Peer Career Exploration Groups provide a structured way for PhD students and postdocs to help one another in their career planning efforts. Small groups of trainees meet regularly to discuss progress, share knowledge and set goals. University of Rochester, University of California San Francisco, and University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, a few of the BEST schools that organize Peer Career Exploration Groups, share what they have learned.
Motivation & Accountability: Regular meetings serve as deadlines for students to accomplish career exploration goals, such as reaching out for informational interviews, reading up on different career paths, updating a resume, or learning a new skill. Moreover, peer successes motivate others to take action.
Knowledge & skill building: Trainees can share knowledge about upcoming events, job postings, emerging careers, or career planning strategies. Peer group meetings also provide a safe place to practice communication skills and professionalism.
Confidence: PhDs and postdocs build connections with others facing similar challenges and empower one another. As a result, trainees often report that peer groups boost their confidence in their career choice.
Scalable & sustainable: A career development office can’t meet with every student and postdoc regularly to assure that all trainees are staying on track. Peer groups provide a way for even the smallest office to provide trainees with regular check-ins and support.
Size: Peer Career Exploration Groups work best with 5-8 people per group.
Composition: Most schools find that groups thrive when they are organized by career area. Students might join multiple groups until they narrow down their career interests. Common career areas include
- Science Writing/Communication
- Data Science
Alternatively, some schools have found that peer groups composed of people with diverse career interest can also be extremely effective. Either way groups benefit by having people from varied academic disciplines and with a mix of graduate students and postdocs. Graduate students learn from the more experienced postdocs, while postdocs benefit from the students’ energy, positivity, and greater familiarity with the institution.
Leadership: Groups leaders can be members of the peer groups or external facilitators (either faculty, staff, or trained graduate students and postdocs). Facilitators need not be content experts, as their role is mainly to help establish effective meeting structure and norms, including things like efficient use of time, a positive focus on problem-solving and community building, and making sure everyone participates.
Frequency: Students and postdocs report increased motivation and confidence immediately after a group meeting; so frequent sessions result in greater career exploration, networking and skill building. Ideally, groups will meet at least once per month.
Tracking student progress: When students and postdocs are supporting one another, there is no built-in method to monitor student progress. To solve this problem, some schools have trainees set career exploration goals that they review at the next meeting, while others use surveys to evaluate student progress.
Flexibility: The above guidelines are just guidelines. Let your students and postdocs shape their groups around their needs, schedules and interest.
An example of peer career exploration groups:
- UMass Medical School’s Career Pathways Communities
Publication links and additional resources:
- Kathy E. Kram and Lynn A. Isabella, Mentoring Alternatives: The Role of Peer Relationships in Career Development. doi: 10.2307/256064