Visiting Student Program Enjoys Continued Success

The 2016/2017 Visiting Student cohort presenting at the Annual Visiting Student Symposium.

 

Did you know that under the Visiting Student Program approximately 25 Polish and other Eastern European graduate students come to the University of Virginia every year to work in our labs? Like many of the great things at the University, the program started with a single idea and, over time, has become something remarkable.

This program started nearly two decades ago when Zygmunt Derewenda, PhD, Professor of Molecular Physiology and Biological Physics and Visiting Student Program Director, conferred with a Polish colleague about sending some students across the Atlantic. We know that excellent students can be found everywhere. Sometimes the opportunity just has to present itself. Or, in this case, the opportunity needed to be created. In the first year of the program, a single student came to Charlottesville. More followed. And then even more. Soon, Zygmunt’s colleagues here in the School of Medicine were asking if they, too, could have Polish students work in their labs. The program has since expanded to other countries, most recently admitting students from the Czech Republic and Brazil. Eighteen years later, this program is now an international success.

Since its inception, the program has brought 172 students to UVA and has expanded within the School to all basic science and clinical departments and even across Grounds. The Visiting Student Program fills a real need. The commitment for principal investigators is only one year and this cohort of students arrives incredibly well-trained, experienced, and largely independent, having spent time in labs throughout Europe. While here, they become part of our research and education teams, attend seminars, and work on dedicated projects in the lab. Their work culminates in a one-day symposium where they present their work. In many cases, these students return home to defend their master’s degree and either go on to PhD programs — both here and across the country — or dive into other research ventures. All because of their experience at UVA.

The Visiting Student Program has grown in other ways, too. We now work with three other institutions to place students: University of Chicago, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, and Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation. The administration of the program in Poland was recently taken over by the Fulbright Commission, which will obtain additional support for students from the Polish Ministry of Science and Higher Education. It is our hope that this will attract the very best candidates and that we’ll see a record number of applications in 2018.

While it is amazingly gratifying to see these students help our labs push forward on important research projects, it is equally as wonderful to see them welcomed into our community.

Thank you to all the faculty and staff for their hard work in coordinating, recruiting, and funding this program. It would not be successful without Zygmunt, Dr. Phil Trella, Assistant Vice President for Graduate Studies; Dr. Amy Bouton, Associate Dean for Graduate and Medical Scientist Programs; the International Studies Office; Dr. Wladek Minor, Professor of Molecular Physiology and Biological Physics; Carrie Walker, Graduate Program Administrator; and, of course, the many faculty members who provide mentoring for these visiting students.

Please note: Recruitment is ongoing. This year’s interviews will be held in March. If you are interested, please send a project description to Zygmunt at zsd4n@virginia.edu.

R.J. Canterbury, MD, MS, DLFAPA
Wilford W. Spradlin Professor
Senior Associate Dean for Education

Margaret A. Shupnik, PhD
Gerald D. Aurbach Professor of Endocrinology
Professor of Medicine
Senior Associate Dean for Research

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