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Transcript of the Interview with Dr. Jeremy Berg on Scientific Careers

October 6, 2007

Coming up next on College Connection we talk to a Pennsylvania congressman who has introduced legislation to change a law that, some say, creates a barrier to communication that may have contributed to the Virginia Tech tragedy. And we talk to university professors about the future of scientific research on campus and why some experts are concerned.

[music] College Connection is your radio link to information about Oklahoma's colleges and universities. This is your host, Bed Hartcastle, and we'll be presenting the latest on higher education issues and interviews with education experts and news makers from around the state and nation. College Connection is produced and sponsored by the Oklahoma state regents for higher education and the regent's staff. Now with the news, here's Richard Conner.

Hello and welcome, let's begin with a look at some of recent news and events that affect Oklahoma's colleges and universities. Congress is considering changes to a federal policy law that is intended to allow information about emotionally troubled students to be relayed more readily to their parents. College Connection's Ben Hartcastle spoke with Representative Tim Murphy, a member of Congress from Pennsylvania's eighteenth district and sponsor of the bill. "Some months ago when the tragic shootings occurred at Virginia Tech University it brought to light for the whole nation what happens when parents may be aware of problems their student, their child is having, the schools may be aware of some problems, but when people do not talk with each other it ends up that a tragedy that perhaps could have been averted, still occurs. My bill is one that will actually help us, allow universities and parents to talk when a student has significant problems. Now, one would think that that would be a natural course event for some college to call up and say 'we are deeply concerned, we think your child has serious mental health problems, they may be suicidal, they may be at risk for hurting someone else,' but actually, there's a law that's from the 1970s called the Family Education Rights of Privacy Act that was originally designed so that schools would not release students records. And that makes sense but what it became a burden for schools is that schools became worried about releasing any information and there have been cases where students who ended up with either suicide or other problems the school has not contacted the family and the young men or women have subsequently died. There've been other cases where there's concern that the schools contact someone they shouldn't and so schools feel that although the current law, the FIRPA law says that it's ok under certain circumstances to contact people, they are afraid they are going to get sued and so they don't contact people and that is a serious problem. We don't want schools to be thinking about who's going to be suing who, we want schools to think about what we can do to help communicate best with students. And also the current system is one that basically leaves the burden on academic faculty and administrators to make a decision if someone has a serious mental illness to the point where they may be at risk to themselves or someone else. And I think that's an unfair position to have them. Rather, I think, in our bill we allow it so that, is a school consults with a licensed mental health practitioner, psychologist, psychiatrist, whoever might be licensed in that state, and that person feels that yes, we think there's significant risk here, we need to inform someone, then that school would be protected from any liability for informing. And there's a reason to use mental health practitioners in this, that is, first of all, they are trained in this, and secondly there's already case law out there which requires psychologists, psycho therapists, etc who are licensed to have a duty to inform if they think there's a significant risk. So we are in essence extending it here to provide some help to universities so they don't have to sitting around thinking should we call a lawyer but thinking instead is this a time we want to call the parent. "

College admissions has become a highly competitive process. Now the question is, what impact is this process having on our children. The Education Conservancy, a non-profit organization committed to improving college admission processes for students, colleges and high schools, conducted a study exploring the messages that selective colleges sent to prospective applicants. College Connection's Emilia Ross spoke with Lloyd Thaker, executive director of the Education Conservancy about the findings of their study College Admissions, What Are Students Learning.

"The study was conducted by a focus group method, we talked with students at eight high schools across the country and we wanted to get their sense of what they were hearing, feeling and doing in the college admission process. Because we were concerned that the messages signals were driving attitudes and behaviors in ways that were not educationally desirable. What we found is that students learn many things going through this process, that is it indeed an informative process. And that the behavior of colleges, individually and collectively, has a profound impact on what students learn. Some of these impacts did not serve the developmental needs of students and some produce adverse effects for students and for society. "

"OK, and in your opinion, what needs to be done to the current admissions process to make it fair to the students?"

"To make it fair to education would be the right question. Colleges need to stop treating students as customers and to treat them as students. Colleges need to do a better job of acting like educational institution, not like marketing enterprises. They need to try to align their admission practices with their educational values and purposes and to behave in a way that they would want their students to behave. Kids are being driven to perceive and pursue education in ways that educators would not want them to do. But it shows that there is a real appetite, a hunger, a market if you will, for educational integrity. In other words, if colleges act like educators in this process and treat kids as students, they will respond. So that the message to colleges is that they can do well by doing good, they have to have the courage of their educational convictions to do that."

"How was your study. how was it received by other universities?"

"Oh, it was being received well, lots of interest, I'm invited to consult with colleges. There's a real opportunity here for colleges to get better return on their admission investments. There's a lot of waste financially and there's a lot of waste in terms of the educational resources that the students bring to the enterprise."

