March 13, 2014

Dr. Ambika Mathur named WSU Graduate School dean

Ambika Mathur, Ph.D., professor of pediatrics and assistant dean of the Combined Degree Programs and Postdoctoral Affairs for the Wayne State University School of Medicine, has been appointed dean of the WSU Graduate School.

Margaret Winters, WSU provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs, announced Dr. Mathur's appointment March 7. Dr. Mathur has served as interim dean of the Graduate School since July 2012.

"I am honored that President Wilson, Provost Winters and the faculty at Wayne State University have placed their confidence in me," Dr. Mathur said. "The Graduate School provides oversight to master's degree and doctoral students across all schools and colleges and I am humbled at this opportunity to lead graduate education at this pivotal time at our institution."

Her immediate goals as dean, she said, include enhancing research training for graduate students and postdoctoral trainees, and to seek funding for these opportunities.

That endeavor has already begun. In September 2013, Dr. Mathur secured a five-year, $1.8 million National Institutes of Health grant to establish enhanced training opportunities to prepare graduate students for research careers outside of traditional academic roles. WSU was one of only 10 academic centers in the nation to receive the NIH's Broadening Experience in Scientific Training grant.

The BEST grant's goals will be to "broaden the research scientific careers of our graduate students to include industry, government and entrepreneurial pursuits," she said. "The trainees of this program will serve as the nation's innovators in developing research-related opportunities that will complement careers in academia with relevance to an urban setting to meet the evolving needs of the 21st century economy."

Most research programs have traditionally focused on preparing students for postdoctoral training and careers in academia. National trends, however, indicate that less than 25 percent of doctoral students obtain tenure-track faculty positions.

"Our recognition of this gap has motivated us to design an innovative initiative whose specific purpose is to transform our biomedical doctoral training such that both faculty and students recognize, appreciate and celebrate diverse career opportunities," Dr. Mathur said. "The long-range goal is to institutionalize these practices so that our students become the next generation of innovators and leaders in science. The intended outcome of our program is to place students in diverse careers in addition to academia, and to educate the biomedical community that such diverse careers are viewed as desirable and successful outcomes of doctoral research training."

The program will develop university infrastructure with emphasis on career services. Early in their graduate experience, trainees in the biomedical sciences will be encouraged to explore multiple career opportunities and innovative ways to enhance their skills. These skill sets will be developed in partnership with local and national employers through mentored internships to ensure alignment between the employers' expectations and the skills of WSU trainees. In addition, Dr. Mathur explained, partnerships will be built in specific focus areas emphasizing career opportunities outside of academia. The partnerships will be built upon existing relationships as well as by establishing new ties to strengthen the university's impact in emerging areas. In addition to specific university-corporate collaborations, students will have the opportunity for cross-training to develop skills that allow them to work effectively in diverse teams and to solve complex problems.

Her other immediate goals include increasing the pipeline of undergraduate scholars to graduate research training, particularly students from underrepresented minority groups. She also wants to provide opportunities for trainees to develop the best skills sets to obtain the most competitive jobs in multiple career pathways.

Dr. Mathur received her doctorate degree in microbiology and immunology from the University of Iowa. Following postdoctoral fellowships, she was appointed associate professor at the University of Minnesota. She joined Wayne State University in 2003 as a professor of pediatrics, and was the first permanent director of the M.D./Ph.D. program in 2003 and first director of the newly created Office of Postdoctoral Affairs in 2008.

Her research and teaching interests involve cancer immunology, the immunological basis for complementary and alternative medicine interventions, and research training of postdoctoral, graduate, medical, undergraduate and high school students. She has received numerous national grant awards for her immunology research and published more than 200 books, articles, chapters, proceedings and abstracts. Dr. Mathur has also published a series of books for children and is passionate about promoting literacy, especially among inner-city children.

In May 2013, she was selected as a member of the 2013-14 class of fellows of the Hedwig van Ameringen Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine Program at Drexel University College of Medicine.