The panel consisted of: Drs. Kristy Ainslie, Shawn Hingtgen, Phil Smith. Current Graduate Student Rebeca Stiepel (4th year Ainslie Lab), Yu Zhang (2nd year Huang Lab), Ryan Woodring (1st year Ainslie Lab), Nicole Rose Lukesh (1st year rotating in Ainslie Lab), Jessica Tetterton (1st year Nguyen Lab).
Q: Is this UNC Charlotte or Chapel Hill?
This is exclusively at Chapel Hill.
Q: As a Chemical Engineering, what would be the best to do in pharmaceutical sciences?
Kristy – I have a Ph.D. in chemical engineering. Rebecca, Nicole and Ryan have a B.S. in chemical engineering. I think it’s a great program for entry because you have that materials background and you’re able to really apply it in a more biological sense, in a way you wouldn’t the classical chemical engineering program.
Rebeca – in Kristy’s lab, I do feel like I can bring in a lot of my engineering skills. I still use MATLAB. I do some modeling, but I had to learn a lot of immunology. But there are also other people in the program where that’s their background. We have other immunologists in our lab, and I bug them all the time. They kind of help fill those gaps.
Nicole – I would just say I feel like I see a lot of translation in the coursework where else like how these more like general chemical engineering concepts and they will like relate them directly to like pharmaceutical sciences, which is like. Yes, that’s exactly what I want to hear. Not like oil and petroleum and that kind of stuff that I learned in chemical engineering. Undergrad.
Ryan – Yeah, I was basically going to say the same thing as Nicole and what Rebecca said, like especially in my undergrad at Penn State, chemical engineering is so broad, but we were introduced to the very basics of like pharmaceutical sciences. It’s nice to see the translation from engineering going into that pharmaceutical sciences, in a deeper context. It’s much more applied, but similar concepts.
Q: Are you technically a pharmacist with a Ph.D. in this program?
No. No. That’s a different degree. That’s a professional pharmacy degree. This is a Ph.D. It’s just like any other PhD.
Q: Is this considered an engineering program since it’s a pharmacoengineering division?
Kristy – It’s a pharmaceutical science degree. Again, I think with your Ph.D., it has a lot to do with what your research is performed in.
Shawn – I think they’re going to look at your experience. I mean, as you transition, not that your degree is not important, but they’re going to look at your experience and what you can do for them as a Hands-On employee.
Q: Since each professor has a different specialty. Do we have to know which one we are most interested in to be accepting the program?
Kristy – It helps to know who you are interested in. But you do not you do not at the time of entry Students, did you guys know exactly when you applied? Did you end up exactly where you thought you would?
Ryan – I had a unique experience in that I actually did a summer program in Kristy’s lab as an undergrad, but I still did my rotations. And at the end of it, it was actually a really tough decision because I liked all of them. But I guess coming in like I knew Kristy’s lab was a strong possibility, but I didn’t fully know until I actually made the decision.
Q: Do they consider IELTS or not as an English language test?
Phil – We’ve never used that. Sorry, sorry. If you come from a country that has English as the primary language of instruction like India, you don’t have to do it all.
Q: I’m really interested in polymers used for different formats, including drug delivery. How would this fit in with the program?
Kristy – Yeah, so I do some of that. We might be hiring [faculty] in that area as well fairly soon. I think Julianne might occasionally do some polymer stuff. I know, Sean, you’ve used polymer systems that we use. But then we also have some adjuncts in Biomedical Engineering (BME). There’s Yevgeny Bruno, and Rahima Benhabbour. I’m sure there’s more in BME.
Q: How do we know what what faculty members are taking students? And then how do we tell when the application to those that are taking students rather than those who are not?
Kristy – Yeah. So that’s a good question. Sometimes it’s hard to know, like Phil just asked us, I think, about two weeks ago. We do take some estimates to know how many students to take. Generally, I would select three or four professors you may be interested in working with, because then that kind of gives you a good range because we might not know until right up until then. Certainly if you do get selected for on campus interview, or our virtual interview, you can talk one on one with the person and figure it out from there.
Q: What does collaboration look like within the division?
