Michigan State University

Program Title: MSU BEST

Key People: Katy Luchini Colbry, Kevin Ford, Karen Klomparens, Manoochehr Koochesfahani, John LaPres, Julia McAnallen, Julie Rojewski, Richard Schwartz, Stephanie W. Watts

Program Summary

The Michigan State University BEST Program is designed to be a multi-year co-curricular program for biomedical graduate students and post-docs that targets education in both skills and experiences around expanded career options. MSU makes the contribution to BEST in focusing on student self-efficacy around professional competencies that transcend discipline and career. By focusing on engaging and empowering individual scientists to develop the skills and experiences they can use to pursue a variety of career paths, the MSU BEST program model could be adopted by institutions that are not located in heavily industrialized areas.

Audience: The MSU BEST program is open to all Ph.D. students and post-doctoral scientists in biomedical and biomedical engineering disciplines. We particularly aim to engage early career graduate students so that professional development skills will complement and support their disciplinary training. We invite faculty to join in this career training and provide their PhD and postdoctoral scientists with parallel mentoring in professional career development in their research labs, so that students are receiving consistent messages and support from the BEST community and their mentors around the value of career preparation for a variety of potential fields.

In its first year, MSU is testing a small cohort model. We seek to build a BEST community that can provide engagement and support among PhD and postdoctoral scientists, their mentors, and the BEST team. Further, MSU is located in an environment which is not deeply populated with externship providers, and we are focused on creating meaningful, engaged externship experiences between BEST participants and experience providers, so are potentially limited by available opportunities in the area.

Program Design: MSU has a long history of providing innovative and comprehensive professional development to graduate students which complements disciplinary training. MSU BEST integrates these established strengths and builds upon them to offer students a pathway toward developing key professional competencies to complement their deep content knowledge. Year 1 begins with a self-analysis of professional strengths and weaknesses using a unique, MSU-developed online platform, Career Success. This portal offers students the chance to assess career skills and interests, develop their own professional portfolio, explore career resources and professional development opportunities, and map out goals for each stage of their graduate careers. This system draws upon MSU’s widely-recognized PREP model, which promotes for students Planning, Resilience, Engagement, and Professionalism, and guides PhD and postdoctoral scientists through skills development in professional readiness, wellness, teaching, conflict resolution, ethics and integrity, and other key areas for success in graduate school and future careers.

MSU BEST builds upon another of MSU’s proven strengths: integrating wellness as a core foundation upon which professional success is built. The MSU Wellness model incorporates six key areas of personal health and self-care: Physical, Emotional, Spiritual, Intellectual, Occupational, and Social. MSU BEST embeds wellness themes early and throughout the BEST program, because research has shown that stress can be a major contributor to graduate student attrition and difficulty in finding a path to a career. We seek to make BEST PhD and postdoctoral scientists aware of resources available to support their personal well-being and help them develop resilience to succeed at MSU and in their future careers.

Finally, MSU BEST is working with campus and national partners to develop a curriculum in two other foundational “Spheres of Success:” Teamwork and Communication. These two areas have been deemed by the BEST leadership team as essential professional competencies. Collectively, these foundational skills will be put to test when Phd and postdoctoral scientists undergo their externships. The first year is capped with a scientists writing a BEST IDP with their mentor and a team member from BEST.

Externships: In year 2 and beyond, BEST scientists will participate in externships. The MSU Externship Model promotes five (5) career spheres: Innovation, Legal, Regulatory, Government and Public Affairs, and Academe. BEST scientists pick two areas of particular interest and engage in an externship in each of those areas. PhD and postdoctoral scientists identify these two areas by being exposed to each of these five areas in independent workshops in year 1. It is our belief that careful design of the externship experience will permit BEST particpants to engage their professional and disciplinary skills in new ways, learn about employers outside of their labs and outside academe, and develop experiences that will translate to a variety of possible career options.

Evaluation: We will compare outcomes between highly engaged BEST PhD and postdoctoral scientists (test group) and scientists not engaged in BEST (control group) to determine if the activities provided by BEST caused discernible changes in attitudes, skills, and confidence of students and post docs in exploring expanded career options. We propose the use of strong interventions such that outcomes are measurable and comparable, and via formative and summative assessments, we will track change throughout the program. Our ultimate goal is one of culture change in scientific graduate training, such that BEST program goals become integrated into biomedical training, where skills development relevant to non-academic careers becomes integrated and supported as part of biomedical training. We hope to build with the 16 other BEST cohorts a model with variations that can be adopted by the many programs that wish to build graduate and postdoctoral professional development around expanded career outcomes.

Beginning Strategies

Career Success is a gateway to resources, programs, events and planning tools for graduate students, postdocs and faculty mentors for building a successful career. Beginning with evaluation of your skills in the following: communication; leadership; ethics and integrity; research, scholarship and creative activities; collaboration; and balance and resilience. You will identify those areas of strengths and weaknesses as they pertain to a career. With such knowledge, you can then plan your career path using PREP (planning, resilience, engagement and professionalism), formalize that plan, and find tools to make your plan happen. Your plans can be stored on the site, and modified continuously.