Research Experiences Define STEM Careers and Distinguish Graduates

Joshua Horton

By: Joshua Horton - Biochemistry Graduate, IUPUI

Categories: Education, Life Sciences

Research at the undergraduate level is key to generating the highly skilled workforce that will foster the growth of Indiana's technology-driven economy.

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As a continuing research student seeking an M.D./Ph.D., I am still deeply influenced by the research experiences offered to me as an undergraduate in the School of Science at IUPUI. Research drives innovative breakthroughs and the expansion of scientific knowledge. It also trains students to be skilled, critical thinkers, a necessity as Indiana continues to grow into a national leader in the life-health sciences. Thankfully, Hoosier universities are devoting more focus to providing meaningful research experiences that help young scientists better focus their careers and define the impact they want to have on their field.

The 2012 BioCrossroads Annual Report for Indiana indicated the biotechnology and life-health science industries account for $50 billion in revenue, more than $9 billion in exports and more than 55,000 jobs. More and more of these highly skilled workers arrive in their careers well-trained in the laboratory due to a wealth of experiences offered to them through collaborations with universities, hospitals and research centers in central Indiana. The impact of this integration of goal-oriented investigation with classroom education continues to benefit me, and I am better prepared for the rigors of a professional program for having had these opportunities.

When I moved to Indianapolis in 2008 to study biochemistry, I was zeroed in on becoming a physician but graduated as a scientist prepared to devote a lifetime to discovery. The difference may seem trivial to some, but in the science realm there is a very unique philosophical transformation that must occur to get to this point. In essence, doctors seek to learn and practice medicine on a daily basis while research scientists seek to discover and increase the collective knowledge base about human disease and treatment.

Like many of my fellow students, it was the opportunity to work in the laboratory of a mentor that helped me understand where I wanted to take my career. At the time, I simply was looking to bolster my resume to improve my chances of getting into medical school. However, this work across the next four years was the formative experience that eventually motivated me to pursue a career in academic research. I learned the value of asking scientific questions and designing inventive experiments to answer those questions. In doing so, I also gained an appreciation for the impact this knowledge could have on the health and well being of society. This was my introduction to the concept of being a physician-scientist, and I was fascinated. This mentor convinced me that I was capable of pursuing such a career and showed me the impact that I could make with such specialized training.

So here I am, on the verge of finishing the first year of the eight-year Medical Scientist Training Program (MD/PhD) at the New York University School of Medicine with a focus on biochemical microbiology research. I can say without hesitation that I would not be here without the integration of research into my degree program or the interactions with outstanding mentors during my undergraduate years.

My story is merely one example of a growing trend of Indiana universities combining technical bench research into the curriculum of STEM degrees. In my opinion, this focus is vital to preparing young students to enter and contribute to the promising field of biotechnology. This research support will help grow our extensive life-health sciences economy internally by stocking it with entrepreneurs and investigators who are trained here and who are invested in its success.

Editor's Note – Upon graduation, Joshua plans to explore career opportunities in Indiana. He would like to work close to relatives in Greene County.

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