Kristy – You know, most of us are highly collaborative. I guess the story I always tell is, when I came here from Ohio State in 2014, where I was a professor before this, I had some grants to write, but I had so many more grants to write once I came here and started talking to faculty here. For our diabetes project that Nicole’s working on, that collaborator is Roland Tisch, who’s in Microbiology and Immunology. He’s on the student’s committee. We have a monthly meeting established with him.
Shawn – Yeah, we have a lot of clinicians.
Q: What does collaborations with industry look like, apart from students being hired directly into industry.
Shawn – One aspect, is a lot of us have Spin off companies. That’s one type of interaction. We have Research Triangle that’s close by. We have a lot of interactions, potential interaction there. As we think about translation, we have the translational center. There’s companies like RTI, which can help a lot with approval’s and different types of things. So there is a lot of there’s a lot of internships what are done.
Kristy – A lot of my students have done a lot of internships. I’ve had Naihan, who was one of my students who now works at Pfizer. She did an internship at Merck right before she graduated. She was in Boston, so you can also do local which is more common for our students to do something in the triangle area. But they can also do something a little bit further as well.
Q: Can you specify what type of work your alumni do in government?
Kristy – There are a few that are in government. I have a student who works for USAID working with long acting birth control. He goes to a resource limited settings, like in the Middle East and Africa, different places, and actually sets up help set up clinics to deliver a long term birth control. And he looks over grants for long term birth control and other long term delivery strategies that are needed in different parts of the world and then helps establish funding and resources for them. So that’s one example.
Q: Can I pursue a part time Ph.D.?
Kristy – That has not been possible. I don’t think, be feasible currently.
Phil – We’ve had that occasionally in the past, but it’s not very common, you know, and usually it’s been with close collaborators that we know in our team research Triangle Park, which is down the street.
Q: Where can I learn more information about DPET?
Kristy – I think DEPT has an information session or they maybe they just had one. You can look on their LinkedIn or Twitter page.
Q: Are GRE scores required?
Kristy – They are not required. You know, if you feel like you might need them, perhaps include them.
Q: I am supposed to present at an ACS conference, should I include that?
Kristy – Yes, yes, yes. Put them under a poster presentations.
Q: I’m an undergraduate pursuing second year pursuing a chemical engineering degree, is there a minor concentration that would help?
Ryan – I decided to get a minor in biomedical engineering, because if you’re in chemical engineering, you know, it’s like it’s very broad. There’s a lot of different avenues you can take. And biomedical engineering is kind of like a step in a more defined area of focus that falls under the umbrella of chemical engineering. I picked that up in my second year. And it was really helpful in kind of integrating the life sciences that is incorporated in pharmaceutical sciences.
Rebeca – I did something similar and what’s available to you is variable. For me minoring and BME wasn’t an option, but I could do a biochemical emphasis in chemical engineering. Towards the end of my undergraduate studies, the pharmacy school started an undergraduate program and I took some classes.
Nicole – I was in the same boat as Rebecca was able to focus in on bio engineering, but I also like have a totally unrelated minor in theology. And that’s like one of the things I really like about this program is you get people with all these different types of backgrounds. Like my background, I took time to really become well-rounded so that I can now hone in on science in my graduate degree.
Jessica – I would also say if you’re thinking about this program and you’re worried about your background, don’t be afraid to branch out in your classes undergrad. I went to school [Clemson], there wasn’t any like options for Concentration’s or really minors. But I take some bioengineering classes [Her major was Biochemistry]. And I found that really helpful, especially as like a non engineer kind of moving into this engineering world. So definitely don’t be afraid to take a class and see this kind of your world or your interest.
Q: Is the GRE beneficial?
Kristy – I mean, it’s just more information for us to look at.
Q: What does transferred from new of Buffalo?
Kristy – So when Julianna came here, she brought students with her that transferred from Buffalo to her program.
Q: Is it a rolling application process?
Not really. So it’s best to apply before December 1st.
Q: Sorry, I may miss this, would you take all the courses listed in the first year?
Kristy – No. Well, you take most of them in the first year, but you have electives that you would then take into the second year, first semester. So usually your courses are done by your end of your first semester in your 2nd year. Ryan, Jessica, Nicole, you guys are all in the middle of it. Do you guys have any comments about the courses or anything like that?
Jessica – You get busy and you stay busy.
