Jennifer Bairam, a senior in the University of Rhode Island’s Bachelor of Science in Pharmaceutical Science program, had been eager to get real-world exposure to potential career paths in the pharmaceutical industry.
The mentorship initiative gave Bairam just the opportunity she craved. Erin Edmonds, coordinator of experiential education for the College of Pharmacy’s Pharmaceutical Science Program, organizes the mentorships, which pair juniors and seniors with alumni who are well established in their fields.
“The mentors have had interesting career paths. The students see that it is not always a straight line, and it’s best to explore and see what’s out there,” she said.
The pharmacy bachelor’s program prepares students for a variety of pharmaceutical careers, including research, quality assurance and drug development — making insights into the world outside of the classroom particularly important.
Bairam, a Hooksett, N.H., native, was matched with Jeff Cehelsky, who earned his bachelor’s degree in pharmacy at URI in 1987 and is vice president of clinical operations at Alnylam Pharmaceuticals in Cambridge, Mass. “I couldn’t ask for a better mentor,” Bairam said of Cehelsky. “We talk about the industry and his work, regulations for clinical trials or drugs that are in production.”
“I really am committed to creating the next generation of persons interested in science and medicine,” said Cehelsky, who specializes in strategic drug development and biotechnology.
A mentor for the past three academic years, Cehelsky exemplifies his commitment in the way he prepares for monthly calls with Bairam, researching discussion topics in advance, asking for her input and sometimes assigning “homework.”
Mentors must commit to a minimum of monthly contact with their students, by email, phone or in person; and many do much more. Several host students at their workplaces, review resumes and cover letters and recommend internships and employment possibilities, Edmonds said.
Bairam particularly enjoyed shadowing Cehelsky at Alnylam’s headquarters. “It was like being a fly on the wall. It opened my mind and definitely has me thinking a little differently about my career,” she said.
“I insist the students come up here for an on-site visit so they can understand the industry beyond the abstract,” said Cehelsky. “I want to give them exposure to how companies and teams approach drug discovery and development in the real world.”
The mentorship program began in spring 2015 with four mentors and immediately drew 15 student applicants. This year, Edmonds recruited 15 mentors and had 20 student applicants. She ultimately hopes to recruit 50 mentors, one for each member of a given junior class.