PSC Alumni Return to School of Pharmacy for Inaugural Grad Gathering

First-of-its-kind event brings alumni from the PhD in Pharmaceutical Sciences (PSC) program together to reconnect with the School and discuss career experiences with current graduate students.

By Malissa Carroll
December 8, 2015

The Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences (PSC) at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy hosted its inaugural PSC Grad Gathering for alumni and current students in the PhD in PSC program on Nov. 13. Featuring career panel discussions, a research poster session, and a networking reception, the event brought more than 20 of the program’s alumni back to the School to share their professional knowledge and experience with current students and postdoctoral fellows.

“The PhD in PSC program strives to equip students with the knowledge and skills required to become leaders in the fields of drug discovery and development,” says Sarah Michel, PhD, associate professor in PSC and director of the PhD in PSC program. “The PSC Grad Gathering not only gave the faculty in our department the opportunity to reconnect and reminisce with their former students, but also allowed those alumni to share their career stories with the program’s current students and highlight the diverse range of opportunities that students can pursue in academia, government, and industry, as well as in a number of non-traditional fields, such as science writing, consulting, and editing.”

Following opening remarks from Michel and Paul Shapiro, PhD, professor and chair of PSC, alumni with careers in academia, government, industry, and a variety of non-traditional fields participated in four separate panel discussions attended by current students. They spoke about their experience in the PhD in PSC program and how the program helped to prepare them for their careers. They also answered questions and offered advice to students who were unsure which path might be the right one for them.

“It is important to remember that your career might not follow the standard, linear trajectory,” said Clifford Mason, PhD ‘08, research assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Kansas, who participated in the panel discussion that spotlighted alumni with careers in academia. “However, you have to stick with it through the ups and downs to reach your goals. You have to seize every opportunity that is presented to you.”

Noha Salama, PhD ’04, associate professor in the Division of Basic and Pharmaceutical Sciences at St. Louis College of Pharmacy in Missouri, who joined Mason in the panel discussion that spotlighted alumni with careers in academia, echoed his sentiment and encouraged students to take advantage of the resources available to them at the School. “You are very fortunate to be part of the collaborative environment that exists within this graduate program. I urge you to seek as many mentors and as much advice as you can from everyone with whom you interact,” she added.

The keynote speaker for the event was Naissan Hussainzada, PhD ’09, senior director of genetics strategy and commercialization at Millennium Health. Titled “The Road Less Traveled: Non-traditional Careers for PhDs,” her presentation followed the journey that she took to arrive at her current career. It also highlighted the role of the medical science liaison – a position that Hussainzada credits with exposing her to the many facets of the drug discovery, approval, and post-marketing process – and offered valuable career advice to students.

“What I hope that you have learned from my journey is that you can certainly choose to pursue a career in a scientific role, but there are also a number of alternative careers available to you,” said Hussainzada, whose efforts were instrumental in securing an educational agreement between Millennium Health and the School earlier this year. “As a graduate of the PhD in PSC program, you will have a special set of transferrable skills that makes you a prime candidate for a lot of different industries. That should give you a sense of freedom, but it can also be overwhelming and make you feel somewhat uncomfortable. I encourage you to embrace that feeling, because that space of discomfort — of not settling or feeling like you have reached the top of your game — is the best place to be when you are beginning a new career and when you want to evolve and challenge yourself.”

A research poster session held in conjunction with a networking reception for all attendees concluded the evening and offered current students the opportunity to interact one-on-one with alumni.

“It was great to have an opportunity to meet face-to-face with alumni from our program and hear about their career experiences,” said Heather Boyce, a current student in the PhD in PSC program. “I was particularly intrigued by the insights shared by alumni who chose to pursue alternative careers that I was not previously familiar with, such as science writing. The event was a great success and truly helped us as current students begin to foster connections with alumni that will hopefully continue to grow.”

“The PSC Grad Gathering genuinely exceeded my expectations,” added Angela Nguyen, another student in the PhD in PSC program. “It truly felt like a family reunion. As someone who is now in her fourth year of the program, I also thought that it came at the perfect time, as I have started to explore the different options available to me after graduate school. Hearing alumni share their experiences and knowing that they were in the same position as I am was encouraging and reassuring.”

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