School of Medicine Vanderbilt University

Program Title: ASPIRE

Key People: Ashley Brady, Abby Brown, Roger Chalkley, Kathy Gould, Kim Petrie, Kate Stuart

Program Summary

The Vanderbilt ASPIRE Program (Augmenting Scholar Preparation and Integration with Research-Related Endeavors) was established in 2013 with a BEST Award from the NIH Common Fund. ASPIRE is intended to empower Vanderbilt’s ≈500 biomedical sciences PhD students and ≈500 postdoctoral scholars to make well-informed career decisions by providing resources and experiences that expand training paradigms and prepare trainees to transition efficiently to a wide-range of research and research-related careers in academic and nonacademic venues.

ASPIRE is a three-phase initiative administered by the Office of Career Development within the Office of Biomedical Research Education and Training (BRET) at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Nashville, TN.

  • IMPACT phase: Specifically designed for first-year PhD students in the basic biomedical sciences, this year-long program matches 8-10 students with a faculty mentor. Groups meet weekly and mentors lead group discussions on various topics of professionalism in science. As a corollary to IMPACT, a twice monthly series called ASPIRE Café for Postdoctoral Fellows was created to inform postdoctoral fellows about the BRET office’s career resources and to explore a variety of topics relevant to their career and professional development.
  • EXPLORE phase: Targeting PhD students in years 2-3 of training, as well as postdoctoral fellows, this phase focuses on jumpstarting career management through self-assessment, career exploration and networking. Students and postdocs can take advantage of the Beyond the Lab video series, the half-day ASPIRE to Connect workshop on professional relationship building, a three-session Ready, Set, Goal series on career planning, the Annual Career Symposium, and the monthly PhD Career Connections seminar series.
  • ENHANCE phase: Intended for post-qualifying PhD students and postdoctoral fellows, this phase represents the capstone of ASPIRE training experiences, and includes opportunities to participate in didactic and experiential modules, and the opportunity to gain hands-on-experience through externships and internships.

Highlights of the ASPIRE Program:
Beyond the Lab Videos
: 34-video interviews of Vanderbilt alumni in a variety of career areas filmed in-house and posted on the Vanderbilt You Tube Channel have had over 6400 viewings thus far.

ASPIRE Modules: Over 200 PhD students and postdoctoral fellows participated in 10 different non-credit bearing short courses. Starting in fall 2014, the modules develop skills and knowledge of careers in communication, clinical research, business and entrepreneurship, and teaching.

ASPIRE Café for Postdoctoral Fellows: Since its inception in fall 2014, the Café has welcomed over 420 postdoctoral attendees (nearly 190 unique, nearly 40% of our population) to 39 different sessions led by BRET staff, campus partners and faculty members.

ASPIRE Internships: Launched in fall 2015, we have provided 22 internship opportunities, both locally and nationally, to our students and postdocs in a wide variety of career areas.

The ASPIRE Program is evaluated annually by an external advisory board comprised of numerous distinguished external partners from academia, government, industry and the non-profit sectors, as well as a graduate student, postdoctoral fellow and several faculty from Vanderbilt.

Beginning Strategies

The ASPIRE Modules, which are part of the EXPLORE phase, were launched in the fall of 2014. Over 140 PhD and postdoctoral scientists registered to participate in six unique, non-credit bearing elective courses that were offered in four theme areas: business and entrepreneurship, communication, teaching, and clinical research. Biomedical Research and the Media, directed by Wayne Wood, MLAS, Executive Director of New Media Production at Vanderbilt University Medical Center News and Public Affairs was limited to six particpants and provided exposure to, and experience in, science communication to the lay public via print journalism, media relations, social media, and media training. All participants wrote and received critical feedback on three print pieces, many of which have subsequently been published in the Vanderbilt Reporter, the university’s medical center publication with a circulation of 8000.