Life after Graduate School: Formation of the GSAS@P&S Alumni Association

By Richard B. Robinson, Ph.D.
Associate Dean for Graduate Affairs
Michele Sinoway, Ph.D.
President of GSAS@P&S

Clockwise from top left: Guangyu Wu’00, Gina Fusaro’03, Vincent Aita’00, and Zhong-Ping Sun’96
Clockwise from top left: Guangyu Wu’00, Gina Fusaro’03, Vincent Aita’00, and Zhong-Ping Sun’96
During their years at P&S, doctoral graduate students live in two worlds. They are enrolled in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, based on the Morningside campus, but they matriculate through doctoral programs housed in, and administered through, the College of Physicians and Surgeons on the medical center campus.
   This dual identity is quite familiar to our graduates, who are invited to participate in both the GSAS and P&S alumni associations upon graduation. Both associations provide valuable resources and services to their members, including career counseling and networking, yet neither association fully captures the unique needs and challenges of Ph.D. graduates.
   For this reason, the Office of Graduate Affairs on the CUMC campus has worked with our uptown alumni to form a new association devoted exclusively to the needs of our medical school’s Ph.D. graduates, the GSAS@P&S Alumni Association. Why the need for another alumni association? As one alumnus put it, “I spent my time in the Black Building and Hammer, and I rarely ventured to Columbia’s main campus on 116th Street. We lived in the Towers and spent time with medical and dental students, public health students, and postdocs in labs at P&S. My memories from graduate school are from uptown at P&S.”
   Conversations with our alumni consistently reinforce this connection; consequently, Ph.D. alumni are seldom active in the GSAS alumni association on the Morningside campus. It would be expected, then, that our alumni would have a strong affinity for the P&S alumni association. However, PhDs have distinct postgraduate needs and issues. Even when PhDs and MDs choose a career involving a faculty appointment at a research-oriented medical school, factors determining career advancement are quite different. And when graduates follow divergent career options — private practice vs. the biotechnology industry — postgraduate interests and needs become even more distinct.
   Two-thirds of our Ph.D. graduates in biomedical sciences take an initial position in an academic setting. Five to 10 years following graduation — a time period beyond the typical postdoctoral research phase — approximately half remain in an academic setting. Despite this impressive commitment to academia, nonacademic careers are an important option for a significant number of biomedical Ph.D recipients. These nonacademic careers include work in the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries, in scientific consulting and publishing, and in government and regulatory fields. Our graduates working in these fields represent a tremendous resource for our current students on career options, including practical and quality of life issues related to these choices. They also represent a network of potential contacts when searching for job opportunities throughout one’s career.
   To tap into this resource network, the new alumni association sponsored a symposium, “Career Choices for Biomedical Scientists Beyond Academia.” Biomedical alumni working in the private sector participated in a panel discussion with graduate students and postdocs. Michele Sinoway (Anatomy’95, Lachman Consultant Services and president of GSAS@P&S) moderated the discussion with Vincent Aita (Genetics’00, Kilkenny Capital Management), “Alternative Careers in Alternative Investing”; Gina Fusaro (Pathology’03, Health Science Communications), “The Language of Science: A Career in Medical Communications”; Zhong-Ping Sun (Pharmacology’96, GENEWIZ), “From Scientist to Entrepreneur”; and Guangyu (Gary) Wu (Pathology’00, Legg Mason Capital Management), “The Academic Path to Business: Why and How.”
   GSAS@P&S plans other programs on career development and networking, a forum to share news about P&S and alumni, and a Web site devoted to Ph.D. graduates. To again quote an alumnus: “Being a Columbia graduate opens up many doors in the ‘real world,’ and utilizing the connections that we made during graduate school and as postdocs can be invaluable. Getting together as a group can only benefit all of us.” The Office of Graduate Affairs and the GSAS@P&S Alumni Association look forward to a long and rewarding relationship.
   Finally, we are concerned not only with the accomplishments of our students after they graduate and go out into the world, but also during their time here. Therefore, we are continuing a practice begun last year of highlighting, in the accompanying box, the awards and honors received by our current students during the past year.

Graduate Students Awards, Fellowships, Honors, 2006-2007 (mentors noted by parentheses)

Dean’s Award for Excellence in Research: Joshua Tate Dudman, “Defining New Roles for the Integrative Properties of Neurons in the Medial Temporal Lobe” (Steven Siegelbaum); Lao Hayamizu Saal, “Molecular Profiling of the PTEN/P13K Pathway in Sporadic and Hereditary Breast Carcinoma” (Ramon Parsons)
Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics: Cinque Soto, Samuel W. Rover & Lewis Rover Award for Outstanding Achievement (Barry Honig); Pallav Kosuri, Fulbright Fellowship
Cell Biology and Pathobiology: Ellen Ezratty, Harold M. Weintraub Graduate Student Award (Gregg Gundersen); Jongpil Kim, Brunie Prize in Neural Stem Cell Research (Asa Abeliovich); Ying-Jiun Chen, Samuel W. Rover & Lewis Rover Award for Outstanding Achievement (Lorna Role)
Cellular, Molecular and Biophysical Studies: Anne O’Donnell, Department of Defense Fellowship, “The Mechanism of DNA Demethylation in Breast Tumorigenesis” (Tim Bestor); Ian Orozco, NIH-NIMH Fellowship, “Understanding the Neuronal Function of Dysbindin” (Ottavio Arancio)
Genetics and Development: Hisham Bazzi, Samuel W. Rover & Lewis Rover Award for Outstanding Achievement (Angela Christiano)
Microbiology: Brenda Perez, Richard C. Parker Graduate Student Award (David Figurski)
Neurobiology and Behavior: Megan Corty, NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Award, “Control of Neuronal Morphogenesis in Drosophila” (Wesley Grueber); David Malito, NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Honorable Mention, “Mutant Ca2+ Channels, Ca2+ Dynamics, and Excitation-contraction Coupling in the Heart” (Robert Kass); Alexandro Ramirez, NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Award, “Signal Propagation in Model Networks with Plastic Synapses” (Stefano Fusi); Evan Schaffer, NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Honorable Mention, “Mapping Cortical Connectivity; Implications for Network Modeling” (Larry Abbott); Rebecca Schoer, NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Honorable Mention, “Rapid Context-Dependent Adjustments in the Representation of Value” (Daniel Salzman); Lieven Van der Veken, Belgium American Educational Foundation Fellowship; Kristen Werner, NIH-NINDS Fellowship, “Activity-dependent Synaptic Growth and Retrograde BMP Signaling” (Brian McCabe)
Nutrition: Ami Modi, Department of Defense Fellowship, “Checkpoint Functions of the BRCA1/BARD1 Tumor Suppressor” (Richard Baer); Sonia Hernandez, Children’s Neuroblastoma Cancer Foundation Pre-doctoral Training Award, “Notch Signaling Pathway and VEGF Blockade in Neuroblastoma” (Darryl Yamashiro); Neal Paragas, MRC Nutrition Group Travel Fellowship, “The Role of Iron Metabolism in Malaria Infection and Control” (Jonathan Barasch)