Kristy – I think it’s less courses than an undergrad. But you do also have lab work to balance with it.
Ryan – I think one thing also to add on to it is because there is such a small number of us that are kind of all taking classes together. I’ve noticed that it’s a much more personal experience in the classroom than it was in undergrad. Most of the professors we know by name and it’s really easy to like ask for help. It never feels like a weed out class, the instructors and the professors and the faculty are all helping us to get to that next point.
Kristy – The class size is like 14, and that’s not including the DPMP students or the students. Maybe some are more 10 or 12. There’s other students taking the course from other programs like BME. So, yeah, it’s a very small class size.
Q: I’m graduating from undergraduate in December 22. Can students start the program in spring semester or just the fall semester?
Phil – Generally they start in the in the fall. Ryan graduated in December and worked in Kristy’s lab for a little bit before enrolling as a student. We have a fall start admission. But if you have time on your hands, you know, to get more research experience, you go to Europe.
Kristy – Not everyone can afford that.
Q: Would you recommend submitting GRE score, even if they are optional? I have a GPA of 3.6 and a half years of experience.
Kristy – I mean, it’s hard to say, right? Each package is different. Again, you know, you can submit them if they’re good. If they’re not good, then perhaps don’t submit them.
Q: How many students typically apply every year?
Phil: Typically we get 25 to 35 domestic applicants and then about 50 international. It is a pretty large pool and so it’s a competitive process.
Q: Can do research at our workplace?
Phil – Generally, though, the research is done within the labs.
Q: What’s the acceptance rate for this program?
Nicole – It’s about 6%.
Q: In what ways does the program best prepare students in non research related tasks?
Kristy – So professional skills, right. It can vary from lab to lab. I showed some of the business skills. There are other opportunities like a Teaching certificate on campus, if you wanted to pursue that. There’s you know, there’s plenty of opportunity to enrich yourself with writing or speaking or what have you. I mean, you can attend conferences that’ll help with your presentation skills. You write things in my lab, you write papers. If you want to write fellowships, you can do that if you want to write grants for students who want to go to faculty. We have a number of certificate programs that some of the students participate in.
Shawn – There are some groups in the business school, and I don’t know what the name of that program. One of my students was quite active in getting experience outside of research. Wulin was really interested in entrepreneurial activities. And actually, instead of going the traditional science right now is a tech advisor for a company. He just started in New York City. He did a lot of activities around that outside of the standard kind of wet lab stuff. We mentioned internships before. There’s lots of opportunities in the greater RTP.
Kristy – Student are supposed to develop their kind of their IDP or their plan for what they want to do when they graduate and what kind of training they want to receive through their Ph.D. program. Then the student is to interact with the advisor and have a discussion as to what it is you want to do. They then work with the advisor to develop professional skills and different things to do with their work.
Rebeca – In addition to all those resources, there’s something called TIBBS. It’s this program that does professional development workshops throughout the whole year. It’s open to all of us. It’s great. And a really great program.
Q: I’m interested in using materials that you microfluidics analysis of vaccine work and immunology engineering. Which professors would best for that?
Kristy – I don’t think I know of anyone who does microfluidics even in BME. This might not be the best fit for you then.
Q: Are communications possible with potential advisors or only the dean of graduate studies?
Kristy – We don’t admit directly into lab. I get contacted all the time by people who are interested. I would say, though, you might want to wait until your application has been submitted. You can certainly ask Phil questions about specifics on how to apply. It feels the best resource for that. But, you know, other questions related to research, certainly people reach out to me about that all the time.
Q: What are some courses you recommend for applicants to take while in undergrad to prepare?
Kristy – That’s a tough one, I guess Jessica gave a great example of that, right, where kind of mixing. You were a biochemist, right?
Jessica – My undergraduate degree was biochemistry with some engineering, trying to get a flavor for that. But again, it depends on what you’re going to do in your research, right. Because all of us have very different research projects going on. So I would just say, you know, what interests you, what I would say or what you may think, you may interest you. It’s a way to get a flavor for something like, say, maybe you’re interested in biomaterials, but you don’t know much about them. You can take a biomaterials course as undergrad. That would be a way to learn.
Q: I’m an international student currently studying for masters science and interested in a European university taught English language. My master’s was also fully taught in English. Do you require Tofel?