Those interested in jazz music can now get their copy of NorthWestern State University Jazz Ensemble's CD. The album titled "The Point" features new original music by NSU faculty and students with one of the legendary performers in jazz. College Connection's Amy Gutterd spoke with Arthur White, director of Jazz Studies at NSU about the album and how this project got started.

"This is the third of our CD releases. It's called "The Point". We released it just about a month ago in early September and we recorded it in May of 2007, just a few months ago with one of the world's finest jazz guitarists, guitarist from Chicago, Henry Johnson, an outstanding musician who's been at NSU before as a guest artist to play with our university ensembles. And Henry and I struck a... for lack of better word, we really struck a chord, we had a great time with Henry and he was an incredibly positive influence on the students and we thought it would be a great idea to put some of the things down on record and so one thing led to another and here we are."

"Now you said that this is the third CD that the ensemble has released. How did this get started?"

"It was something that I brought with me when I started at NSU about almost four years ago now. One of the primary objectives I had was to record a CD of our top jazz group and in this case it's our top big band, the NSU jazz ensemble. It acts as a showcase not only for our students, they get to apply all the skills that they learned in lessons and in classes in terms of jazz, they get to apply them within a real world practical setting. And I think having those experiences set them up really well for when they graduate college. They need to have experiences and often times it's hard for college students, particularly college musicians to get experiences like that. And part of the reason that I wanted to start a recording albums was to give students opportunities that a lot of other students at other institutions don't have. Additionally, this also acts as a great recruiting tool for the department and for the Jazz Studies program at NSU. We are very fortunate to get a wonderful base of talented students from all over the state of Oklahoma. And this acts as a really fine recruiting tool. You come to NSU and you play jazz and work very hard at what you do, it's like, it's sort of a reward at the end of the day as well. So it's a terrific opportunity for the students. We bring in some of the world's finest musicians to come in and play. We give kids the opportunity to write their own music and to record their music and, while it's a pretty stressful experience at times, the end result is always worth it. The kids usually get a very positive experience out of it."

Coming up after a brief break, we talk to university professors about the future of scientific research on campus.

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Many of the country's brightest scientific graduate students are discovering that while obtaining a Ph.D. is a challenging journey, starting a career in the desired scientific field can be just as challenging. Today we look at the struggles of many graduate students, of what they experience when they head out into the work force and what can be done to better prepare them for the challenging road ahead. We have two guests on the phone: Dr. Jeremy Berg, who's the Director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences for the National Institutes of Health, thank you for joining us Dr. Berg, "My pleasure, thanks for having me." And Dr. Kelvin Drogemeier, who's Associate Vice President of Research at the University of Oklahoma and a frequent guest of College Connection, thank you for joining us again, Dr. Drogemeier, "You're welcome, Ben".

"Dr. Berg, let's start with you. What's the job market like for graduate students who are interested in a science career?"

"Well, let me first say, I think the opportunities, the scientific opportunities at this point are just breathtakingly exciting certainly in biomedicine, biomedical research, there the sorts of questions that can be addressed now are just amazing. That being said, I think there are certainly plenty of stresses, you know I think if you go in to graduate training thinking that you're going to. the only path you're thinking about is taking over your professor's job that happens to be fairly frustrating I think. The chances of getting an academic job, while still good, isn't the only possible option. There are many other possibilities in academia going into a research-intensive place or teaching, more teaching-intensive place and there are industrial positions in certainly the pharmaceutical industry and biotech, there are also many other career paths. So I think there are lots of opportunities but it's best to be broad-minded going in to about what you really want to do. "

"Well, Kelvin Drogemeier, let's take the Oklahoma perspective here. What are we looking at for in terms of job market for graduate students who are interested in science?"

"One of things I think states can do best to retain their students is to provide opportunity for them to be entrepreneurs. I think a lot of the students that are coming out of doctoral programs looking to do creative things, are looking to hitch up with established companies but more and more these days we're actually seeing and actually fostering the development of companies and activities and helping people come out of doctoral programs actually look at starting new ventures on their own. I certainly agree with my colleague that there's a lot of opportunity out there and there are a lot of very creative people. So I think the best thing that we're doing in Oklahoma through things like the Center for the Creation of Economic Wealth, and I2E and a lot of these other activities including OCAST are providing the framework and the environment for which creative ... to help creative people go do the things they want to do and to really think out of the box. I think another thing that Oklahoma's done is the EDGE Endowment which is now $150 million and that's produced about $6.8 million of interest - income that then can be seeded into these new kinds of activities. I think certainly taking a shotgun approach is probably the wrong way to go and I think Oklahoma is very focused. In fact, it's developing a state science research and development strategic plan right now to really focus its assets to provide opportunities for students. I would say also that one of the things you will look at is Oklahoma is one of 25 or 27 so called EPSCoR states that traditionally does not get the same amount of funding as some of the other states. We are a net exporter of talent to the really powerful states - California, many New England states. That's actually a good thing, I think, it bodes well for the talent base in Oklahoma but of course we want to keep more and more of our students here to build the economy. So I think the EDGE program and some of the other programs that we put in place are really going to be effective and already are being effective. "

"Dr. Berg, something that we saw in data from the National Academy of Science shows that, if you look at the number of tenured or tenure-track scientists in biomedicine, that stayed the same in the last twenty years or so. But the number of doctorates that has been produced in that same twenty years has increased. Now, is that something that tells us anything, should we be concerned about that?"

