September 27, 2017

Graduate Students Don Lab Coats at Ceremony to Signal Start of Ph.D. Research

Sept. 27, 2017 | Faculty, friends and family watched proudly at the eighth annual Research Induction Ceremony as 34 students in the UAMS Graduate School donned laboratory coats to mark their readiness to begin doctoral research.

“It really is a milestone, and it’s one that every Ph.D. has to go through,” said Robert McGehee Jr., Ph.D., dean of the UAMS Graduate School.

As McGehee welcomed the crowd, faculty representatives from about 15 different programs and doctoral dissertation advisers sat in their crisp white lab coats. Nearby, the students had their lab coats folded in front of them, fingers nervously fiddling with the symbols of their future professions that they would soon try on in front of the audience, which included about 80 members of the public, some of them with balloons or other visual signals of their support.

Dean at podium

Robert McGehee Jr., Ph.D., dean of the UAMS Graduate School, welcomes the crowd of students, family, friends and faculty.

McGehee surveyed the scene like a proud patriarch, experienced at mentoring students as they transition into the unknowns of the future. He explained that the students had completed the rigorous pass/fail qualifying exams for their respective fields of study and the majority would be now be moving on from coursework to the research that will form the basis of their dissertations.

“The fact that you’re here,” McGehee said to the friends and family, “shows that you’ve been with them supporting them through thick and thin. I know that you ask your loved ones what it is that they work on, and as soon as they start talking, you get glassy-eyed, because you don’t have a clue what they’re saying,” McGehee said, to laughter from the audience. “And that’s actually a good thing. They’re pushing the envelope. They really are. They’re pushing the envelope of knowledge, of where we stand in biomedical research. We do it every day on this campus.”

McGehee thanked the program directors and advisers who are working with the students, adding that if the student-mentor relationship is “done right,” it results in a lifelong friendship. He asked them to help the students put on their lab coats as part of the ceremony.

Group shot of students and faculty

Students and faculty recite the Affirmation of Scientists.

As each student’s name was called, the adviser and program director stood on either side to assist them. The students readjusted the coats, settled into the shoulders and tugged toward the hems – seeming broader and taller as they did – and smiled for the cameras capturing the moment. McGehee and the faculty adjusted collars, smoothed out creases, and helped the students perfect their new looks.

To complete the ceremony, McGehee called on the students and researchers to recite the Affirmation of Scientists as a reminder of the honor and integrity of research, and the public trust that should not be violated. It included a pledge to “to seek truth and the advancement of knowledge in all my work, and to become a worthy role model deserving of respect by those who follow me.”