Graduate students are a driving force for biomedical research
Scientific research advances the boundaries of human knowledge, providing the foundation upon which all technological and biomedical breakthroughs are built. A major engine of discovery at major universities like UCLA are the brilliant, creative and hardworking graduate student researchers. These Ph.D. students do much of the hands-on work that fuels both basic discovery and clinical research. Exceptional graduate students are recruited to UCLA from top undergraduate programs across the country, and then choose a lab and faculty mentor based on the best match between the lab’s research focus and their own creative interests. Although biomedical research projects are managed and supervised by professors, the productivity, creativity, and discovery often comes from Ph.D. students.
Funding for graduate students accelerates scientific progress and drives innovation
Ph.D. students are the driving force behind biomedical advances, and they are rewarded for their efforts. Unlike professional degree programs in which students pay tuition for their education, graduate student productivity is so critical to the university’s research mission that tuition plus living expenses are provided to all graduate students in biomedical Ph.D. programs nationally and internationally. At UCLA in 2016, these costs approach $45,000 per year for each student. Typically these costs are paid through grants directly to individual professors supervising a student’s thesis research from federal agencies such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Owing to budgetary shortfalls, the payline at NIH is very tight; in many cases less than 10% of proposals are funded. Unfortunately, the grant proposals with the smallest risk of failure are frequently selected for funding. Research progress therefore tends to proceed in safe, incremental steps. As a result, the most exciting, audacious and creative ideas in science are not currently being pursued. There is a great need for ‘venture capital’ research support, in which the risk of failure is high but the potential reward is stratospheric.
Funding graduate education will spark innovation at UCLA
A cost-effective and deeply impactful way for philanthropists to enable innovative scientific discovery is to support graduate student research outside the constraints of the traditional funding structure. Graduate students often have the broad vision and energy to embrace risky and potentially transformative projects. Philanthropic funding allows timely pursuit of the most compelling scientific questions and provides exceptional career development for the next generation of biomedical breakthroughs. It is difficult to overstate the enormous potential of graduate training support to advance our scientific understanding and to benefit humanity.
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