Q: How many students do you accept a year?
Five to six.
Q: What do you think’s the difference in applications coming from an undergrad with engineering degrees who are doing research but not in the physical area?
Again, research, undergraduate research is valuable no matter what it is. Talk about it in your narrative, indicate it on your CV, put any research product on your CV. These are things we value. You know, if you’re a chemical engineering undergrad and you did research in like reaction kinetics, that’s fine. You did undergraduate research that makes you more mature than someone who didn’t. So certainly indicate that.
Q: Are there any application fee waivers for indigent students?
Phil – Those are decided by the graduate school now. Just remember the graduate schools, the umbrella over all the departments. So, you know, your application goes to them and they review it first and they take your money, your application fees. So they would be the ones to make that decision. We don’t make that decision, you know. Sorry. Link to application.
Q: Currently a second year chemical engineer. What type of research should I be looking for to make myself competitive again?
Kristy – Any sort of research that can be productive. Look for professors who support undergraduate research. Undergraduate researchers in my lab, I try to give them projects that will give them something when they’re done, hopefully. And then they also have the opportunity to be on some of the work for my graduate students. You want to be able to see if you’re spending three years in the lab and nothing’s come out of it, you really want to be able to have something as a student that can help show that research and shine, whether it’s a positive presentation, whether it’s a talk somewhere. Just make sure to grab that opportunity as best you can.
Q: Do labs have a major interest, but you find work for other another professor might be helpful and interesting to your thesis?
Shawn – Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think that’s one of the strengths of the division. And we’ve had students like Kristy is much better at materials, but we were applying it more to our biological system so we could collaborate from a functional standpoint to put people on committees. So, yeah, I mean we all cross collaborate and all sorts of different ways because everybody has their own strength. I feel like as one of the major advantages of the division is that you can pull from all different people. IF you’re learning from people that have that expertise if you want to try a new technique that your lab doesn’t do specifically.
Q: Do you recommend DPMP for someone interested in drug discovery?
No, I don’t. If you want discovery go to CBMC.
Q: Does immunology or other areas, especially in this program, encompass allergy allergic response treatment or allergy or something related to this?
Kristy – We do some work with food allergies. We have a couple of papers is not a focus by any means, but we’ve been working with the antigen causes a red meat allergy. Scott Commins is a world-renowned expert here at UNC. He asked us to make a liposome for him with alpha gal, which is the antigen for that particular response. It’s very similar to the work that Rebecca and perhaps Nicole will do that related to tolerance. The idea of turning down immune response. We do that for multiple sclerosis, and we do that for type one diabetes. But, you know, it’s is tweaking things from kind of this inflammatory response to more of an allergy type response.
Q: Kind of ways to stay up on current events:
Shawn – LinkedIn, social media and I guess lab pages, although those are not always the most current trying to update.
Kristy – Social media. I think that’s the best one of this. We are trying to do a newsletter that will come out twice a year, but it probably won’t come out to the general public. Probably more to alumni, students, and things like this that we’re hoping to get out this December and then again in the spring.
Q: Transferring credits and how does transferring credits work? If you have a master’s in something like nanomedicine, how would that work if they overlapped coming in with your first to first your PhD?
Phil – If they directly overlap with our coursework, you can apply for a course waiver. You can waive the course, but you can’t use that credit if you received a degree for the courses you took. You can’t double dip. After that, you’d still have to satisfy the credit requirements, which isn’t too hard to do within the graduate school.
Kristy – Yes, even after you complete classes, you still take research credits. That’s how you can accrue enough credits.
Q: What about collaborations with clinical pharmacy?
Shawn – We work a lot with the clinical pharmacists, more from an expertise standpoint, from an ad than actual hands on standpoint. They’ve also helped us get access to clinical formulations. When we’re doing testing for chemotherapies and things, we actually can buy clinical formulations directly through the pharmacy.
Q: To what degree does your program weigh recommendation letters during the application you recommend in regard to type of people?
So Professors PIs, people who you’ve done research for, are the best suggestions. We do weigh them heavily. I think BBSP actually did a research piece and Vanderbilt did as well, where they showed actually letters of recommendation indicated the best success in graduate school over GPA or GRE scores.
