Academic Innovation Amidst COVID-19: Virtual Pharmaceutical Sciences Seminar Series

At UCI’s School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, students, faculty, and staff have found creative ways to pivot and innovate during the pandemic. The school launched its first ever, virtual Pharmaceutical Sciences Seminar Series, including a diverse range of distinguished guest speakers from across the country. 

Professor Brian Paegel, the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences Seminar Series Chair, has played an integral role in transitioning the series to virtual seminars and inviting a diverse range of speakers. 

“The seminar series covers a variety of topics from organismal biology and pharmacology to chemical synthesis and molecular biology methods,” said Paegel. “The virtual setting allowed us to capture a broader range of speakers and a larger audience.” 

Diverse Representation of Seminar Speakers

Diversity, equity and inclusion is an integral part of the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences’ mission and vision. To ensure those values were reflected in the seminar series, it was important to bring together a diverse cohort of speakers.

“Above and beyond representing the diverse scientific areas of cutting-edge science that defines contemporary drug discovery, featured speakers importantly represented the diversity of people in our country,” said Paegel. 

Each speaker brings a unique story about their life, career, and obstacles they overcame– empowering graduate students who may be experiencing similar challenges. 

“The school’s commitment to diversity inspires students to reflect on their own research and career journeys, while broadening their worldview,” said Brandon Latifi, 3rd year Ph.D. student in Professor Andrej Luptak’s lab.

Anjali Dixit, a second year Pharmaceutical Sciences Ph.D. student in the Paegel Lab, describes the importance of diversity in scientific research: “The seminar series has exposed us to research in a variety of fields, enriching our curriculum by raising awareness of various techniques and methods. Because our research directly impacts the entire community, integrating a diverse range of perspectives is essential. It is important for us to consider how our actions and innovations will affect different demographic groups. ” 

Dixit added that the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences has made great strides in continuing to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion through the seminar series and other programs.

Increased Opportunities for Students 

The seminar series has enhanced learning opportunities for students. “We added rigor to our graduate student program by using the seminar series and a subsequent virtual discussion section to review effective data visualization and the construction of scientific presentations,” said Paegel.

After the lecture, several speakers discussed their career journeys with the students in a virtual round table. Discussion topics included networking, self care, work-life balance, and interviewing tips among others.

“The post seminar discussions with the speakers were invaluable– the speakers provided excellent feedback and encouraged active discussions. We were able to seek advice on how they successfully completed their Ph.D. and also learn how to effectively navigate our careers,” said Latifi.

Future Potential of Virtual Seminars

Moving forward, the efficiency, simplicity, and effectiveness of the virtual seminar series will likely continue even beyond the pandemic. 

The virtual format offered great flexibility for students. “Having a virtual format was great because we could listen or tune into the seminar wherever we were– whether at home, in the lab, or even on the go while performing an experiment!” said Latifi.

By eliminating travel time, hotel stays, and time away from family and personal obligations– the virtual environment made it easier for guest speakers to visit UCI virtually, according to Paegel. “We received a lot of feedback very early on from visiting faculty members that this virtual format is fantastic. Faculty don’t have to leave their families and students. Junior faculty in particular are likely to have young children, which can make travel challenging. The virtual seminar was clearly more convenient for all parties involved!” 

By: Nedda Bozorgmehri, UCI School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences

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