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Human Genetics PhD Program Rationale

Genetics is the core of biology. Human genetics as a discipline is a central feature of modern biology and now of modern medicine as well. Human genetics and genomics, along with the related field of precision medicine, continue to generate both great excitement and genuine discovery. In current research practice, human genetics often forms the bridge between traditional wet-lab biological research and medicine. Post-graduate education in human genetics is an increasingly attractive route to the PhD due to the broad and interdisciplinary nature of this research and to the increasing capability of non-clinical researchers to contribute to medically relevant research. Graduate students recognize that the interdisciplinary nature of modern human genetics research prepares them for a rich and varied research career instead of funneling them into a very tight sub-specialty field. The translational nature of modern human genetics satisfies the need to contribute to health and medical care which we often see described as a major motivation for our graduate student to enter a PhD program. Recent events have only strengthened the urgency that young scientists feel to contribute to biomedical research in a meaningful way.

The Vanderbilt Human Genetics PhD program (HGEN) has served as a model of successful interdisciplinary biomedical research to graduate students since its inception. Modern human genetics research relies more and more on large scale biobanks combined with de-identified medical records, and HGEN has been intensively training graduate students in these research methods for over 10 years, far earlier than other institutions. We were able to start training graduate students in this new research area early due to the founding of our own large local biobank, BioVU, in 2008. That valuable research experience has allowed the students supported by this training grant to go forward into successful research careers as the increasing development of both regional and national biobank research efforts have increased, placing their educational experience in high demand.

HGEN Training Program Mission

There is a growing need nationally for scientists educated in computational biology, with genetics being one of the most quantitative and computational areas of modern biology. Vanderbilt University (VU) and Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) have invested hugely in human genetic and genomic science. With the establishment in 2015 of the Vanderbilt Genetics Institute (VGI), Vanderbilt has committed substantial new resources for establishing a research institute crossing both institutions, recruitment of additional faculty in genetics and genomics, and additional investment in genomic data for subjects in BioVU to facilitate further research by faculty and graduate students.

HGEN students have enjoyed unusual success in both productivity in graduate school (an average of 5.1 publications per student from graduate school research) and in being hired into academic human genetics programs (32% of HGEN alumni graduating >10 years ago now have faculty positions).

The goal of the Ph.D. Program in Human Genetics is to train students to explore scientific questions in genetics, with an emphasis on human disease. The program is designed to ensure technical proficiency in statistical and molecular techniques, provide current knowledge of genetics research and methods, and develop scientific communication skills. The program provides a cohesive experience that leverages the many facets of human genetics research at Vanderbilt, for the benefit of trainees and research mentors. Human Genetics is an equal opportunity graduate program and accepts qualified students regardless of cultural, social, demographic, or biological characteristics.