A Curiously Linear Path to Academic Drug Discovery

Kathryn M. Nelson

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Medicinal chemistry graduate students interested in drug discovery usually consider only two career paths: become a tenure track principal investigator of a lab with a focused research interest, or become an industry scientist at a pharmaceutical company. This Viewpoint article will highlight a unique career path that is neither of these and is a new model, involving collaboration, creative problem solving, and a willingness to learn new things, that perhaps can prove successful for others.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)217-220
Number of pages4
JournalACS Medicinal Chemistry Letters
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 12 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Challenges in securing funding for academic research continue to grow. Major institutions, like the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and National Science Foundation (NSF), have created mechanisms for increasing the odds for young investigators to secure funding. However, some of these mechanisms require a tenure track faculty designation or intended path, which I do not have. For example, the NIH K award program has a limit on the number of years since terminal degree in which you can apply (up to 6), and it either encourages or requires that the terminal goal is to land a tenured faculty position (“tenure-track or equivalent faculty position” is often the language used). In addition, many exciting opportunities for drug discovery are high-risk projects with only a little, often unpublished, preliminary data. Convincing reviewers and agencies to fund this type of project against a mountain of other (worthy) applications can be especially challenging. Start-up funds can make a huge difference in the ability to generate preliminary data for proposals but are not always available to research faculty like me. As the pharmaceutical industry removes itself from early drug discovery, academic drug discovery centers necessarily become more important to public health. To support the work at these centers, perhaps new funding mechanisms for research track faculty could be introduced. This could help fund researchers who may have different functions or roles (as is true in our center and, presumably, others) as compared to a department of tenure track faculty (who may also be doing drug discovery related research).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 American Chemical Society.


  • academic drug discovery
  • career track
  • innovation
  • medicinal chemistry


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