Northeastern University and GlaxoSmithKline launch joint experiential PhD program

Jing Chai, a scientist at global pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, works in a lab at the company’s facility in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Chai is enrolled in the new joint experiential PhD program launched by Northeastern and GSK. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

Northeastern University has partnered with global pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline to launch a first-of-its-kind, joint experiential PhD program. Employees of GSK who enroll in the program will conduct pharmaceutical research projects co-developed by the company and Northeastern while they complete their PhD studies at the university in the areas of chemistry and chemical biology.

The new experiential program, which began this month, combines rigorous academics with real-world research experience at GSK’s state-of-the-art laboratories in Philadelphia and Cambridge, Massachusetts. Each student will be supported by a Northeastern faculty adviser and a GSK scientist serving as an industry mentor. GSK will cover the tuition costs of the program as well as all the research expenses.

Northeastern is piloting the collaboration with GSK in the College of Science’s Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology with plans to expand it to the university’s other schools and colleges in the future.

“GSK is an excellent partner for us, and it’s a company known within the pharmaceutical industry as innovative and advancing knowledge and new ideas in the discovery process,” said Kenneth Henderson, dean of the College of Science. “Northeastern’s vision is bold and simple: to be truly experiential across all of our programs—from the undergraduate level to the PhD level. This collaboration is a great example of Northeastern disrupting the status quo in higher education and being at the vanguard of this transformation.”

The embedded experiential PhD model provides myriad benefits to both GSK and Northeastern. The collaboration allows GSK to attract and retain high-level talent, while gaining access to Northeastern’s specialized instrumentation facilities and faculty expertise. For Northeastern, the model enhances the recruitment of top PhD students and helps the university grow its global network of industry partners.

Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

“I am delighted that we are working with Northeastern University on this important project,” said Dave Allen, GSK’s chief chemist, senior vice president and head of the Respiratory R&D group. “It is a testament to the leadership of the university and the scientific excellence of our chemists that we have been able to forge such an innovative program.”

The collaboration with GSK adds to an expanding portfolio of innovative learning initiatives between Northeastern and major global employers. Northeastern has recently established partnerships with General Electric Co., IBM, and Major League Baseball, and is quickly becoming the primary university that companies turn to for expanded employee learning opportunities.

Henderson emphasized that the GSK collaboration also reflects the university’s broader strategy as part of Northeastern 2025, the new academic plan, to transform doctoral education by integrating experiential learning throughout its PhD programs. He said this institutionalized approach to experiential PhD education is unique to higher education in the United States. It includes not only Northeastern’s new embedded experiential PhD model but also the co-ops and corporate fellowships doctoral students currently complete.

This approach to experiential doctoral education, Henderson added, also breaks the mold on the traditional model of graduate education built around a binary mentor-mentee relationship between a professor and a student. Through experiential learning, he said, doctoral students not only gain real-world work experience but also expand their professional networks beyond academia to include industry mentors and collaborators.