P4: Is PhD Really a Waste of Time?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013 - 3:30pm to 5:00pm
University of Toronto

In 2010 the Economist published an article entitled “The Disposable Academic: Why doing a PhD is often a waste of time”. We will deliver a lively panel discussion made of a diverse group of PhDs to discuss graduate education today and to answer the question: Is a PhD Really a Waste of Time?

In Canada the number of tenure track positions held by individuals under the age of 35 has decreased from 35% in 1980 to 12% in 2005, yet over the past 10 years we have nearly doubled the number of PhDs enrolled at our universities. The current postgraduate model was designed to stream young scientists into faculty positions, which has led to increasing numbers seeking nonacademic careers. While many of the qualities that define a researcher are transferable to industry, such as project management, data analysis and critical thinking, PhD holders often lack the “soft skills” needed to succeed outside academia. Prospective employers in the science and technology sector hunt for personal attributes that include leadership, communication, administration, creativity, initiative and interpersonal ability.

Students who wish to gain transferable skills are often left to look outside of their graduate programs. Student affiliated organizations hold development workshops and networking events. However, these are often in large group settings and are not ideal for networking opportunities. Government agencies and non-profit organizations offer new training programs and internships to students that facilitate transition into the workplace but these are competitive and not accessible to all students. European countries have begun restructuring their higher education models to incorporate these skill sets in their curriculums. How can the Canadian postgraduate academic model be restructured to incorporate professional development into the curriculum and to better prepare trainees with the skills needed for science and technology careers outside academia?

To address this question we have assembled a panel discussion of experts encompassing six aspects associated with graduate professional development. These include: the graduate student perspective, faculty positions today, careers outside academia, innovation, work-life balance and changes needed in graduate education. Each panel member will have 5 minutes to make opening statements (about 30 minutes) followed by 30 minutes for interactions/debate between panelists and then open to the floor for questions.

Our panel discussions will highlight the skills needed for PhDs success both inside and outside of academia. Alignment of training programs with employer expectations will decrease the burden of on the job training to employers and increase performance in the science and technology sector. We must recognize the changes needed to our current model of graduate education to give the next generation of Canadian scientists the tools to thrive and succeed in an ever changing and demanding global environment.


Interim Vice-Dean, Graduate & Life Sciences Education
University of Toronto

Moderator & Graduate Education:
Professor Avrum I. Gotlieb, founding Chair of the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology (LMP), Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto, (1997-2008) obtained his BSc in Psychology and Physiology, with first class honors, (1967) and his MDCM (1971) from McGill University. He continued his training in medicine and anatomic pathology at the teaching hospitals of McGill University. He obtained his Fellowship from the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada in Anatomic Pathology (1975) and certification from the American Board of Pathology (1976). He pursued research training in cell biology in the Department of Biology, University of California San Diego with Professor SJ Singer, supported by a Medical Research Council Fellowship. He is currently Interim Vice Dean, Graduate and Life Sciences Education and Senior Academic Advisor to the Dean, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto
Professor Gotlieb held administrative appointments in two educational areas in LMP; Coordinator of Graduate Studies and a Course Director of a pathology course in Undergraduate Medicine. An educational program initiated by Professor Gotlieb in 2000 was an innovative and unique undergraduate arts and science Specialist Program in Pathobiology.
Professor Gotlieb's research interests include atherosclerosis and valvular heart disease. He has published on blood vessel repair especially on the role of the cytoskeleton in endothelial repair and his research studied how heart valve cells repair valves after they have been injured. He has published over 100 peer reviewed papers, and 35 reviews and book chapters. He edited three books, including the comprehensive textbook Cardiovascular Pathology, edited with colleagues MD Silver, University of Toronto, and F Schoen, Harvard Medical School. He has received peer reviewed funding from the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario and the Medical Research Council (now Canadian Institutes of Health Research), CIHR.
Professor Gotlieb is the past co-Editor of Cardiovascular Pathology, a journal of the Society for Cardiovascular Pathology dedicated to basic, clinical, and applied cardiovascular science published by Elsevier. He serves on the Editorial Board of The American Journal of Pathology (AJP) and Laboratory Investigation.
Professor Gotlieb is a former President of the American Society for Investigative Pathology (ASIP) and past President of the Canadian Society of Atherosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology (CSATVB) and the Society for Cardiovascular Pathology (SCVP). He was a member of the Board of the Federation of American Societies of Experimental Biology (FASEB) and served as FASEB Vice-President for Science Policy. He is an elected Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences and was honoured by SCVP with the Distinguished Achievement Award and by ASIP with the Robbins Distinguished Educator Award, and by the Association of Pathology Chairs with their Distinguished Service Award. He has presented career talks at several national and international scientific meetings and venues.

