Build a Career Development Program

Offering career development services to your trainees benefit both the trainees and your institution. This section reviews why you should offer career development services to your trainees, tips for building and sustaining your programming, how these offerings could be presented, and what types of programming you could offer.

Why Your University Needs a Strong Biomed Career Development Program

Traditionally, Ph.D. and postdoctoral scientists perform research under the direct mentorship of faculty advisors and are encouraged to pursue a tenure-track research position, or perhaps a teaching position in academia or research in industry. Young scientists were not often given any formal preparation for other diverse careers, scientists have obtained positions in other biomedical careers in an indirect manner with little career-specific training or support.

Instead many institutions (BEST and non-BEST) have programs that prepare graduate and postdoctoral scientists for a range of careers. These career options can be pursued during any stage of training from the early years of graduate school to late into a postdoctoral fellowship.

Adapted from Meyers, et al. FASEB J, under revision (2015)

Adapted from Meyers, et al. FASEB J, under revision (2015)

The guides in this section outline the best ways to assist your PhD and postdoctoral scientists in their career development and how to strengthen your institution’s program.

Many career development curriculums contain similar elements: career exploration, professional skill building, experiential learning, peer groups. Yet there are different ways to engage students in these activities. When deciding how to offer these activities to your trainees you should consider whether to have Voluntary vs Required Curriculum and also whether you want to use a Cohort Model. It is not necessary to pick just one model; they can be mixed and matched to better suit the particular type of offering.

For example, The University of Massachusetts Medical School uses a required curriculum designed to integrate with students’ and postdocs’ scientific training, but the required curriculum is supplemented with additional voluntary opportunities. In addition, they also use the cohort model for their Career Pathways Communities.

At the 2015 NIH BEST Annual Meeting, consortium members made a list of the top 13 reasons why all biomedical Ph.D. granting institutions need strong career development programs. Use this list to enlist support for your program or for motivation to keep working for your students and postdoctoral scholars. diverse career

  1. We have a moral obligation to help students and postdoctoral researchers find work
  2. Helps the institution contribute to a scientifically literate workforce
  3. Can lead to enhanced interdisciplinary collaborations
  4. Provides a mechanism for gathering hard data on career development
  5. Happy students are productive students and vice versa
  6. Helps secure and retain grants
  7. Attracts development money
  8. Opportunity for stronger academy-industry engagement
  9. Prepares students and postdoctoral researchers for satisfying careers
  10. Provides leadership and guidance to all other graduate programs, increasing efficiency and reducing redundancies
  11. It is an important tool for expanding diversity efforts
  12. It is an important alumni engagement tool
  13. Important recruitment tool for new students

Support

In order to build and sustain your career development program, you need support from a variety of individuals, both inside out outside of your institution. The first support system you need are champions to promote your cause and a small network of partners to help produce and deliver program content. Once you have the program running sustaining it can have its own challenges, but if you have a strong alumni network you can achieve this.

How to a Build a Strong Biomed Career Development Program

Many career development curriculums contain similar elements: alumni mentoring, career exploration, professional skill building, experiential learning, and peer groups. Yet there are different ways to engage students in these activities. When deciding how to offer these activities to your trainees you should consider whether to have Voluntary vs Required Curriculum and also whether you want to use a Cohort Model. It is not necessary to pick just one model; they can be mixed and matched to better suit the particular type of offering.

For example, The University of Massachusetts Medical School uses a required curriculum designed to integrate with students’ and postdocs’ scientific training, but the required curriculum is supplemented with additional voluntary opportunities. In addition, they also use the cohort model for their Career Pathways Communities.

What to Offer of Your Students and Postdocs

Common BEST programmatic themes, such as Alumni MentorshipExperiential Learning (e.g., internships and externships), Peer Groups, and Professional Development (e.g., team building and management) will directly guide Ph.D. and postdoctoral scientists to many career possibilities, such as administration, law, industry/biotechnology, science policy/communication, government, and other science careers, which are viewed as equal, successful, and well-suited career outcomes.

With all there is to offer, it can be challenging deciding what to offer you graduate students and postdocs. There are two main approaches that consortium members have used 1) using workforce data and 2) using student feedback.

When using student feedback this can be done either quantitatively by creating surveys or qualitatively by getting verbal feedback from your students. Feedback can be taken at any point. Prior to starting career development programs some of the BEST institutions chose to take a poll of their students to determine what offering the students would be interested in and what careers they were considering. This disadvantage of doing this is that is your school doesn’t have any type of career exposure then the students might not be aware of their needs. At this point is were using Workforce data can be helpful. It will allow you to access the market need for certain skills.

Using student surveys can not only help you decide what to offer but also if you need to change the way you are offering a certain course. For courses and workshops, you should consider giving trainees an initial survey prior to each offering and then one after the offering is over. On this survey you can assess what the students have gained from the course, was it valuable to them, what did they feel it was missing, what did they like about it. After receiving feedback you might decide to modify the offering.

Outcomes

Taking surveys can be complicated. Data collection can be as simple as an annual survey or as involved as an integrated data system or time-intensive case study project. Each school will have different needs, resources, students and cultures, and thus different ways for Tracking Participation and Evaluating Outcomes. Regardless of your approach, your program and trainees will benefit from data on career outcomes and program strengths.