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Downtown Doctorates

February 1, 1999

Judith Zwolak

Medical students and public health master's candidates may outnumber them, but the students earning doctoral degrees on the downtown campus play an integral part in Tulane's academic medical center.

"Anytime you have a medical center, it's important to have strong biomedical science programs," says Martha Gilliland, provost and dean of the Graduate School. "Doctors who do clinical work at the medical school want to do research also, and in order to do research you need doctoral students. Without them, you can't have a great medical school with great programs."

Almost 300 students are currently enrolled in 14 doctoral programs in the schools of medicine and public health. Most are earning their doctor of philosophy degrees, but some are working toward the doctor of public health and the doctor of science degrees. All three degrees require class work and research activities.

The School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine has recently inaugurated an executive doctor of science program in health systems management. Downtown departments offering doctoral degrees include the basic sciences (anatomy, biochemistry, human genetics, microbiology and immunology, molecular and cellular biology, neuroscience, pharmacology and physiology) and dpartments in the public health school (biostatistics and epidemiology, international health and development, community health sciences, environmental health sciences, health systems management and tropical medicine).

With 43 students, the largest of the graduate programs in the basic medical sciences is molecular and cellular biology, an interdisciplinary program directed by Barbara Beckman, professor of pharmacology. The program shares 15 new graduate stipend allotments each year with the cell and molecular biology department on the uptown campus.

"The program has 85 faculty members in departments spanning the uptown and downtown campuses," Beckman says. "Faculty members continuously want to join the program. They're all interested in having students in their labs."

Some of the research projects students in the program have worked on include examining how HIV causes specific changes in gene expression, identifying genes associated with the transmission of malaria via mosquitoes and studying asbestos-related lung disease using genetically engineered mice. One of the major goals of the molecular and cellular biology program is to step up recruitment of students, Beckman says.

"If Tulane is to move up in the rankings in biomedical sciences we need to get better and better students," she says. Graduate students also help foster interaction between departments, says Jim Karam, professor and chair of biochemistry, which has 14 doctoral students.

"The presence of students is like blood circulating in the system," Karam says. "They all know each other and they travel from lab to lab learning about everyone's research. They increase the interaction between scientists."

Students also deserve credit for helping the university's strategic goals, Karam says. "Students have a great deal to do with generating extramural grant funding by helping to write proposals and working in the labs," he says. "They really are part of the intellectual atmosphere." Gilliland agrees, "Graduate programs that support areas of excellence such as medicine and public health need to stay strong."

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