Coordinator for Graduate Professional Development
University of Toronto

Work Life Integration:
Dr. Nana Lee holds a PhD in Biochemistry from the University of Toronto, a Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Michigan and was a Visiting Scholar at Whitehead (Broad) Institute for Biomedical Research, MIT with the world’s leading group of the International Human Genome Project. Her roles in the biotechnology industry include Senior Research Scientist for Ellipsis Biotherapeutics Inc. and Senior Research Scientist, Product Manager and Director of Application Science for DNA Software Inc. She brings her valuable expertise as an industry scientist and mother of three back into academia as she is currently pioneering the addition of professional development in biomedical graduate education. Along with Dr. Reinhart Reithmeier, she developed and implemented the innovative Graduate Professional Development (GPD) course in the fall of 2012 for the Department of Biochemistry, University of Toronto. Future courses and programs are planned for 2014 while she currently coordinates and leads other GPD activities during her maternity year. She resides with her husband and three daughters in Toronto.

ScarX Therapeutics

Dr. Waissbluth has over 7 years of early stage drug development and commercialization experience. Before joining ScarX Therapeutics, Ivan worked as a commercialization manager at MaRS Innovation, where he managed the development of multiple nonclinical therapeutic programs ranging from drug discovery, formulation development, and nonclinical proof of concept studies targeting a variety of different indications. Prior to MaRS Innovation Ivan worked at the Centre for Drug Research and Development (CDRD), and worked to commercialize technologies at the UBC technology transfer office. Ivan also has experience performing investment diligence while working as an intern analyst at life science venture capital company, Burrill & Co. Ivan holds a Ph.D. in Experimental Medicine from the University of British Columbia.

Director of Development
International Centre for Health Innovation at the Ivey School of Business

Outside Academia:
Dr. Zayna Khayat joined Ivey in 2013 after an 11-year career in strategy consulting, primarily in the health and life sciences sector. She was with the Boston Consulting Group (2001-2010), and then was an Associate Principal with SECOR Consulting, a Canadian firm that was acquired by KPMG in 2012. Dr. Khayat is also an adjunct professor in the Health Sector stream at the Rotman School of Management at University of Toronto, and is a senior advisor to Endeavour Volunteer Consulting. Zayna holds PhD in biochemistry from the University of Toronto/Sickkids (2001). She resides in Toronto with her husband and 3 children.

Assistant Professor
University of Toronto

Academic Positions Today:
Dr. Moraes has been an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biochemistry since 2009 and was recently awarded a Tier II Canada Research Chair in the Structural Biology of Membrane Proteins. He completed is undergraduate training in the Department of Biochemistry at Queen’s University in 1997 and an MSc there with Dr. William Plaxton in 1999. He obtained his PhD in 2004 at the University of Alberta, supervised by Drs. Michael Ellison and J.N.Mark Glover, followed by post-doctoral studies with Dr. Natalie Strynadka at the University of British Columbia. He currently runs a lab with 3 graduate students, a post-doctoral fellow and a technician while raising his 2 boys with his wife in downtown Toronto.

Graduate Student
University of Toronto

The Graduate Student Perspective:
David Gallo received his Bachelors of Science in 2008 from University of British Columbia and went on complete a Masters of Science in 2010 from McGill University. He started his PhD in 2012 at the University of Toronto in the department of biochemistry where he is currently. David was in the first cohort of students in the pilot professional development course offered by the department biochemistry at the University of Toronto and ranked among the top in the class.