University of Massachusetts Medical School students

Third-year students discuss Individual Development Plans at University of Massachusetts Medical School.


Many career development curriculums contain similar elements: career exploration, professional skill building and experiential learning. Yet there are different ways to engage students in these activities. The University of Chicago takes a voluntary approach in which students and postdocs choose among career seminars, workshops, mini-courses and internships as they see fit. The University of Massachusetts Medical School uses a required curriculum designed to integrate with students’ and postdocs’ scientific training. Their required curriculum is supplemented with additional voluntary opportunities. Each approach has strengths and challenges. Check out our comparison of voluntary and required curriculums to see what might work best for your school.

Voluntary Curriculum Required Curriculum
Only those interested attend, creating a positive environment. Programming reaches all learners so that everyone gains important knowledge, skills and a sense of community.
High-quality pedagogy is critical to attract participation in future events. High-quality pedagogy is critical to engage all learners – including those who may not have otherwise chosen to attend.
Programming can cater to specific interests, providing in-depth exposure to topics that may be of interest to only a subset of the population. Broadly-spaced lessons that minimally distract from research can build on one another over semesters or years of training, leading to depth in skill development over time.
Scheduling of events must work around trainees’ research commitments, and therefore may need to take place during lunchtime, evening, and weekends. The requirement allows trainees to attend and not feel guilty about being away from the lab.
Trainees participate in programming when they feel that they are ready to explore their career options. The requirement can be timed to ensure trainees take early action toward career development.
Not all programming relies on faculty buy-in. Faculty must be sold on the importance of this requirement, a challenging but important step to creating culture change and support for career development training.
Curricular flexibility allows for quarterly revisions and additions to programming based on surveys and requests. Elements within a required curriculum can evolve, but changes to learning objectives must be carefully considered to maintain consistency across the curriculum.
Programming can expand or contract based on resources and priorities. The university is expected to maintain curriculum annually.
To maximize attendance and minimize the no-show rate, the university must plan strategically through event timing, incentive structures, publicity, or a selective application process. The university must develop a clear syllabus to enforce the requirement and be willing to hold students accountable to participating.

Whether you go with a required or voluntary curriculum, you will need effective pedagogy, thoughtful scheduling, and campus support. You can work on these details up front with a structured, required curriculum; or develop them on the fly with a flexible, voluntary set of programs.