Pinku Mukherjee, the Irwin Belk Distinguished Professor for Cancer Research and previously the associate dean for research and graduate education in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, officially joined the Graduate School on Tuesday, Jan. 3 as the interim associate provost and dean of the Graduate School.
Below are seven questions to help you get to know Interim Dean Mukherjee and her vision for graduate education at UNC Charlotte:
As Charlotte is focused on “Shaping What’s Next” through the strategic plan, what three goals do you have for the next 24 months?
As we aspire to become a top-tier research institution, graduate education becomes front and center. Increasing graduate enrollment must go hand-in-hand with high-quality mentorship, research training, internship opportunities, mental well-being and better compensation.
Keeping this in mind, the three goals for the next 24 months are:
- To strategically grow enrollment in some of the high-demand graduate programs and encourage the creation of new graduate programs that are innovative and interdisciplinary in nature.
- To work closely with the Division of Research and Industry Partners to increase the number of graduate students on externally funded research assistantships and increase the number of postdoctoral fellows.
- To create marketing and branding strategies to showcase our graduate programs and the Graduate School. Highlighting the resources available (CGLL) to our graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.
Interim Dean Mukherjee with doctoral students at the Dean's Doctoral Dinner
With over 6,000 Graduate Niners, what advice do you have for graduate students as they begin the spring semester?
Besides your course work, research and creative discoveries － which are all part of your graduate education － I advise you to learn about and seek out opportunities and internships that excite you. I cannot emphasize the value of networking and making connections. They will stay with you for life. Take full advantage of the outstanding resources that are available to you through the Graduate School (shout out to the Thomas L. Reynolds Center for Graduate Life and Learning) and the University. Most certainly, have fun. Use the light rail to go to the happening places in Charlotte. Please don’t lose sight of your health and well-being. This is critical and we are all here to support your journey. Make your journey in grad school incredible.
Tell us something that people may not know about you.
I am originally from Bombay, India, and at one point in my life, I wanted to be a singer. Oh well…
What inspired you to become a cancer researcher?
When I was in my early teens, my aunt and family came to stay with us in Bombay from another town for an extended period. She had been diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer and since the best cancer treatment center at the time in India was in Bombay (The Tata Memorial Hospital), they stayed with us. I saw firsthand how my aunt’s health deteriorated after every treatment and the helplessness my cousins felt. The treatment she received was not very effective and she passed away. I kept thinking, why do we not have better treatment for cancer?
By the time I went to college, this experience was no longer in my mind and I never thought about cancer. But as luck would have it, I ended up in a genetics class where my professor was teaching the genetic basis of diseases. For the first time, she introduced us to peer-reviewed journal articles. I was just fascinated to find out that there are scientists who do research in labs and try to find solutions to real problems that affect us. I knew I wanted to do research. I had absolutely no idea how.
At my university in India, there was zero research. My professor encouraged me to pursue my research interest in the U.K. I finally got an opportunity to do my postdoctoral training in a cancer lab in the U.S. and I jumped at that opportunity and my aunt’s experience became real again. I never looked back.
How would you describe the importance of the inquiry, research and creative discovery at Charlotte? What role does graduate education play in driving that progress?
Our vision is to be globally recognized as an emerging top-tier research university driving discovery and innovation. It is clear that research and creative discovery are critically important to realize this vision.
Graduate students and postdoctoral fellows are the driving force in getting cutting-edge research done along with their mentors and advisors. Graduate students are the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs in every field. Graduate students, along with their mentors, are in the driver’s seat to bring about the progress that we need to realize the Niner vision.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
Find a good mentor. They can be very helpful in shaping your career and sometimes life.
What would you most like to be known for as interim dean?
- Training a diverse pool of graduate students and enhancing graduate student experiences
- Graduate School involvement in developing training grants for pre and post-doc students