10 months ago

2019 Spring/Summer Highlights of Hope


RESEARCH TRAINING THE NEXT GENERATION OF SCIENTISTS AN INTERVIEW WITH DR. STEVEN J. TRIEZENBERG, DEAN OF VAN ANDEL INSTITUTE GRADUATE SCHOOL Van Andel Institute Graduate School Dean Dr. Steven J. Triezenberg has spent most of his life working as a scientist and educator — leading labs and helping to mentor and train young scientists who are just beginning their professional journeys. Recruited in 2006 as VAIGS’s founding dean, Triezenberg helped design the school’s strategic plan and developed the school into a competitive Ph.D. program. Triezenberg is a passionate believer in the power of innovative education and its ability to have a life-long impact on all students, but especially those who have decided to pursue careers in science. What is the basis for VAIGS’s educational philosophy? The school’s philosophy begins with the idea that students enrolled in VAIGS aren’t here to train to be students — they are here to become scientists, which means they should think, act, talk, write and learn like scientists. We believe our students should become immersed in science and take on the persona of a scientist while they are here. The second part of our philosophy is that graduate school is not a destination, but rather a path to a future as a scientific leader. How does the school’s philosophy affect how students interact with peers and faculty? We want students to see themselves as partners in science with faculty members and other students. They might be junior partners, but they are integral parts of the Institute’s research teams, and we want them to feel a part of the research enterprise here. We believe our students should become immersed in science and take on the persona of a scientist while they are here. - DR. STEVEN J. TRIEZENBERG At VAIGS, we don’t view the faculty and the student relationship as one of guru and student — we see it more as a relationship between colleagues at different levels. There is a real partnership in the process of learning here between faculty and students. Good mentor relationships are absolutely essential for students in the program. In some respects, a Ph.D. education is an apprenticeship — because as a beginning scientist, you’re learning constantly from your faculty members and discovering new ways to grow with their guidance. What kind of support does VAIGS offer students in its program? Financial support is one important way we support students in the program. Students’ tuition is covered, and they also receive a very competitive stipend for living expenses, as well as health insurance. Because the school is fairly small, we can build a real sense of connection with the students. Each new graduate student has a peer mentor, someone who is a year or two ahead and can help them develop connections and build relationships. Is there a specific kind of student who will thrive in the VAIGS program? Students who thrive here are eager, willing and capable of being independent learners. Our problem-based learning approach puts a lot of responsibility for doing the learning on the student. We are also keenly looking for students who are interested in biomedical research that directly impacts human health and wellbeing. What are some of the goals for the future? In 2019, we are developing our strategic plan for the next five or six years. We’d like to expand our number of students and begin to reach out to more international students. We’d also like to increase the experiences our students have available to them. For instance, we may consider an internship program where students can spend three months at a pharmaceutical or biotech company or a consulting firm, so they have meaningful professional experiences and develop necessary professional connections. What inspires you about working with young scientists? I get a lot of inspiration from seeing our students succeed — because the success of the school is defined by the success of our students. It’s a good feeling to know that the first students who graduated in 2012 are now finishing their postdoctoral positions and moving into faculty or industry leadership positions. It’s always inspiring to help students launch their careers. To learn more, please visit 10 | VAN ANDEL INSTITUTE HIGHLIGHTS OF HOPE


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