Groundbreaking Undergraduate Course Gets Special Visit From Author

UA Bachelor of Science in Pharmaceutical Sciences Students Interview NPR Correspondent and Author, Richard Harris
“Everyone needs to look at their own sphere of influence and ask, ‘Where can I make a difference?’”

(Dec. 4, 2018) It is not every day that you get the chance to speak with an internationally-renowned journalist, but this semester that's what College of Pharmacy undergraduate students did in new course called "Rigor and Reproducibility: Bridging Academia and Pharma.” The course is designed and taught by Walt Klimecki, DVM, PhD, associate professor of pharmacology and toxicology and co-director of the undergraduate academic program in the college. Dr. Klimecki describes the course as one of the few in the country that addresses the international effort to bring the level of technical rigor required in pharmaceutical companies into academic laboratories, enabling more seamless commercialization of academic research findings in drug discovery.

"The scientific community and research funding agencies have focused a spotlight on bolstering scientific rigor for some time now. When Richard Harris published his book on the topic, Rigor Mortis: How Sloppy Science Creates Worthless Cures, Crushes Hope, and Wastes Billions, I decided it was time to bring this issue to the future scientists and clinicians that we are educating and training in our new program,” Dr. Klimecki said.

Throughout the semester, students read, discussed and presented projects based on the book.

"The course, and Harris' book, were a great opportunity to discuss the critical self-assessment occurring in scientific research that is aimed at raising the bar, from simple things like genetically verifying cell cultures, to the more complex issues like experimental bias and rodent models of human disease."

Dr. Klimecki reached out to Mr. Harris about speaking to his students, fully expecting not to hear back. But to his surprise Mr. Harris promptly replied with an interest in speaking to the students. After the class had completed Rigor Mortis, they were given the chance to ask the author a series of questions about his career, his book and his scientific opinions.

Speaking from his office in Washington D.C., Harris discussed wide-ranging issues of academic rigor and the problem with an emphasis on "fast science,” sometimes at the expense of “good science.” He offered tips for critically looking at scientific findings, including talking to others in the field, examining funding sources and incentives and considering sample sizes.

Harris left the class with a challenge to consider rigor and reproducibility throughout their careers. “Everyone needs to look at their own sphere of influence and ask, ‘Where can I make a difference?’”

Students seemed to share this opinion. “Rigor Mortis is very useful for those doing lab work.” Alicia Enriquez said. Her classmate Anthony Rossi concurred. “This book opened my eyes to new scientific approaches that are needed in many pre-clinical trial research labs.”

"Mr. Harris’ generosity with his time made this experience so engaging for our undergraduates, giving them that magical moment where something that they studied becomes real,” Dr. Klimecki added.