I joined the doctoral programme at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) in the department of biochemistry and molecular biology in 2013. I came to know about UNMC from an alumnus, Dr Mahek Sharma of the BMB department. I was interested in pursuing my doctoral degree in a medical centre, and UNMC seemed to be the perfect fit for me.
My prior knowledge about the staff-to-student ratio was limited, but I would say that having more staff around has proven to be helpful. As a grad student in a foreign university (I am originally from India), I required help frequently to understand the paperwork and to figure out the course structure. Administrative staff, especially those in my department, were so helpful from day one, and they still help me all the time.
The first four semesters were interesting because I was either revisiting something I learned through my master’s coursework or learning something completely new. It was a different experience to share classes with medical, pharmacy and nursing students. Taking those classes made me realise how basic science and research is integrated with medical tests and treatment strategies. I tried to solve medical cases with my medical and nursing student friends, something I thought was limited to only medical professionals.
I wanted to do my doctoral work in a hospital setting. I needed to know exactly how doing research in the lab affected people in the wards. I was trying to find a purpose for doing a PhD. UNMC has not disappointed me in this aspect. Studying here has enabled me to interact with pancreatic cancer patients (the cancer I am researching), and I realised how this disease affects families. I would not have experienced this in a traditional university setting.
Doing research in a medical centre was valuable when it came to obtaining patient samples or working with surgeons or doctors. In addition, the staff in core facilities were knowledgeable and worked with me to figure out the best experiments to answer my research questions, which was a huge bonus for a young researcher like me.
However, it is not all study and research at UNMC. The thriving student community and associations keep things fun and relaxed. I am currently serving as president of the International Student Association, which has helped to improve my leadership skills. Movie nights, free pancakes and pizza events, as well as professional development seminars, provide a well-rounded experience for students.
Kasturi Banerjee is a PhD candidate at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.