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2019 Spring/Summer Highlights of Hope

RESEARCH TRAINING

RESEARCH TRAINING SCIENTISTS ONE DISCOVERY AT A TIME Van Andel Institute Graduate School (VAIGS) student Erin Williams is about to embark on a new stage in her career as a scientist. In February, Williams successfully defended her dissertation — the culmination of years of hard work. After completing VAI’s graduate school program, Williams knows firsthand what makes the Institute such a unique and special place to learn. VAIGS’s culture of collaboration was one of the most compelling reasons Williams decided to enroll. The Institute’s size and structure provides students with the opportunity to interact with peers and work in the labs of expert faculty mentors. “It’s truly a close-knit community,” Williams said. “Because it’s relatively small, most of the graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and principal investigators know each other, and it’s really quite easy to form friendships among your peers and mentors. When you’re just starting out, that level of support is meaningful.” VAIGS students aren’t just students — they’re valued members of the lab who are regarded as working scientists with real responsibilities. Williams works closely with her mentor, Dr. Darren Moore, in his lab where she studies the molecular pathophysiology of Parkinson’s disease. The experience has helped her gain important insights into what it means to conduct toptier biomedical research, run a lab and be a scientific leader. “Dr. Moore has been very influential in my development as a scientist,” Williams said. “He always has new ideas and is engaged in my professional growth. His commitment to his work has been really inspirational to me.” VAIGS's curriculum is designed around problem-based learning, a philosophy that views faculty as mentors, and focuses on process design and problem solving to empower students to be proactive learners and take ownership over their professional development. “The Institute’s problem-based curriculum has really been beneficial for me because "Because it’s relatively small, most of the graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and principal investigators know each other, and it’s really quite easy to form friendships among your peers and mentors. When you’re just starting out, that level of support is meaningful. it teaches you how to think like a scientist,” Williams said. “The first year of the graduate program consists of eight four-week courses, all based on a different disease. The first disease we study is cervical cancer, and we have four weeks to learn everything there is to know about cervical cancer — the molecular biology, biochemistry, current treatments, etc. At the end of the four weeks, we have to write a grant proposal that addresses an important question related to the disease. If you think about it, within weeks of starting the program, we’re working in the same way scientists work — it’s an incredible way to learn.” VAIGS GRADUATE SCHOOL STUDENT ERIN WILLIAMS - Erin Williams. When the Institute was founded in 1996, it began an ambitious mission to help develop and train the next generation of scientists. Today, VAIGS students like Erin Williams are receiving an education of a lifetime, learning from world-renowned faculty members, and training to become tomorrow’s scientific leaders — one discovery at a time. To learn more, please visit vaigs.vai.org. 12 | VAN ANDEL INSTITUTE HIGHLIGHTS OF HOPE

VAN ANDEL INSTITUTE HIGHLIGHTS OF HOPE | 13

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