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Translational Science Ph.D. Offers Students Opportunities to Focus on Multi-Discipline Problems

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Author: Charlotte Anthony | Category: Of Interest | Translational Science (Ph.D.) | February 25, 2015

“The program opens up graduate catalogs of four University of Texas components so our students can take courses from multiple campuses,” explained Dr. Michael Lichtenstein, program director of the Translational Science program at the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio.

The collaboration of four universities working together to offer a single joint doctoral degree is unique in the University of Texas System. The program is able to combine the resources and expertise of The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSCSA), The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), The University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin), and The University of Texas School of Public Health (UTSPH) Regional Campus in San Antonio.

“Offering the expertise of the Health Science Center and from UT Austin, UTSA, and UTSPH is really good for the students. They have more opportunities for collaboration across institutions. They are not housed in a single department. This is all interdisciplinary so they have opportunities to work with a large number of professors with a lot of different expertise,” said Susan Stappenbeck, senior project coordinator at UT Health Science Center at San Antonio.

Tanisha Hammill, a graduate student in the program explained that as a student with a full-time job, the program’s flexibility allows her to pursue an education without compromising her career.

“The night classes offered across all four universities allow the flexibility to keep a schedule outside of work hours and my employer is highly supportive of this effort, including very flexible shifts in work hours per semester needs,” Hammill said. “The flexibility of the program allowed me to show up and also to craft my pathway within my interest of policy and implementation sciences.”

Kelly Reveles, alumnae of the Translational Science Ph.D. program said that although the program is rigorous, it compels you to balance a variety of activities, including coursework, research, teaching, and home life.

“The program is flexible in that you can tailor your coursework to your research interests and optimal schedule, as well as being a part-time student if necessary,” Reveles said. “I was actually able to work a few hours a week on top of being a full-time student. The rigor of the program helps you learn the best way to organize and prioritize your activities to become more efficient.”

With a Doctorate of Pharmacy, Reveles was interested in learning specifically how drug therapies prevent and treat healthcare-associated infections and how to move clinical research into the community.

“The program enabled me to view these infections from a different perspective. I enrolled in several courses within the UT School of Public Health and these sources enabled me to better understand the broader implications of my research and actually helped to shape my research aims,” Reveles said.

Stappenbeck explained that many of the students in the Ph.D. program are people who have worked in the field and realize the need to get a doctorate degree to further their career.

“Everything that they do is with the goal in mind to translate what they are doing to the next step whether its bench work, clinical, medical practice, health care or policy,” Stappenbeck said. “Our students are aware of what they are doing and how they can use it for the next step. It’s not doing science for the sake of science, it’s about trying to make the goal of making their science be of use to someone.”

Lichtenstein explained that in addition to allowing students to take courses from multiple campuses, the program was built from the ground up.

“There are about 30 Translational Science Ph.D. programs in the U.S. and a lot of them have been rebranded. For example, there might have been a Ph.D. program in Molecular Medicine and the university may decide to turn that into a Translational Science Ph.D,” Lichtenstein said. “Our program covers the entire translational spectrum so we have people from very diverse background. This includes anyone who’s really interested in basic discovery to someone who’s interested in policy research.”

Lichtenstein said that the collaboration between the universities was intentional in the design of the program.

“I’m interested in grassroots bottom-up approaches to change and in lowering barriers in access to education. The Translational Science program is an example of that,” Lichtenstein said. “People should be able to take the best courses from wherever they are available within the UT System. If there’s a faculty member who’s superb at what they do, we should figure out ways to make it accessible to as many students as possible. Students vote by which courses they select. In some ways, it's analogous to operating a restaurant; if customers clamor for reservations then you are doing a great job. If customers don’t come, you should rethink your menu.”

Special thanks to Kelly Reveles for sharing her diploma which features the seals of University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSCSA), the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), The University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin).

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