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Biomedical training is rewarding, but it can be a long road to success. Embarking on graduate school and postdoctoral fellowship is part of a broader plan for success in future careers. However, at these early points in your career, you have to focus on your research while also planning for your future career. This section provides tools to help you:

Traditionally, Ph.D. and postdoctoral scientists focus on

  • Perfecting the application of the scientific method
  • Learning effective oral and written communication skills
  • Securing federal and private grant funding
  • Communicating and networking with other scientists
  • Developing proficiency in discipline-dependent technical skills

However, as the numbers of Ph.D.-level scientists and job competition increase, it is important for graduate students and postdoctoral scientists to focus on career exploration and planning and become aware of additional skills obtained during their biomedical education and training. Scientists must ask “What other skill development does my Ph.D. and postdoctoral training provide, and how do these skills prepare me for various career options?”

Explore your interests

Individual Development Plans (IDPs) serve as a tool to set realistic goals for career and professional development that sometimes incorporate assessment and evaluation of career interests and skills. Evaluation of self is an important component of career exploration and planning. Make your own plan at myIDP at Science Careers.

Learn more about IDPs and optimizing your career preparation in the recorded webinar from BEST and the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB). View the slides here.

Don’t wait until your program or fellowship is ending to plan for your career. Kim Petrie, Ph.D. and Ashley Brady, Ph.D. from Vanderbilt’s BEST program wrote an entire book chapter on how to weave career preparations into your training. Check out Chapter Three of the Advancing Postdoc Women Guidebook, and don’t worry if you’re neither a woman nor a postdoc. You will be grateful for the advice.

Narrow down your career options

When choosing a graduate school or a post-doc we understand that it is important for you to gather as much information about a school as possible. If a trainee has decided on a career, they want to know if the school that has a reputation for producing alumni that have advanced in the same career trajectory. Trainees that have already started a family might place a high priority on time to degree and student with a diverse background may wish to attend a school that has a diverse student and faculty population that they can relate to.

Many of the BEST institutions realize that this type of information is important to the trainee and make this data publically available on their website. For a list of BEST institution that provides some, or all, or this information you can visit our Tracking Participation and Outcomes page.

While knowing the career outcomes at each school is helpful, many institutions report these outcomes using a variety of different terminology. This is in part due to the diverse array of careers that PhD-trained scientist is employed; however, comparing amongst schools become difficult.

In order to compare outcomes among institutions, a single standard taxonomy and methodology for data curation and analysis are needed. Institutions and organization have struggled for years to create an intuitive, comprehensive, and replicable taxonomy that succinctly and unambiguously describes the career outcomes of their alumni. Some of the groups that have attempted to address this problem include BEST; The Group on Graduate Research, Education, and Training (GREAT); Future of Biomedical Graduate and Postdoctoral Training (FOBGAPT); Rescuing Biomedical Research (RBR); and the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS).

In Spring 2017, the BEST Consortium formed a working group to design a taxonomy of career outcomes; the goal was to establish consistent definitions for employment sectors, career type, and job functions that will work for all biomedical trainees regardless of institution or ultimate career path. Using the Science Careers myIDP career categories as its starting point for revisions, refinement, and additions to the categories, the working group added a subcategory, now called Job Functions (Tier 3) and, recognizing the need for binning of the Job Functions, suggested Employment Sector (Tier 1) as an entry point for classification.

The resulting taxonomy was subsequently incorporated into another collaborative effort led by Rescuing Biomedical Research (RBR), which included a diverse set of representatives from the Association of American Universities (AAU), Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), National Institutions of Health (NIH), and academic institutions both internal and external to the BEST Consortium.

The end product is presented here and is an exceptional example of cross-organizational communication, collaboration, and compromise. 

The taxonomy is three-tiered, first prompting selection of Employment Sector (Tier 1), then a binning into Career Types (Tier 2), and finally a granular refinement into Job Functions (Tier 3), defined by specific skillsets and/or credentials required for employment in that function. The Consortium anticipates that it will develop further suggestions for a fourth tier that refines each of the Job Functions.  Adoption of this taxonomy will help to streamline and standardize required classification for training grant tracking and other alumni data administrative functions. The taxonomy permits clear public representation of data, empowering prospective graduate students and postdoctoral candidates to easily compare the longitudinal career outcomes between institutions and consider that information in their decision-making process.

The career categories from my individual development plan (myIDP), were used as a starting point for revisions, refinement, and additions. The taxonomy has now been completed and is being used by several programs and institutions.


Adoption of this taxonomy will help standardize required career classifications for trainee guidance and should improve internal administrative alumni tracking. This universal taxonomy will also permit clear public representation of data, empowering prospective graduate students and postdoctoral candidates to easily compare the longitudinal career outcomes between institutions and consider that information in their decision-making process.

taxonomy fig

Tier 1: Employment Sector

1AcademiaAny academic institution including K-12 institutions, colleges, universities, some medical centers, or free-standing research institutions where training occurs.
2GovernmentAny organization operated by federal, state, local or foreign governments.
3For-ProfitAny organization that operates to make a profit, including some industry research.
4NonprofitAny non-governmental organization that does not operate to make a profit.
5OtherIndividuals who are unemployed, full-time caretaker or parent, on extended medical leave or employed at an organization not included in other options.

Tier 2: Career type

wdt_IDCareer typeDefinition
1Primarily researchThe primary, although not necessarily the only, focus is the conduct or oversight of scientific research.
2Primarily teachingThe primary, although not necessarily the only, focus is education and teaching.
3Science-relatedCareer that is relevant to the conduct of scientific research, but does not directly conduct or oversee research activities
4Not related to scienceCareer that is not directly relevant to the conduct of scientific research
5Further training or educationTemporary training position

Connect with others

Professional relationships can greatly aid in growing your career. Informational interviews help you make career decisions and determine the pathways to attaining you goals. Plus, you contacts will likely assist you when you are on the job market. Check out the recorded webinar by BEST and ASBMB to learn how to build your network and effectively communicate with your contacts. View the slides here.


The job functions category of the career taxonomy will likely include the main job function of any career you chose to pursue. In order to land the job you want, or to get more information about the job you think you want, it is important to network. Talk to people that are in similar positions that you hope to be in. Browse through the job functions table below and click on the links to see professional organizations related to that job function.

Tier 3: Job Function

wdt_IDJob FunctionDefinition
1 Adjunct/Part-time teaching staffContingent teaching role that is contracted on a single-semester, short-term, or non-permanent basis with no research responsibilities.
2AdministrationAdministrative-intensive roles.
3Business development, consulting, and strategic alliancesRole that involves the development, execution, management, or analysis of a business. Roles may include relationship management, refinement of operational efficiency, or fee-based advisory services.
4Clinical research managementRole that is responsible for the oversight, management, or design of clinical research trials.
5Clinical servicesRole that involves that administration of clinical services or research
6Data science, analytics, and software engineeringRole that may combine programming, analytics, advanced statistics, data communication, and/or software development.
7EntrepreneurshipFounder, co-founder, CEO or other roles that develop, manage, and provide/obtain capital to initiate a business or enterprise. This function does not include staff at a start-up business.
8Faculty: nontenure-trackLeading an academic research team and ineligible for tenure.
9Faculty: tenured/tenure-trackLeading an academic research team and eligible for or already tenured.
10Faculty: tenure-track unclear or not applicableLeading an academic research team at an institution where tenure is not granted or tenure status is unknown.

Applying and interviewing for jobs

After all the hard work you have put into career planning, it is now time to prepare for the interview.

Here is an article that was written by some of the BEST; it will help you prepare for that dreaded video interview.

Smile, You’re on Camera