Q: When you’re in lab, are you given a general project and then put in your own spin on a few years, how does choosing thesis work varies from lab to lab?
Kristy – It depends on your professor. Some professors have a specific grant they want you to work on. When Nicole rotated through my lab I gave her the grant she would work on. I said, OK, this has been funded. It’s not that you have to do exactly that, but it does give kind of an umbrella of what’s going on. But other labs are different, Yu, I don’t know you what was your experience working with Leaf?
Yu -I actually did my first rotation with Dr. Anselmo, and I know my research will be about cancer and bacteria. So I first learned the bacteria knowledge in his lab. Then after I transferred to Dr. Huang. Actually, I worked on two different projects where one is about protein engineering and gene delivery and the other is about colorectal cancer, and microbiota. But how my final thesis is decided is as I work along the project, I found a specific pathogen, a specific cancer I would like to work on and that’s how I developed projects.
Q: Do you apply to the whole Ph.D. program or in later, specify your interest?
Kristy – I believe when you apply, you have to indicate which division you’d like to go to. Occasionally some students come in and try a rotation in different divisions, but generally everyone’s focused on DPMP. It’s a little challenging with coursework to kind of switch between the divisions.
Rebeca – It’s not so much rotating in other divisions, but we do have like adjunct appointments. So within DPMP, you can still rotate.
Q: Does an internship lengthen the time to graduate?
Shawn – Yes, it can. You just need to be careful. And that’s something that as you get into it, you can talk with your advisor, you can talk with your thesis committee dissertation committee about that, because, yeah, I mean, it’s going to be time away from the lab and you just need to work with them to determine how much of the impact and whether that’s OK on the larger scale. But yes, it will.
Q: How difficult is it to get a job after graduating?
Kristy – I haven’t encountered anyone having difficulty.
Shawn – Yeah. It’s not usually an issue.
Q: Since UNC doesn’t offer chemical engineering as a major would merit majoring in something like chemistry, biochemistry with an applied engineering minor, kind of get us to the same path or give the same benefit, or would something like biomedical engineering be a stronger background for the program?
Kristy – So all those majors are valid. Chemistry, biochemistry, BEM, chemical engineering [also Pharmaceutical Sciences]. The one thing I would suggest is taking organic chemistry. Otherwise, you’ll really struggle if you join DPMP. But other than that, I think any of those majors are fine.
Q: I’m a chemistry major in a psychiatry minor. I’m having is having some unrelated minor considered valuable to missions committee?
Kristy – I mean, Nicole has a theology minor. So, you know, again, variety helps.
Q: Are summer classes necessary to get through our classes?
You don’t take classes in the summer, you’re in the summer, your dedicated solely to research during the summer here.
Q: Industry experience is very similar to research experiences. Is having that internship experience in pulp and paper helpful?
Yes, it’s experience. Put it down. Describe it. Talk about it. Talk about what you did. It’s experience.
Q: Is there a page limit on the CV your resume?
Phil – I would say two to three pages, three max. Sometimes a one page, very concise can be sufficient.
Q: What about submitting more than three letters of recommendation? Is that helpful or is that within the guidelines?
Phil – Well, no, it’s not essential. You know, if you have more than three that are people you actually spend time with and that are meaningful letters. That’s great. What happens more commonly is professors get busy. And then we have two letters or maybe just one letter. So do make sure that the people that you select write letters are on time.
Q: There was actually a couple of questions about fellowships. How they may or may not impact your stipend. And then if there’s any fellowships available, if people would want to start in the summer to get going early.
Phil – Well, we don’t have any specific summer funding. Sometimes some labs hire people before the fall started. We have internal fellowships that will put our best candidates in and compete for on campus. But then some engineers are able to apply for the NSF fellowship before coming to a particular school.
Kristy – So if you are currently senior, you can write a NSF fellowship and you actually have a better chance applying as an undergrad than you do in a graduate program. It’s just a simple two-page science right up and then a personal statement and some others application material. If you receive that and you pretty much will have your pick of most graduate programs, no matter whether it’s this one or other ones. That is what we have had is lots of success with people who have undergraduate degrees in chemical engineering or biomedical engineering and then apply in their second year of graduate school. You can only apply once in your graduate school for the NSF. I think a lot of students like because, one, it’s very prestigious, but it also pays a lot more than a stipend. We also have a PhRMA fellowship, which is it doesn’t supplement your stipend, so you’ll get a base stipend. If you get a fellowship that’s above that, then you’ll get paid more. Rebeca has gotten the Ford Foundation Fellowship, and we’ve had also some NIH F series fellowships as well. We’ve done NSF training workshops. We’ve promoted people to write the NSF. We have NIH workshops as well. And we have examples of these that have been funded, of course.
