Come together

Mar 27, 2019

In the September issue of Nature Chemical Biology, John Silvius wrote about McGill University’s interdepartmental graduate program in chemical biology, which was established in 2002 and now has “roughly 30 graduate students, 10 postdoctoral fellows and 30 ”“>faculty mentors.”

The program involves scientists from the Department of Biochemistry, the Department of Chemistry, and the Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, and a “key objective of the program is to maximize opportunities for students with chemistry and life science backgrounds to share and appreciate their sometimes distinct perspectives on the field of chemical biology.” Silvius wrote that this is accomplished via seminar discussion meetings, workshops, and an “annual research symposium at which students present their work to other students and faculty mentors.”

There are other interdepartmental and multi-institutional graduate programs in chemical biology: for example, there is the Cornell/Rockefeller/Sloan-Kettering Tri-Institutional Training Program in Chemical Biology in New York City (which involves Cornell University, The Rockefeller University, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, and the Weill Medical College of Cornell). Graduate students in the Tri-Institutional Training Program can rotate in (and join) laboratories at any of the institutions and they do not have to teach classes, “”">enabling them to take an accelerated course schedule (four courses per semester during the first year)." (Although I understand that the program was designed so the students could take a large number of classes, I really enjoyed teaching during graduate school and think it’s an important experience for all graduate students. But I’ll save that topic for another blog post…)

There’s obviously more than one way to train the next generation of chemical biologists, but Silvius believes that

An effective training program in chemical biology must produce graduates who have a distinct sense of intellectual identity yet can work effectively with researchers that are more conventionally trained either in chemistry or in the life sciences alone… Moreover, by promoting constant intermixing of individuals trained in the cultures of chemistry and biology, such a program allows students to be participants in the very type of stimulating, creative ferment that drives the field of chemical biology itself.

If you are a graduate student in (or a recent graduate of) an interdepartmental or multi-institutional graduate program in chemical biology, I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts about your program/your experiences. Why did you choose an interdepartmental or multi-institutional graduate program, instead of a Department of Chemistry & Chemical Biology? (And for those of you who did their graduate work in a Department of Chemistry & Chemical Biology, why didn’t you choose an interdepartmental or multi-institutional graduate program?) For those of you working on the interface of other disciplines (for example, biophysics, chemical physics, bionanotechnology, etc.) did your graduate program meet your (scientific) needs/expectations? If not, what could they have done to make it easier for you to pursue interdisciplinary research?


Joshua Finkelstein (Associate Editor, Nature)

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