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TCNJ has the right formula for producing grads who earn PhDs in chemistry

TCNJ’s chemistry department ranks among the top institutions in the U.S. for PhD productivity according to new data from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the American Chemical Society (ACS). When doctoral completion data for chemistry graduates are benchmarked on a per capita basis in comparison to chemistry graduates from all colleges and universities, TCNJ ranks third among public colleges and universities nationally, and first on the East Coast among public and private colleges.

“TCNJ has a distinctive approach and philosophy to undergraduate education in the sciences,” said Jeffrey Osborn, dean of the School of Science. “We have been very purposeful in designing an academic experience that deeply engages our students in the process of science and in the creation of new knowledge.”

Emily Cherney ’07

One such student is alumna Emily Cherney ’07. Cherney earned her BS in chemistry from TCNJ, followed by the pursuit of her PhD from The Scripps Research Institute in California. She credits her hands-on lab experience at TCNJ as instrumental in pursing her career as a chemist.

“Engaging in independent, undergrad research was the single most important experience in preparing me to pursue doctoral studies,” Cherney said. “My experience in the laboratory allowed me to obtain internships at the University of Connecticut and PTC Therapeutics, a biotechnology company. Without this combination of opportunities during my undergraduate career, I highly doubt I would have been accepted at The Scripps Research Institute for graduate studies.”

The increase in chemistry professionals with doctoral degrees will have a positive impact on New Jersey and the region, which offers a plethora of job opportunities.

“TCNJ is basically in the middle of ‘Pharmaceutical Alley,’ being halfway between New York City and Philadelphia,” said Donald Hirsh, chair of TCNJ’s chemistry department. “Even if our students relocate to other areas to pursue their graduate degrees, many find themselves back in this area given the number of job opportunities available.”

Cherney returned to New Jersey in 2008 to accept a position with Bristol-Myers Squibb.

“As I move beyond graduate studies and further into my career as a medicinal chemist, I appreciate how the TCNJ liberal arts education has prepared me to do the deep work that is essential for scientific success: design experiments well, interpret data thoroughly, apply new learning to advance a field of study, and communicate findings effectively,” she said.

The NSF data indicate that it is not just chemistry, but the School of Science as a whole that is making gains. TCNJ saw a 300 percent increase in doctorates among all sciences (from 12 to 35 annually; 179 total doctorates).

This represents the largest percentage increase for all 36 New Jersey institutions reported, and the second largest total number of doctorates earned for all New Jersey institutions on a per capita basis.

“Simply put, our students graduate as scientists, not just having been passive students of science,” Osborn said.

Luke Sacks