What type of career is open to a person who earns a doctoral degree in cell biology? Or a master’s degree in clinical and translational science? Or a doctorate in epidemiology?
The answer is an increasingly wide variety of careers, from laboratory research to health advocacy to patent law. Preparing students for those careers is the work of the Graduate College at the OU Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City. Each year, the Graduate College holds an event, called the GREAT Symposium, where students learn about and practice the skills they will use in their future careers.
This year’s GREAT (Graduate Research Education and Technology) Symposium was April 1-4 at the OU Health Sciences Center. One of the students’ favorite parts of the event was the flash talk competition, in which each student has three minutes to describe their research at a lay level, with only one static slide and no video or animation. They must explain the relevance of their research and what they hope to achieve so that anyone from any background can understand its significance.
“Students must be able to communicate their science to anyone, whether it’s their peers in other areas of science, or legislators, the news media, or their acquaintances,” said Anne Pereira, Ph.D., dean of the Graduate College. “They must be able to concisely talk about their science in a way that people can understand and value. This is a fast-paced, fun exercise, and you get a feel for the breadth of research taking place on campus.”
The GREAT Symposium also allows students to hear from people who are working in a variety of fields after earning graduate degrees. A roundtable discussion, titled “Where Can Graduate Education Take You?,” features five speakers whose careers include infectious disease surveillance, working at a biotech company, serving as a faculty member and researcher in academia, a scientist working with big data, and a health and research advocate who encourages scientists to run for political office.
Today’s Graduate College students don’t necessarily want to take the traditional path into a research lab. But a graduate degree serves them well as they transition into a multitude of careers, Pereira said.
“A graduate education teaches people independent critical thinking, but also how and when to work on a team,” she said. “They gain experience in organization, writing, troubleshooting, working under stress – all things they can apply to just about any position.”
The Graduate College curriculum also teaches them professional development, cultural awareness and the importance of integrity. Guest speakers will address each of those topics during the GREAT Symposium. More recently, the Graduate College has partnered with OU’s Price College of Business, which has expanded to the University Research Park on the Oklahoma City campus. Students can learn about the business side of science, such as the financial acumen needed to operate a research laboratory.
“Running a lab is like running a small business,” Pereira said. “You have to make a budget, negotiate contracts for equipment, write grants and understand human resources.”
The GREAT Symposium also features oral competitions and poster competitions, which allows students to delve deeper into their science and to compete for travel awards. Last year, more than $24,000 in travel awards were presented, which allows students to present their research at larger meetings nationally and internationally. Those opportunities often help students to make connections that will further their careers.
One student will win a larger travel award to attend the Bio International Convention, where companies from around the world are looking for research with the potential to be commercialized.
This is the 44th year that the Graduate College has sponsored the GREAT Symposium. It is open to all levels of graduate students – those earning master’s degrees, doctorates or post-doctoral fellows pursuing additional training. The Graduate College offers about 30 programs of study.
This year’s keynote speaker is a professional who will speak to the symposium theme of sustainability. Allison Paradise, CEO and founder of My Green Lab, promotes sustainability initiatives in research laboratories, including energy reduction, water conservation and recycling.
For more information about the GREAT Symposium, visit the Graduate College website at graduate.ouhsc.edu.