CAREER PATHWAYS

Career pathways for scientists and physician researchers are varied and present numerous points at which decisions can be made regarding career alternatives (NRC, 1994). As is the case for many careers that require graduate degrees, an interest in addiction research is likely to develop in college or graduate/medical school. However, the decision-making process starts much earlier; unless teenagers are already interested in scientific or medical careers, they are unlikely to take the undergraduate courses that could expose them to information about addiction or prepare them for graduate or professional school programs that train addiction researchers.

Some undergraduate students will seek particular graduate programs because they have already decided that they want to learn more about addiction or pursue a career in addiction research. Others will be interested in related research issues and come into contact with patients, faculty, course work, or research projects that encourage them to specialize in the field of drug abuse and addiction.

Until 15 years ago, most basic, clinical, and behavioral researchers in drug addiction received their doctoral training in pharmacology, experimental psychology, or a social science field. More recently, doctoral training programs in neuroscience have been established in many academic institutions; students in these programs have the kinds of interests and educational backgrounds that are particularly compatible with a career in addiction research. Recent addiction-related developments in the areas of biology and molecular genetics, cell and developmental biology, neurobiology, immunology, and behavioral pharmacology present compelling biological questions which are also attracting new investigators into the field of addiction research. M.D. and M.D./Ph.D. students also may become interested in treating addicted persons or be drawn to the theories and research on addiction. Several programs for such students, funded by the federal government, the private sector, or other institutions, provide integrated research and clinical experiences relevant to addiction.

Many students and young investigators, however, are not exposed to addiction research during their undergraduate, graduate, or medical school training because there are relatively few addiction-related courses offered at colleges, universities, and medical schools. Responses to the IOM survey from university and medical school administrators suggest that there is a lack of commitment on the part of many academic institutions to teach the subject area and formidable barriers to adopting new educational curricula which include more training and education about addictive disease.1 These include competition with other subjects, the perception by many faculty members that the area is not scientifically

1  

The committee sent a questionnaire to 13 undergraduate, graduate, and medical schools inquiring about educational opportunities and barriers related to drug abuse and alcoholism for students. The results summarized are based on the responses (personal communication) from the questionnaires.



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