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By James Netterwald
Retired industrial scientists set up shop at a university to train tomorrow’s researchers.
As a freshman biology major at Drew University, Yang Yang was interested in both biochemistry and neuroscience. She couldn’t decide where to focus her efforts.
Early that year, Yang attended a seminar by a small group of industry veterans who were part of a special program at Drew: The Charles A. Dana Research Institute for Scientists Emeriti (RISE) program. RISE fellows are retired scientists from pharmaceutical and telecommunications companies across New Jersey who receive lab space and equipment at Drew so they can continue doing research while introducing undergraduate students to life in the lab.
The RISE program, which has eight fellows and trains about 10 students a year, has been partially supported by HHMI since 2008. The scientists have mentored about 250 students since the program’s inception in 1980.
Yang saw new possibilities when she heard RISE fellow Barbara Petrack talk about Alzheimer’s disease. Petrack, a retired biochemist, worked for Ciba-Geigy (now Novartis) for 35 years before joining RISE. “In the RISE program at Drew, our primary interest is to get students excited to do research,” she explains. “Most of the students have gone on to medical or graduate school. I consider the RISE program a success.”
When Yang approached Petrack after her presentation, Petrack explained that she collaborates with Drew neuroscientist Roger Knowles to study the neurobiology of Alzheimer’s disease. Intrigued by the merging of the two fields, Yang immediately joined them to do her research; now, as a senior, she is writing her undergraduate dissertation. “Working with the RISE fellows gives us knowledge that goes beyond the textbook and beyond the classroom, knowledge that we could not get anywhere else.” Students get specific tips, for example, on how to effectively design and analyze experiments specific to pharmaceutical research.
Illustration: VSA Partners