Erin Bove-Fenderson
Doctoral Candidate in Biochemistry at Boston University School of Medicine

As a graduate student, sometimes it can be a bit daunting to have a conversation about your future career plans.  Most of us have a clear idea of what motivates us, and we all share a common love for science.  Yet the traditional resources available to PhD students support the development of an academic career almost exclusively.  For students who are seeking another path, the prospects are murkier.  About a year ago it became clear to me that academia, while appealing for many reasons, was not the best choice for me. When I began to look into other options, I relied on word-of-mouth, informational interviews with friends of friends, and scouring the internet for information about alternative careers for PhDs.  It was slow going, and it was difficult to see how my training as a research scientist was going to translate into a career away from the bench.

Luckily for me, this was also the year that Boston University began to implement its BEST program.  The initial BEST events that I attended were seminars and career panels with PhDs working in a variety of fields.  Through BEST, I completed an online Individual Development Plan and oriented toward some potential career paths.  The events also started to open up networking opportunities both outside of the university and within it.  While talking with other students and postdocs I realized that I was part of a cohort wrestling with career choices.  This provided me with support and a sense that I was not alone.

After some conversations with students who expressed interest in science policy, Chelsea Barbercheck (BEST Program Director) invited a group of us to join her at a meeting of MIT’s Science Policy Initiative (SPI).  The meeting sparked interest among us for a science policy group at Boston University.  I was lucky to be a part of this conversation, and we have worked hard to create BU’s first science policy group: Science and Technology in Public Policy (STEPUP).  To enhance our new group’s exposure, we cooperated with BEST to introduce a talk on science policy careers.  Our membership has expanded since then, and we continue to collaborate with BEST to set up future seminars on careers in policy.

Because of my involvement with STEPUP, the BEST leadership team invited me to participate in this year’s AAAS Catalyzing Advocacy in Science and Engineering (CASE) workshop.  This was an amazing opportunity.  Not only did I get to travel to Washington DC and attend a series of excellent seminars, I also visited Capitol Hill and took part in several congressional visits.  I met other PhD students with an interest in policy who were starting similar groups at their own universities.   If it had not been for participation in BEST, I doubt I would have found myself sitting in a senate office building as a PhD student, learning the Senate bell-and-light call system.  The experience was broadening to say the least!

In addition to exposure to an entire world of career options, BEST has supplemented my early training goals by offering skill-enhancing workshops and career coaching.  I recently attended an Alan Alda Science Communications mini-workshop to boost my skills in communicating to a non-scientist audience.  I have applied for several internships that the BEST program brought to my attention.  Career coaching through Propel Careers has helped me refine my resume, and I feel more confident that I can give any potential employer a good idea of my skill set and value, even for positions outside of basic research.

I can honestly say that the BEST program at Boston University has improved my career development by leaps and bounds.  I have had a much broader exposure to career options than I would have had on my own. I have had wonderful experiences that would have otherwise not even been on my radar.  My skill set is constantly evolving with the inspiration that BEST has provided.  I hope Boston University’s participation in BEST becomes part of a new approach to preparing young scientists for their careers.