Skip to main content
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Pharmaceutical Sciences PhD Program Welcomes Largest-Ever Class

Pharmaceutical Sciences PhD 2019 students
The School of Pharmacy's Pharmaceutical Sciences PhD program in 2019 comprises 70 students — the largest-ever group.

Donor funding, faculty reputations drive program growth

By Katie Gerhards

The Pharmaceutical Sciences graduate program at the University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Pharmacy kicked off the Fall 2019 semester by welcoming its largest-ever cohort of incoming students, as 20 join the program. Over the past seven years, the number of students in the graduate program has nearly doubled — from approximately 44 students in 2012 to 70 in 2019.

The program’s strong growth is a result of the Pharmaceutical Sciences Division’s renowned faculty reputations, increased grant funding, and donor-created fellowships from alumni and friends of the School of Pharmacy, all of which enrich the quality of research training.

The Fall 2019 semester saw the expansion of donor-funded opportunities for PharmSci students, including two new fellowships: the Marvel Family Fellowship, created by the estate of John (PhD ’59) and Mary Marvel, and the Bolton Fellowship, created in honor of Sanford Bolton (MS ’56, PhD ’58). The Leon Lachman Fellowship, created by Leon (PhD ’56) and Joan Lachman, is also growing for the 2019–20 academic year, supporting five students for both fall and spring semesters and an additional student for the fall semester.

“Without this generosity from our alumni and friends, we wouldn’t be able to support nearly as many graduate students,” says Associate Professor Charles Lauhon, assistant dean for graduate studies. And that impact would be felt on the quality and momentum of research developments coming out of the School.

For example, Sarah Neuman (PhD ’17), now a postdoctoral research associate in the lab of Associate Professor Arash Bashirullah, characterized a previously unmapped genetic mutation tied to insulin secretion as part of her PhD thesis. The discovery she made as a graduate student will help enable the development of novel diabetes treatments. She named the mutation “hobbit,” as a nod to the small phenotype of fruit flies with the gene, and it won the 2017 Exceptional Thesis Award and a Discovery Challenge Award from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.

Neuman’s success isn’t an uncommon experience among the School’s graduate students. PhD candidate Zack Rosenkrans, who was a 2018 recipient of the Dohmen Company Foundation Fellowship, recently earned the Baxter Young Investigator Award for research into treating acute kidney injury in mice with renal-accumulating selenium-doped carbon quantum dots, as well as an honorable mention for a National Science Foundation predoctoral fellowship.

“This is a transformative program where a person comes in as a receiver of knowledge and they end up being a producer of new knowledge,” says Lauhon. “It’s a point of pride when we hear someone has landed their dream job — everyone in the division celebrates that success.”

“This is a transformative program where a person comes in as a receiver of knowledge and they end up being a producer of new knowledge.”
–Charles Lauhon

The Pharmaceutical Sciences PhD program is highly interdisciplinary and translational and incorporates research across the drug development spectrum, including drug delivery, drug action, and drug discovery. The breadth of faculty research programs — which tap into medicinal chemistry, genetics, molecular biology, biochemistry, and even engineering — is one of the factors that sets the program apart.

“There’s a whole pipeline of discovery, from the drug’s target and mechanism of action to how it’s formulated as a product,” says Lauhon. “Our program encompasses the whole process, meaning the work deals heavily in basic science but is also clinically relevant.”

The PharmSci PhD program draws the majority of its enrollees from both national and international pools of applicants.

“A lot of the growth we’re seeing is because of the reputation of our faculty and the grant funding that they bring in,” says Professor Ron Burnette, chair of the Pharmaceutical Sciences Division. “Our grant funding has increased substantially over the past five years, and those research dollars enable faculty to build up a critical mass of students.”

The research of those high-quality students — this year hailing from China, Taiwan, South Korea, and India, as well as from across the U.S. — then in turn fuels more research funding and innovations at the School.

The majority of Pharmaceutical Sciences graduates obtain their first job at pharmaceutical companies pursuing research and development of both small and large molecule drugs. However, graduates are prepared to follow a variety of career paths, including founding a pharmaceutical foods company, such as Kwadwo Owuso Ofori (PhD ’10), or pursuing nonprofit pharmaceutical development of HIV prevention and contraceptive devices, such as Kyle Kleinbeck (BS ’07, PhD ’11).

With the School’s leading faculty and generous donor support, graduate students in the Pharmaceutical Sciences PhD program prepared to change the landscape of pharmaceutical research and development as they graduate and launch their careers.

Learn more about the nontraditional career paths of PharmSci alumni Kwadwo Owusu Ofori (PhD ’10) and Kyle Kleinbeck (BS ’07, PhD ’11).
See the full list of 2018–19 graduate student fellowship recipients.