Paying it Forward

David Serota Prioritizes Support for Pharmacy's Next Generation

David Serota Dr. David Serota meets with members of his lab at MPI Research.

May 9, 2016

AUBURN, Ala.Dr. David Serota, a member of the Harrison School of Pharmacy Class of 1969, returns to The Plains this week to serve as the commencement speaker for the HSOP Class of 2016. Dr. Serota currently serves as the senior vice president, director of research, and senior principal study director at MPI Research in Mattawan, Michigan. Learn more about Dr. Serota and his genorosity over the years and passion for educating pharmacists.

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When Dr. David Serota graduated from Auburn’s pharmacy program in 1969 and packed his bags to go to Memphis to begin a doctoral program in toxicology, he felt that he would still be able to work as a pharmacist and get his license. Years later, he has the doctorate degree but he has never spent a single day working as a pharmacist. Instead, he is one of the most respected toxicologists in the world and is a leader in his field.

Serota is Senior Vice President and Director of Research at MPI Research, one of the world’s largest preclinical contract research organizations (CRO), in Mattawan, Michigan. A past president of the American College of Toxicology and a full member of the Society of Toxicology, he has more than 40 years in the field.

Last November, he was recognized for his outstanding leadership and contributions to the American College of Toxicology when he received the prestigious Outstanding Service Award.

The recent college graduate that showed up in Memphis that spring to begin his doctorate studies at the University of Tennessee Medical Center probably could not believe the career that he has had. With initial plans of working at a local hospital pharmacy to fund his education and to get the necessary experience and hours to become a registered pharmacist, his path was quickly altered by his graduate major professor who informed him “that he could be a pharmacist or he could be a graduate student but he could not be both.” That ended any opportunity for Serota to pursue his pharmacy career.

He chose graduate school and six years later was again a time for him to make a career decision. Wanting to establish a career in academia and intending to teach in a pharmacy school, Serota sent out letters to every pharmacy school in the United States and Canada, looking for that opportunity to begin his career. Optimistic of such an opportunity, he became disappointed when those letters that were returned all had a negative response, including one from Washington State University. But, at the last minute, he received a call from the Dean of the School of Pharmacy at Washington State in Pullman, Washington.

WSU’s toxicologist/pharmacologist had just resigned and there was a nine-month, non-tenure tract, appointment waiting if he was interested. He was very interested and after talking with his graduate committee, who told him that his research work had been completed and that he could write his thesis while teaching in WSU, he accepted the position and drove to Pullman in his beat-up 1968 American Motors Hornet.

“I really enjoyed the teaching and loved the students but I felt that the opportunity for a young professional in the academic field would be limited as research dollars were difficult to come by” said Serota.

At the end of his teaching term in June 1976, he called Dr. John Autian, his major professor in Memphis, to solicit his counsel and advice for the next steps in his young career. He connected Serota with Hazleton Laboratories, a major preclinical CRO in Vienna, Virginia, which was looking for a young Ph.D staff toxicologist. That step set him on a course that has run nearly 40 years in that industry.

After 15 years at Hazleton, where he rose to the positions of Director of Laboratory Operations and Senior Study Director, he took the position of Director of Toxicology at Southern Research Institute in Birmingham, Alabama, and led that group for almost five and a half years before MPI Research, a new preclinical CRO, came calling in 1997.

Now established in his career, Serota has not forgotten the sacrifices others made for him and the hard work that was involved in his education. He has now made it a priority to give back to Auburn and the Harrison School of Pharmacy so as to pass along the gift of an education that others were able to give him.

In 2009, he approached Dean R. Lee Evans about what was needed at the school and student scholarships were suggested. It was then that the Arthur and Jean Serota Memorial Endowed Scholarship was created in memory of his parents. For the 2015-16 school year, P4 Esha Patel, P3 Andrew Burton, and P3 Jessica Stewart were able to benefit from that gift.

“That was something that I had always wanted to do” said Serota. “My parents never went to college and my mother, a native Australian who met my marine father during World War II, never graduated from high school.

“So, while they may not have been book-smart, they were both smart in terms of the way of the world and they taught me well the attributes of love, loyalty, integrity, and hard work. So, the endowment that I created in their honor was a way for me to give back and honor them for the teaching and sacrifices that they made for me to get an education”.

A little more than five years later, Serota came knocking again, ready to make another gift to the School of Pharmacy – this time it was a gift that will go toward funding research in the School.

“At any major university where education is going on, research must be a part of that education because in pharmacy, we are not only training the pharmacists of tomorrow, we are also training the next level of drug discovers” said Serota. “To me, teaching and research go hand-in-hand in any institution of education”.

With fond memories of Auburn football and basketball games, being on the team that represented Auburn on the General Electric College Bowl in 1967, and all the crazy hijinks in living in the Phi Delta Chi house, Serota remembers Auburn as a “perfect place to grow up in and learn to be a useful member of society.” He is forever grateful for the experiences that he had on The Plains and, for that reason, remains compelled to continue to give back to the University that gave him so much.

“It was always my desire to give back to Auburn and I have been fortunate enough financially to be able to do the things that I have done. This is my way of thanking Auburn, its faculty, and my fellow classmates for helping to shape the person that I am today” said Serota. “I think every alum, but especially those in pharmacy, should give something back to Auburn. Most graduates have used their Auburn experience to go on to greater things and I think that it is a disservice that they don’t all share this success with Auburn.”

“I grew up in an era when we didn’t think in terms of ‘I,’ we thought in terms of ‘we.’ I’m part of the Auburn Family and I am paying my debt to them for giving me an education in both knowledge and in life. Adding to the moral values that my parents instilled in me, Auburn fine-tuned and imprinted these values in me forever.”


Dr. David Serota and lab members
Dr. Serota meets with his lab at MPI Research
Dr. David Serota
Dr. David Serota, HSOP Class of 1969.

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About the Harrison School of Pharmacy
Auburn University’s Harrison School of Pharmacy is ranked among the top 20 percent of all pharmacy schools in the United States, according to U.S. News & World Report. Fully accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE), the School offers doctoral degrees in pharmacy (Pharm.D.) and pharmaceutical sciences (Ph.D.) while also offering a master’s in pharmaceutical sciences. For more information about the School, please call 334.844.8348 or visit http://pharmacy.auburn.edu.

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Last Updated: May 9, 2016