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Erickson Tackles Research Challenges

ERICKSON PHOTOLongtime faculty member named college's first associate dean for research and graduate studies

The offer was just too good to pass up.

Dr. Carlton Erickson was content in his role as a senior faculty member within the Division of Pharmacology and Toxicology.  That is, he was content until Dean Lynn Crismon extended an invitation to Erickson to write his own job description as the college's first associate dean for research and graduate studies

"He basically offered me an opportunity to create a completely new position-- to write my own job description.  I couldn't pass that up," Erickson said.

Since January, the new associate dean has been busy determining exactly how that job description should read.  He has conducted meetings with each of the college's 40 plus research faculty members to hear about their successes and concerns.  He has reviewed statistics concerning the college's recent awards history from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the gold standard for research funding.  He has met with graduate students, both current and former, to talk about their impressions of and experiences within the college.

He's listened, he's studied, and now he has a plan.  The job is taking shape.

Since faculty members provide the framework for research initiatives, Erickson began his explorations with them. 

At most  meetings between the new associate dean and a faculty member, Erickson said he always asked the same question, "What is your dream and how can I help you realize it."

Erickson said he was not surprised to find some common themes surface from the meetings.  Most expressed satisfaction with their positions, but voiced concerns about securing more research funding, more laboratory space and more student fellowships.

While some initiatives will have to wait, work has already begun on others.

Beginning in the fall semester, the college will launch a mentoring program for junior faculty.  Participation will be mandatory for all new assistant professors.  Current assistant professors will not be required to participate, but they will be welcome should they elect to take part.  The program will provide a one-to-one match between a junior and senior faculty members until the junior faculty member achieves tenure.  Senior faculty will be trained to mentor in both teaching and research.  The mentoring training begins this summer for division heads.

Erickson also plans to establish a pre-review process where senior faculty will volunteer their time to serve as early peer reviewers of grant proposals generated by college faculty.  The process, which also includes review by expert scientists from other institutions, will serve as a sort of dress rehearsal for the proposal before it falls under the rigorous NIH review process.

The grant proposal process will also be aided by a new staff position that will fall under the direction of the new associate dean.Regina Maldve, who began work as senior grants and contracts specialist in the fall, has already helped faculty realize some grant funding awards and, working together, Erickson anticipates even greater successes.

Many young faculty members have never tackled the daunting challenge of submitting a grant proposal to the NIH, he explained.  Maldve, who has participated in several grant writing workshops and who has personal experience in writing grants for her own research, is a new resource to faculty.  Her expertise in navigating the sometimes arduous application process is available to assist all researchers, particularly those new to NIH grant applications.

Recently three junior faculty members have been notified that their NIH grant applications have been approved. 

Erickson's second focus is directed to graduate students and their experience while in the pharmacy program.

Approximately 75 percent of the college's graduate student population have no pharmacy background at all when they enroll in graduate school to study in one of the labs of a pharmacy professor.  And, although graduate students are encouraged to attend and present at national meetings, their disciplines are such that there is really no one meeting that attracts all of the students.   The new associate dean has several initiatives designed to help bring graduate students together as a group and to help firm their ties to the college, in general.

"The graduate student experience is very different from the experiences of Pharm.D. students, particularly in terms of their relationship with the college" he explained.  "Most graduate students feel connected to a particular professor but not so much with the college, in general." 

Erickson has started a Friday afternoon social gathering for all graduate students, their spouse or guest, and members of the faculty and administration.  The first gathering, scheduled in mid-April, drew more than 70  attendees.  Two more were held in late April and early May.  Erickson plans to make the Friday events a regular feature for the fall semester.

In the summer , Erickson will teach a communications skills class open to all graduate students.  The class will provide the students with an opportunity to further establish community with one another and will provide Erickson an ideal venue for one of his greatest passions -- teaching highly-skilled researchers how to become effective communicators.   The class is not mandatory, but is a recommended elective for the summer semester.

Some divisions do a great job of keeping in touch with graduate students once they complete their program; others, do not, he said.   Plans are underway to identify a division coordinator to keep track of graduate students once they leave the college.  In addition, he hopes to start a graduate student newsletter.  Graduate student news will also become a regular feature in Longhorn Pharmacy Focus.

Finally, the Pharmacy Graduate Student Association, will sponsor an orientation experience for graduate students at the start of each fall semester, similar in structure to the New Student Orientation offered to students within the Professional Pharmacy Program.


Last Reviewed: July 15, 2008

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