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7.11.2013

Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Launches First Online Industrial Ph.D. Degree

Leading the University of Miami into the next frontier of education, the Miller School’s Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology has established a unique degree program that will enable industry and government scientists to remain on the job – and in their labs – while earning a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Industrial Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

Established by the department’s Sylvia Daunert, Ph.D., the Lucille P. Markey Chair of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Sapna Deo, Ph.D., Director of the Graduate Program, and Zafar Nawaz, Ph.D., Senior Associate Dean for Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, this new degree is the first in the nation designed for full-time pharmaceutical, biotech or other industry or government laboratory scientists who are working in non-academic fields of biochemistry, molecular biology, biotechnology, nanotechnology, or medicine. Beginning this fall, candidates anywhere in the U.S. will have the opportunity to earn a Ph.D. from the Miller School through remote learning, rigorous research and dual university/company mentorship.

“It is a win-win situation for everyone,” Daunert said. “Scientists who must have a Ph.D. to advance their careers but can’t afford to leave their jobs because they have children or a mortgage to pay can fulfill their dreams. Their companies or government employers will receive a huge return on their investments, gaining from their research and expanded expertise. And the University will develop a stronger alumni base and establish more industry partnerships, spurring new research, ideas, contracts, patents, and novel networking opportunities for our students, while increasing its revenues.”

Hailing the program as a groundbreaking educational innovation for modern times, Miller School Dean Pascal J. Goldschmidt, M.D., noted that, under Daunert’s leadership, the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology is already well known for nurturing scientific and research talent at the high school, undergraduate and graduate levels.

“So it is fitting that she and Drs. Deo and Nawaz would expand the department’s efforts to help industrial professionals advance or redirect their careers, benefiting society as a whole,” said the Dean, who is also Senior Vice President for Medical Affairs and CEO of UHealth. “After all, individuals who complete this program will develop a unique perspective on fundamental biochemical problems, increasing the likelihood that they will make important contributions to scientific progress.”

Another of the program’s most enthusiastic supporters, M. Brian Blake, Ph.D., Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Graduate School, said the Graduate School is keen on leveraging the University’s relative youth and promoting such groundbreaking models of contemporary graduate instruction. “There is essentially no other program in the country of this kind – now that’s both exciting and appropriate for The U,” Blake said. “The Graduate School plans to continue to support and facilitate this program and other pioneering efforts where UM stands at the forefront.”

Similar to executive MBA programs that allow business professionals to keep their jobs and earn master’s degrees on weekends or at night, the industrial Ph.D. program is structured to accommodate working scientists at their workplace. As such, participation requires a strong commitment from employers, who must accept financial responsibility for tuition and day-to-day supervision of each student’s research and progress of the student’s dissertation thesis.

Candidates will take the same 16 credit hours of biochemistry, molecular biology, structural biology, and cell biology courses that the department’s traditional Ph.D. candidates are required to take, but the classes will be held at lunchtime or early evening, allowing those already in the workforce to participate remotely, via an interactive, distance-learning format.

With dual oversight from a department mentor and an industrial Ph.D. scientist from the student’s workplace serving as co-mentor, each candidate also will be required to complete 44 research hours while pursuing work projects that will lead to his or her dissertation. Both the student and co-mentor will be required to visit the Miller School campus twice a year for mini research symposia.

“The University has a lot of innovative programs, but this one stands out for enabling working professionals to take courses and conduct research without leaving their workplace,” said Nawaz, who is also professor of biochemistry and molecular biology and Associate Research Director at the Braman Family Breast Cancer Institute. “It is a model for the University, and the nation.”

Although the new degree is designed to accommodate the needs of non-traditional students, Deo, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, cautions against assuming it will be easy.

“This is a rigorous program,” she said. “Not only will these Ph.D. candidates go through the same challenges as our current students, they will have to meet even more stringent admission requirements. For example, they must already have significant research experience – such as publications or patents — under their belt. This is for people who are very serious about advancing biochemistry and molecular biology.”

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