"It certainly is cause for some concern. On the other hand I think a couple things: one is, over the last three years really sort of after the NIH budget was doubled over a 5-year period, there has been an increase in divisions, particularly at academic medical centers. But the number of physicians has certainly been much less than the number of doctorates produced. I think, as Kelvin was saying and I was saying, there also has been tremendous expansion however in other areas. Biotech twenty years ago was just a glimmer in a few people's eyes and that's now employing and creating lots of jobs, lots of opportunities for folks. So it's certainly something to worry about and we certainly do. But because the job market is so much broader than just the academic job market there are many ways this system can equilibrate itself. "

"Kelvin, when you look the many number of years that it takes for somebody to get an advanced degree in research, science research, whatever it might be, during that period of time, are they often given advice or guidance by academicians or by the departments about what kind of job opportunities there might be particularly in the state of Oklahoma?"

"Well, they are and in fact I think one of the biggest challenges that we would all agree exists is a lot of times faculty members train their students to basically be clones of who they are and in fact a lot of the people that had been in the professoriate for twenty or thirty years kind of grew up in a different world of the scholarship where it really was more very disciplinary focused and the folks that come into academia now grew up in a world where a lot of the work they are doing sits at the boundaries of traditional discipline. So I think this article in the Chronicle pointed this out that really one of the things we need to do is, as we mentioned earlier, be more broad-minded about these kinds of things and not disparage students taking jobs in industry or taking jobs in other areas, maybe in government. In fact, in policy I know a lot of very very excellent people on the Hill, permanent staffers in the Senate and the House, who are extremely important. They survive elections, they are there for a long period of time. It used to be that folks that had an aspiration to do that were like 'well, if you can't get a faculty job, I guess, you could go do policy' but now it's really thought to be a very legitimate pursuit, an academic pursuit to finish your Ph.D. and go do policy. But yet, I think very much it's true that in the professoriate mindset that we're really training people for higher education academic jobs and that is somewhat slow to change but it is happening. And I agree that this is a very exciting time, science and discovery, so many things out there, in health field and others, this notion of clinical translational science now, we've got all these developments in medicine but yet the overall health of the country is not advancing nearly at the pace of our discoveries. So it's a question, translating the basic research outcomes into practice and there's a huge opportunity there for folks that are trained up and have Ph.D. degrees and advanced degrees to participate in that whole process. So I think it's a different landscape now but I think a lot of folks would say, 'well, it looks really bleak'. I don't agree that it looks bleak and I think it's a time of tremendous opportunity. In fact, the time of great challenge like fifty years ago today was Sputnik, right? What did that do for our country? It spurred us into a whole new era of support and creativity in academic and private sector and government communities and I think now is no different. I agree, it's a time of great opportunity. "

"Jeremy Berg, is there anything that should be done in terms of policy on a campus level, state level, national level to try to deal with this?"

"Well I think one thing that NIH is very active in trying to do is trying to ease the transition from scientists in training from post-doctoral positions into academic positions. One thing which has happened is people are spending longer time in post-doctoral fellowship, and then longer times in faculty positions or waiting to get their grants funded so they can really get their research careers going. So about two years ago now NIH started a new program called the Pathway to Independence Award, which post-docs can apply for and it supports them for one to three years as a post-doctoral fellow working in someone else's lab but developing their own independent research project. And then if they get an appropriate academic position, it also provides a substantial level of research support for their early years in a faculty position. In terms of creating more jobs I think, again, the investments that the government made in the NIH budget did do substantial amounts. The problems or the challenges come with, when a lot of capital flows into a system, it takes a while for things to re-equilibrate. So I think we're dealing with that at this point."

"Well, I want to thank our guests for participating in a very interesting discussion today, Dr. Kelvin Drogemeier, who's Associate Vice President of Research at the University of Oklahoma and Dr. Jeremy Berg, Director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences for the National Institutes of Health. Thank you both gentlemen for joining us on College Connection."

Next week, an update on new efforts to improve accountability by setting standards that measure the actual learning that is gained by college graduates.

This has been College Connection. Your radio link to information about Oklahoma's colleges and universities produced and sponsored by the Oklahoma state regents for higher education. For more information about Oklahoma's colleges and universities and higher education issues, go online to or call 1-800-858-1840 during regular office hours. Join us again next week for College Connection.


This page last reviewed on October 27, 2011