U-M vows to release life science graduate program admissions data

Monday, December 18, 2017 - 8:23pm

Last week, the University, along with eight other universities and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, announced a new initiative to increase transparency in the life sciences. The initiative, known as the Coalition for Next Generation Life Science, is devoted to collecting and releasing information about admissions to graduate programs, demographics of graduate students and career outcomes in the field.

The goal of the coalition, which includes other universities such as University of Pennsylvania, Johns Hopkins and more, is to give students more information regarding their futures and allow them to make better decisions in their academic careers. The coalition announced its initiative in the Dec. 15 issue of Science, and plans on releasing data in early 2018 to address recent concerns of aspiring scientists.

“In particular, numerous reports and articles have voiced concern that biomedical trainees do not receive adequate information or skills on the full range of training and career options available in biomedical research, which is contributing to a number of stresses that affect the next generation of scientists and the science they will produce,” members of the coalition wrote in a question and answer sheet sent to The Daily by Jim Erickson.

The data being released includes information on the duration of time required to complete a degree and the career prospects of that degree.

Peter Hitchcock, an associate dean at Rackham and the University’s liaison to the coalition, said Ph.D. students should be made aware of their prospective career opportunities when they enter graduate school.

“Right now this coalition is focused on the life sciences because that’s where the crisis lies,” Hitchcock said. “A very small fraction of the total Ph.D.s in the life sciences discipline will have academic careers. The majority won’t have tenure-track faculty positions such as positions on this faculty.”

LSA junior Jessica Zhang said she is planning to go to graduate school in the life sciences. She said her sees the field becoming increasingly competitive, but still achievable. She also agreed more information regarding graduate school and admissions is needed.

“More information would definitely be helpful,” Zhang said. “I haven’t seen a nice organized collection (of data) comparing schools.”

Zhang noted much of the information she has received regarding graduate school has come from more individual sources including professors, graduate students instructors, the principal investigator for her lab and her peers. She also said there is a lack of organizations on campus for students planning to attend graduate school.

“There seems to be a very strong community for people who want to go to medical school or outside of the sciences for business or pre-law,” Zhang said. “There just isn’t that for graduate school, and it makes it more difficult to navigate.”

As for how the coalition will affect Rackham specifically, Hitchcock said a few small changes will occur such as specifying broader categories for the data such as engineering, social sciences or life sciences.

“The impact on us won’t be as much as it will be on other campuses,” Hitchcock said. “The reason is that we have been undertaking this initiative on our own for many years now. Rackham has really become the leader in this area of posting data for Ph.D. students nationwide. So, many of the universities in the consortium point to us as the model for how this should be done.”