All 17 BEST institutions provide courses or modules that teach professional skills. Some courses focus on career-specific skills or adapting Ph.D. training to a particular field such as entrepreneurship or scientific writing. Other courses strengthen skills to enhance performance in a variety of settings, such as time management and leadership. Vanderbilt University teaches multiple modules on business & entrepreneurship, clinical research, communication, and teaching to help Ph.D. students explore and prepare for such careers. Here is an overview of how they build and execute these modules.


Vanderbilt Approach to Course DesignTechComm

Modules can range from a few one-hour sessions to year-long courses, depending on the scope of the topic, availability of instructors, and student schedules. A review of alumni career trajectories and student demand will help you determine which courses to offer. Vanderbilt then recommends reaching out to people who have a mutual interest in training and giving them the freedom to build the module they want to teach. For example, the Center for Science Outreach, Writing Studio, Center for Teaching and Learning, Psychological and Counseling Center, University News & Public Affairs, and Center for Technology Transfer & Commercialization are all committed to sharing their expertise with students, and often times, already have some course materials prepared. Moreover, a handful of faculty have a strong passion for training and enjoy helping trainees cultivate academic and non-academic skills. Finally, for some classes, such as those related to business, Vanderbilt is able to pay instructors to adapt courses to the biomedical Ph.D. and postdoc audience.



6-12 Months Before Module Start Date

  • Identify the modules to offer
  • Recruit instructors to build and teach courses
  • Meet with instructor for 2-5 hours (not necessarily all at once) to discuss biomedical trainees’ backgrounds, potential career paths, and the skills they hope to acquire

One Semester Before Module Start Date

  • Collect module syllabi with course title, instructor name and title, number of sessions, duration of sessions, time/day of session, desired class size/limits
  • Schedule rooms based on anticipated class size
  • Assign staff to attend each module
  • Develop survey questionnaires for registration/application. Things to consider: do you need a CV or resume; 4-8 sentence personal statement; attendance policy; who else is the course open to besides Ph.D. students and postdocs; do we need to add an extra statement indicating outside of class time effort; other unique features of the course to know ahead of registering
  • Develop survey questionnaires for evaluation. Things to consider: formative evaluations to modify the course to meet students’ needs; summative evaluation to review the entire module; what success looks like

1-2 Months Before Module Start Date

  • Set open registration dates (2-week window). For simplicity, you may choose to open registration for all modules at the beginning of the semester
  • Establish a method for selecting participants, if attendance is capped.
  • Create advertising content: website image banner, blog image, and unique marketing email w/course title, links to website, and links to registration
EQ+IQ = Career Success module

EQ+IQ = Career Success module

  • ADVERTISE! Send an email to postdoc and graduate student listservs; send an announcement for program coordinators and departments to distribute, place an announcement in e-newsletters; place course information on career development and postdoc websites, write a blog post, and add the module to relevant public calendars.

2-4 Weeks Before Module Start Date

  • Select participants, if attendance is capped.
  • Create registration list of participant emails and info.
  • Email confirmation (or declination) to applicants, including room and date of class meetings, as well as copy of course syllabus and other pertinent info.
  • Email list of participants/emails and personal statements to course instructor as well as any other logistical details such as the room number
  • Develop and print copies of sign-in sheets prior to first class meeting
  • Confirm with course instructor AV needs, copies of docs, etc.

After Module End Date

  • Administer the evaluation anytime between the last day of class and the end of the semester


Petrie KA, Carnahan RH, Brown AM, Gould KL. (2017) Providing Experiential Business and Management Training for Biomedical Research Trainees. CBE Life Sciences Education. 16(3). pii: ar51. doi: 10.1187/cbe.17-05-0074

Sample Materials