing Research on Cancer (GW-SPARC) is designed to maximize research opportunities for undergraduate students from groups underrepresented in biomedical science.
Students will embark on closely mentored, hands-on research in laboratories focused on three areas: cancer immunology and immunotherapy; cancer biology, namely targeted therapies and epigenetics; and cancer engineering and technology. They will attend weekly workshops and seminars, and participate in a book club focused on the impact of cancer in diverse communities. At the end of the summer, students will present their research in a scientific poster session.
“GW-SPARC will not only expose participants to cutting-edge research and contemporary cancer research techniques, but will also help foster their understanding of health disparities and the impact of cancer in different communities,” added Hall, who also serves as co-director of the program. “Most importantly, this program will help prepare diverse students for research careers, leading to discoveries that will improve our future. I hope some of those research careers will be right here at GW.”
Updates to the Institute of Biomedical Sciences’ PhD Programs
In reshaping which programs are available, students may now earn a PhD in five main areas: cancer biology, genomics and bioinformatics, microbiology and immunology, neuroscience, and pharmacology and physiology.
“We've updated two existing PhD programs [microbiology and immunology, and biochemistry and systems] and split out molecular medicine [cancer biology, pharmacology and physiology, and neuroscience] into independent PhD programs,” explained Hall. These programs are available to students arriving in Fall 2018.
In each program, students take common, interdisciplinary core courses in the fundamentals of biomedical science, and career and professional development, as they rotate through different laboratories of interest. Following coursework and rotations, they prepare a fellowship-style grant proposal outlining their original experimental design and analysis for advancement to candidacy.
These students, Hall added, are particularly important for research institutions like SMHS. “PhD students are the workforce for research discovery,” she said. “[They] have the time and the energy and the newness to take on innovative, creative, and difficult questions. The place that you find the open-eyed questioning is among the graduate students.”