wayne state

Program Title: BEST

Key People: Christine Chow, Joe Dunbar, Elizabeth Dungee-Anderson, Andrew Feig, Janice Green, Heidi Kenaga, Ambika Mathur, Judith Moldenhauer, Mathew Ouellett, Tim Stemmler

Program Summary

Wayne State University, a research-intensive postsecondary institution located in Detroit, produces an average of 150 PhDs annually, approximately half of whom are in 17 biomedical programs across the institution. In 2013, Wayne State received a BEST grant from the NIH to assist doctoral students in exploring a variety of career options outside of academia, to actively support those students who intend to pursue such careers, and to foment culture change among faculty so that such careers are viewed as positive outcomes, not “alternative” nor “second best.” One of the highlights of WSU’s BEST program is that doctoral students outside the biomedical disciplines are also encouraged to participate, adding richness to our training experiences.

Our BEST program has 3 successive phases: Phase I – Exploratory seminars; Phase II – Didactic workshops; Phase III – Career Exploration/Internships. Phase I acquaints students with multiple career options from the first day of their entry into a Ph.D. program via a set of 90-minute seminars, each exploring one of five career tracks with industry partners, faculty, and alumni whose work intersects with the biosciences and the following areas: undergraduate teaching, law, communication, business/industry, and government. These seminars are videotaped and made available on YouTube so students can view them at any time.

Phase I – Exploratory seminars

Phase II comprises a series of daylong workshops on the career options identified in Phase I. This is probably the BEST program’s most novel strategy: these workshops act as a crucial “bridge” between the exploratory seminars in Phase I and the career exploration/internship experiences in Phase III. A team comprising community and industry leaders (many of whom are WSU doctoral alumni) work with faculty facilitators to design a curriculum focusing on those necessary skills sets for each of the five career tracks. Attendees gain more detailed knowledge through one-on-one exchanges with professionals in these domains. In particular, students learn how their scientific training, problem-solving abilities, and analytical aptitude can be mobilized to successfully address the needs of a career outside of academic university research. Attendees acquire important insights about how they can make a valuable contribution to a chosen field and have a successful lifelong career.

Phase II – Didactic workshops

Phase III offers students experiential learning about these career paths through career explorations/internships with private industry, state agencies, nonprofit organizations, or a practicum with a local community college or PUI. Wayne State expects to integrate internships into doctoral training programs for the long term, which will facilitate students’ exploration of multiple career pathways.

As a starting point for effective career planning, the Graduate School offers workshops for doctoral students in the fall and spring term on constructing an Individualized Development Plan (IDP), which is now required of all trainees who are supported by federal funding. In addition, the Graduate School has implemented a full slate of professional development seminars on basic employment skills such as conducting a job search, preparing for an interview, converting a CV to a resume, building a LinkedIn page, and writing a cover letter. WSU faculty and staff also offer specialized workshops on abstract writing, poster presentation, professional communication in the workplace, and strategies for presenting scientific ideas to nonspecialist audiences.  Students may also schedule individualized career counseling with the WSU Career Services Office. In the summer of 2016, the Graduate School established a 1-credit course oriented toward graduate students interested in preparing for a career outside of academia. This course is built around exercises and assignments that registrants may use to build a professional portfolio necessary for employment in highly skilled positions.

With regard to encouraging cultural change in biomedical research training at Wayne State, BEST has adopted a number of approaches, most notably (1) sustained outreach by the Dean of the Graduate School to publicize the changing conditions of biomedical doctoral employment to campus leadership and external stakeholders; (2) promotion of intentional mentoring among faculty via seminars conducted by the Office for Teaching and Learning; and (3) robust initiative to track doctoral program alumni, which will help improve program outcomes as well as provide an invaluable network for ongoing career development among current students.

Program Highlights