Rebeca – If we bring in a major fellowship, we do get a bonus. I think we’re like 10 percent of your fellowship up to I think three thousand being the most.
Q: What do you think about review papers as research experience?
Kristy – Yes, put them on your CV. Especially during COVID I know a lot of my graduate students have been writing. Our labs were shut down for a good chunk of time. My students wrote research papers during that time. Rebeca did a mathematical model paper during that time. These are research products. These are things you should be highlighting in your narrative. These are things you should be put on your CV no matter if you apply here or wherever you apply.
Q: How did the program navigate COVID?
Shawn – We had to be socially distanced in the labs. They were shut down for a period of time. But we’re back up and running. Masks and being thoughtful about it, too. Wulin did a hybrid internship over the summer. Those should be on your CV. You can explain it if you want to. I mean, I think people understand there’s constraints around internships and things because of Covid.
Rebeca – I know UNC made the news, but that was more for the undergraduate side of things, causing a lot of spread. We totally shut down, in March and then opened up back up again in June at reduced capacity. We came in and shifts. We only had a certain number of people in the lab at any given time, masks at all times. Also face shields. If we couldn’t distance, like if we were in a room that was too small, like for animal work or something. And to my knowledge, none of the grad students actually got COVID. I felt perfectly safe in the lab experiment here, and we just kind of ran slowly. I’m very clear in the guidelines at UNC, followed with a general recommendation. And although we can’t ask about vaccine status, we know about ninety four percent of our school harmless individuals are vaccinated. We had an optional reporting. We were told, OK, you can report if you want to and if you don’t want to you have to get regularly tested. We are being careful while still respecting privacy.
Q: Are younger applicants given preference, have you had older students in our program?
Kristy – We do get a lot of people like Cole in my lab, he was at a startup company for three or five years before he came to my lab. We get a lot of students like that. I would say probably. You know, 10 to 20 percent. We’ve had people come in from industry.
Q: What laboratory skills are most valued?
Kristy – I mean, we do a lot of cell culture. In my lab we go from synthesis of the polymer, characterization of the formulation all the way to in vitro. And in vivo mouse work as well. But we don’t expect necessarily undergraduates to have skills in all that work.
Jessica – Most valuable is cell culture for me. I’m so glad I did that as an undergrad, because then it wasn’t like a shock to my system to start working with some like right when I got here. But honestly, anything you can get your hands on is not a bad thing. I have yet to be like, oh, wow, this is a waste of time [in undergrad].
Rebeca – You know, like anything you can do is not a bad thing. Yeah, I would second that all lab related skills are good skills, I even did stuff outside a lab that I actually found translated like I worked as an EMT for a while. And it doesn’t sound like research, but it’s medical, and anatomical stuff. A lot of that actually translated surprisingly well to mice, it is just smaller. But on the flip side, compared to Jessica, I didn’t do any cell culture as an undergrad. So that was a totally new skill, which is now very helpful. But I had to learn it when I got here, whereas prior to being here, the chemistry and math experience that I had was useful.
Jessica – Well, I was going to go to Vet school. That was like Plan A, and then I realized how much I like research. I had a ton of animal experience just in a very different setting. It’s translating like so much for those random things. Science is science and science to some degree. If you’re getting practical experience, it still counts. Nobody is going to say this doesn’t count. That’s just not going to happen. Yeah, I like also to comment that I saw many questions about what skills are needed or courses are needed. But my point is that do what you really want to do.
Q: I graduated earlier this year and want to apply to the program for next fall. I’m gaining research experience in the meantime, if I applied before December, I don’t have that much extra experience. Will this hurt my application?
I mean, again, you can try your best. You can say this is where I’m at currently. People will see that. You can talk about what work you’re doing, even if it hasn’t come to a research product yet.