UTHSC Establishes New Master’s Degree Program in Laboratory Research and Management

Len Lothstein, PhD, has developed a new Master of Science in Laboratory Research and Management Program that will begin in the fall of 2014 at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.
Len Lothstein, PhD, has developed a new Master of Science in Laboratory Research and Management Program that will begin in the fall of 2014 at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.

Len Lothstein, PhD, considers himself lucky. He’s been a researcher at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) for 25 years, and was fortunate enough to have had the same research assistant for 15 of those years.
“That’s highly unusual,” said Dr. Lothstein, an associate professor of Pathology and Pharmaceutical Sciences. “As often happens in laboratories, we hire someone as a lab assistant, and they will, more often than not, stick around for a year or two years, and then move on to a PhD program or med school. We could hardly fault them for doing that, but it’s a problem in continuity of research.”
That’s why Dr. Lothstein has developed a new graduate program at UTHSC designed to train qualified students to assume the technical staff positions of senior laboratory assistant and laboratory manager in biomedical research labs in the academic, government and private sectors.
The Master of Science in Laboratory Research and Management Program will begin in the fall of 2014, but Lothstein is already recruiting applicants with undergraduate records in the sciences for the initial five slots.
The intensive three-semester program on the UTHSC campus will be administered through the Department of Pathology in the College of Medicine, working in tandem with the College of Graduate Health Sciences. It will offer theoretical and practical laboratory experience, and also train students in the managerial and administrative skills required of a senior research assistant or lab manager in basic and translational biomedical research laboratories. The in-state tuition is $16,900. The out-of-state tuition is $25,970, but tuition costs may be partially offset by a laboratory stipend from a six-month research laboratory internship that is part of the training.
“What we want to do with this program is provide training in an academic environment, so that when these individuals come out with a master’s degree, they can step into a lab and become almost fully functional within a very short period of time,” he said. “We want to train individuals whose goal is to stay in this position for a length of time, eventually leading to a manager position, which can pay very nicely.”
Entry-level research lab assistants make from about $26,000 to $43,000 annually, according to figures provided by Dr. Lothstein. Salaries rise with education and experience to between $37,000 and $63,000, he said. Lab managers can make roughly $63,000 to about $110,000.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts 14 percent growth for the laboratory assistant job classification over the next eight years, from an estimated 82,000 jobs to an estimated 91,000 by 2020. This growth is anticipated despite cutbacks in federal funding for research.
“We need to start training good support staff,” Dr. Lothstein said. This is important to some extent because of government funding cuts, which take principal investigators out of the labs in search of funding. “Without good technical staff, the work doesn’t get done. If the work doesn’t get done, the grant money doesn’t come in.”
While Memphis-area salaries fall in the middle ranges, according to Dr. Lothstein, the local demand for an educated research laboratory workforce is high. The Memphis Bioworks Foundation stated recently that the Memphis bioscience job market is 24 percent above the national average, thanks to academic institutions, including UTHSC and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, as well as several hundred bioscience enterprises.
“We believe that this program, by providing very directed educational and practical experiences, will provide the highly valued, transferable skill set that we seek in those who play key personnel roles in our biomedical laboratories,” said Donald Thomason, PhD, dean of the College of Graduate Health Sciences. “In the past, the accumulation of these skills has often occurred through years of experience. With the framework provided by this program, an individual will be able to quickly assume a key role, as well as bring additional expertise to the laboratory.”
Dr. Lothstein said it’s important that the biotech community in Memphis be aware of this new program. “They have a vested interest,” he said. “This is where their technical staff will be coming from, which will improve the nature of research in town.”
The program will provide not only qualified graduates to fill research jobs, but interns who can help staff labs while they are still learning. “This program is providing a skilled labor force that is needed both for the academic sector in this town and for the biotech sector,” he said. “I want both to get fully involved and invested in this.”
The application deadline is June 1. Anyone interested in learning more about this program or submitting an application, can contact Dr. Lothstein at (901) 448-3334, email llothstein@uthsc.edu, or go to http://grad.uthsc.edu/Programs/BCLRMMO.php