Traditionally, PhD and postdoctoral scientists perform research under the direct mentorship of faculty advisors and are encouraged toward tenure-track research, research or teaching positions in academia, or research in industry. Without formal preparation for other diverse careers, scientists have obtained positions in other biomedical careers in an indirect manner with little career-specific training or support
Instead BEST programs prepare graduate and postdoctoral scientists for a range of careers. Common BEST programmatic themes, such as career development (e.g., IDP), experiential learning (e.g., internships and externships), professional development (e.g., team building and management) and mentorship (e.g., faculty and alumni), will directly guide PhD and postdoctoral scientists to many career possibilities, such as administration, law, industry/biotechnology, science policy/communication, government and other science careers, which are viewed as equal, successful and well-suited career outcomes. These career options can be pursued during any stage of training from the early years of graduate school to late into a postdoctoral fellowship.
Faculty often times have the most influence over a scientist’s growth. To engage faculty in a career development program, many BEST sites start by assessing faculty needs and providing information or training accordingly. Faculty also co-create career development curriculum, serve as instructors or panelists at events, and expand their mentorship role to include broader career guidance. Rutgers University and University of California San Francisco address the importance of faculty support in a scientist’s career development.
PhD Alumni and other professionals expose PhD and postdoctoral scientists to varied career options and share career specific job search techniques. Alumni and other professionals can participate in networking events, provide informational interviews and job shadowing, and contribute to developing curriculum. Alumni and professional partnerships are especially beneficial to sustaining your program over time.
Other partnerships include collaboration with peer institutions, other schools or departments, professional organizations, and career consultants. For an example of a peer institution partnerships, see Atlanta BEST, a dual program from Emory University and Georgia Institute of Technology.
Some NIH BEST Programs establish career development cohorts. PhD and postdoctoral scientists apply for membership and make a commitment to participate. They also benefit from the community that this model affords.
Other programs make the career development curriculum a requirement of training. Check out our comparison of a required vs. voluntary curriculum.
Schools without a requirement or cohort models can provide their trainees “Certificates of Completion.” These certificates encourage participation in activities focused on career and professional development. Other schools give participation credits that make scientists eligible for participation in more lucrative activities such as internships. For examples, please see University of California Davis and University of California Irvine.
Here are a few ways to track your student and postdoc participation, so that you can make adjustments to your model and learn how your program impacts career decisions.
Use Specialized Career Databases
I was pleasantly surprised one day to have my postdoc initiate a frank discussion about career goals and mentorship following her attendance at a BEST workshop on IDPs. While I always try to keep good lines of communication with my students and postdoc, it was clear the workshop encouraged her to give deeper thought regarding the best path towards achieving her long-term goals, and prompted a discussion that ultimately allowed us to more efficiently structure her project towards mutually beneficial goals and timelines.
The activities and career-related discussions promoted by the BEST Program and cBCD promote essential, strategic planning, prompt students to be proactive, and break the ice for discussing with faculty a topic that can otherwise be very awkward.
The new myCHOICE program at the University of Chicago has truly helped me to decide on a career path. Although the program is in its infancy, I had the amazing opportunity of being involved in the grant preparation and program development phases. Through that process I met many University leaders and saw first-hand the support this University has for the program. While that pre-implementation involvement was a great learning opportunity in itself, now that the program is up and running I also have immensely benefited from the E1: Exposure career seminar series which brings a variety of speakers to talk about what they did after their PhD. The networking connections that I made with some of these speakers resulted in pivotal informational interviews that eventually led me to my current career path. I have seen such a major difference in the attitudes toward career development of my friends and colleagues since this program began, and I can't wait to see all of the positive impact this program will have.
I can say with certainty that after going through the BEST program activities, my student has become a better communicator and much more effective project manager as her project requires a well-orchestrated set of activities involving several people in the lab. Overall, I feel that her participation in the BEST program has legitimized her interests in areas outside bench science and bolstered her confidence that pursuing such interests is necessary to find that which fulfills her most and helps her develop scientific potentials in wants few others have had the opportunity to explore.
The workshops are well done and offer a wonderful opportunity for students to meet both faculty and community leaders in small planned but informal discussions allowing students to ask detailed questions, practice interviewing skills and to begin making links for career options. I think students really appreciate the access they have for support from both the University as well as agency partners - BEST offers students resources that would have taken them months to locate (if they found them at all!).