The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Program Title: ImPACT (Immersion Program to Advance Career Training)

Key People: Patrick Brandt, Patrick Brennwald, Jean Cook, Rebekah Layton

Program Summary

The Immersion Program to Advance Career Training (ImPACT) aims to change the culture of life science training at UNC. Success will be measured by decreased time to degree, decreased time to first permanent job, increased career satisfaction, and increased placement of our PhD and postdoctoral scientists in wide range of research and research-related careers.

ImPACT builds on UNC’s long-standing commitment to professional and career development for our 1000 biological and biomedical graduate student and postdoctoral scientists. ImPACT is made possible by an NIH BEST grant awarded in 2014 and by UNC’s ongoing financial commitment to biomedical research training. The program is an expansion of our Training Initiatives in Biological and Biomedical Sciences (TIBBS) program, which began in 2006.

ImPACT is composed of four main components as outlined in the graphic below. All aspects of the program are freely available to life science graduate students and postdoctoral scientists except for the internships, which are competitive. Details of each program component are explained below the graphic.


Core Competencies
In partnership with the UNC graduate school and individual programs, life science PhD students and postdoctoral scholars receive instruction in grant and manuscript writing, mentoring and teaching skills, leadership and job hunting skills, and in short all the non-bench skills needed to be successful scientists in a wide range of careers.

Career Cohorts
ImPACT provides structure and support for scientist-led career cohorts that meet monthly to network with invited professionals, share career resources, and report back on informational interviews. Career cohorts that have already started include Science and Business Club, Science Policy and Advocacy Group, Program in Industry Exploration, Science Writing and Communication Group, and Teaching Intensive Careers Group. The Career Cohort model allows for grass-roots creation of scientist groups to meet any need. Groups receive a small budget from ImPACT that is supplemented by university funds. PhD and postdoctoral scientists gain leadership experience through their groups and groups frequently collaborate to bring in external scientists whose job duties span interest areas.

Career Education
Supplementing the career exposure available through the career cohorts, ImPACT also plans events and workshop series targeted to PhD and postdoctoral scientists at specific career stages. For example all first year graduate students receive instruction in creating an Individual Development plan before they have even chosen a dissertation lab. ImPACT sponsors the Annual Career Blitz, which brings 2 dozen scientists from a wide variety of research and research-related careers in and out of academia, to campus for an afternoon of instruction and networking. Last year’s career blitz was attended by nearly 200 scientists. Five-part workshop series take place at yearly intervals on topics including Industry Skills, Pedagogy/Active Learning Skills, and Science Policy Careers. Nationally known consultants and speakers anchor the workshop series that are supplemented by expert local knowledge.

Immersive Learning
UNC’s proximity to the Research Triangle Park situates us to take advantage of multiple immersive learning opportunities. PhD and postdoctoral scientists go on monthly field trips to local companies, organizations, and non-profits representing nearly all available career options. The capstone experience available to graduate students and postdoctoral scientists on a competitive basis are 160-hour internships that can take place during 1 month of full time effort, or part time over 2-3 months. Thirty internships are available per year and interns are paid at their current stipend of salary rate. Currently the internships are almost all paid for by UNC, but we hope to garner industry support in future years that will sustain the program in the long term. Graduate students must have passed their qualifying exams and all scientists must have written support of their faculty mentor in order to apply. ImPACT directors have developed relationships with about 15 internship providers, but scientists chosen for internship funding can also create their internship opportunities.

As scientists at all levels engage with ImPACT we expect to see a change in the training culture at UNC that will benefit PhD students, postdoctoral scholars, and faculty alike. We will evaluate our initiatives vigorously in order to accentuate the effective components of ImPACT and proactively improve components that are found lacking.