University of Colorado Graduate School

Program Title: BEST

Key People: Inge Wefes

Program Summary

The Graduate School at the University of Denver|Anschutz Medical Campus serves, among other students, about 280 PhD students and about 240 postdoctoral fellows in the basic biomedical sciences, and the basic biomedical science programs are all housed on CU’s Anschutz Medical Campus. In 2013, due to the generous support of the NIH, we started the BEST Program with the aim of enhancing the competitiveness of our PhD and postdoctoral scientists for research or science related jobs inside and outside academia. We designed our BEST Program in a four- part model: PECE, standing for Preparation, Education, Cultivation and Employment.

I) Preparation: While postdocs are very welcome to join the preparation, it is primarily designed to serve incoming PhD students in getting settled on campus and building early on a community of mutual support, regardless of the program in which they are enrolled. Since 2014, we require all incoming students to participate in a two-day GPS Orientation where they learn in small groups, in rotating sessions, Graduate and Professional Skills such as professional record keeping, critical and analytical thinking, the identification, evaluation and use of onsite and online library resources, time management, as well as the set-up of an Individual Development Plan (IDP). All individual workshops of the GPS Orientation are started with a pre- assessment of the students’ confidence regarding their prior knowledge with respect to the information that will be delivered in the sp77ecific session, and at the end of each session, all participants have to fill in a post-event assessment to test if their confidence in the presented knowledge area has improved and if the workshop was of value to them. Our first GPS workshop in 2014 was very successful, and with the students’ feedback, we will adjust the 2015 GPS orientation to serve the newcomers even better. At the end of the two-day GPS orientation, all students are paired up with an advanced student from the program that they just joined, and the older students serve as peer mentors for the first year of study and will hopefully become friends for life. At the end of the academic year, the students receive reminders to update their IDPs and discuss them with their PIs. For students and postdocs who are already on campus for longer, we offer a workshop on the value of the IDP. In the information session for incoming postdocs, all are strongly encouraged to start an IDP if they have not yet set one up.

II) Education: Our BEST Program faculty has developed and offered multiple new workshops that are open to all new and advanced students and postdocs in the biomedical sciences. Due to the time constraints of our scientists, we are offering workshops during the semester at different times during the day, i.e. some starting at 7 AM, some ending at 8 PM and most meet 5 times for 2.5 hours. For sustainability perspectives, we anticipate that this format can most easily be converted into 1-credit courses, once we have fully assessed which workshops are most valuable to our PhD and postdoctoral scientists. Workshop topics include (see also summary overview picture at the end): Advanced Critical and Analytical Thinking, Scientific and Technical Writing, Life Science Development and Commercialization and a two-day boot camp, contracted with SciPhD on Science in Industry. While very work intensive, and starting on a Sunday, the Fall boot camp on Science in Industry had an especially strong impact on the attendees and inspired them to set up the first Rocky Mountain Biotechnology Symposium (RMBTS) for mid May 2015. RMBTS is an exclusively student and postdoc designed and developed initiative, where they invite local biotech companies to the Anschutz Campus, listen to their pitches, visit their booths, hope to enhance the interactions between industry and academia and develop valuable networks for future employment. In extension of what they learned in the boot camp and in preparation for the anticipated engagements at the RMBTS, they are also setting up mock interview sessions that should also be helpful to those who could not attend the boot camp.

III) Cultivation: In order to be successful with our initiatives related to the remodeling of bioscience graduate student and postdoctoral training, we make all efforts to secure the support and the buy-in of our biomedical faculty. In Spring 2014, we initiated a Council of Graduate Educators, where we invite once a semester all Graduate Faculty in the biomedical sciences to a town hall meeting to inform them about new initiatives of the BEST Program and their outcomes, and invite their comments and suggestions on how we can prepare their PhD and postdoctoral scientists also for careers outside academia without too much interference with their research training. Preceding those meetings, we set up a faculty survey that also invited statements of concern as well as expressions of interests in, for example, faculty development opportunities that might not only be of value related to the faculty’s research, but also help them to be become stronger advisors on issues beyond science. Unfortunately, a faculty workshop on Life Science Development & Commercialization that we tried to offer based on our survey results, had eventually to be cancelled because too many faculty members ran into time conflicts. We will try that again.

In the spirit of supporting a culture of support, respect and recognition, in 2014 we also initiated the annual Milestones of Success Celebration. In this 90-minute event, we celebrate reasons for all doctoral students, postdoctoral scholars, and faculty to shine and stand up at least once, for example, people who have a publication in this year or a grant or fellowship, students who passed the qualifier, graduated or found a job etc. At that occasion, we also recognize outstanding peer mentors and faculty sponsors.

IV) Employment: While our BEST Program is still too young to have results on the enhanced employability and employment of our PhD and postdoctoral scientists, we are grateful for having a Bioscience Advisory Board with members mostly from outside academia that inform and advise us regarding desirable skills beyond research that would make our scientists competitive for careers also outside academia. We are also offering (for the second time this Spring), a very well received workshop on Team Building & Leadership Development that encourages and teaches participants to identify their personal style of team and leadership engagement, what adjustments might be desirable and can be learned, and for what kind of employment individual styles might be well suited.

For all offered workshops, PhD and postdoctoral scientists who attend at least four out of five workshops sessions will earn a Certificate of Participation. Scientists who attend at least four of the professional development events that are offered by the BEST Program will earn Recognition of Professional Development.