Biomedical PhD and Postdoctoral training is relevant for a breadth of careers. The first step in career development is to explore the career options as well as one’s own strengths and interests.


The process of ‘knowing thyself’ is a critical and essential step in a making career decisions. Self-assessment tools encourage individuals to learn about their interests and distinct skill sets to inform their career plans. The NIH BEST Programs utilize different self-assessment tools to educate and prepare PhD and postdoctoral scientists for diverse career choices as listed below.

  • Individual Development Plans (IDPs): IDPs serve as a tool to set realistic goals for career and professional development that sometimes incorporate assessment and evaluation of career interests and skills. Evaluation of self is an important component of career exploration and planning. Several NIH BEST Programs have implemented the use of IDPs in their program design. For a free, online IDP tool, visit myIDP at ScienceCareers.
  • Birkman Method Assessment: The Birkman Method is a tool to understand yourself and others, as well as career choices that can lead to success. PhD candidates and postdoctoral scholars learn more about their personal and interpersonal relationships and perceptions during career exploration and planning.
  • Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI): MBTI is an assessment tool used to measure psychological perceptions about one’s environment.


Michigan State University built their own online self-assessment tool to help PhD students and postdoctoral scholars with the first step towards finding a career.

Navigating Career Choices

Most programs use Career Panels, Modules, Workshops and Coursework to expose biomedical scholars to diverse career options. Peer Career Exploration Groups are especially effective and allow students and postdocs to help one another learn about and plan for different career paths.

As a starting place, here is a list of careers that benefit from a background in biomedical research.

To introduce PhD and postdoctoral scientists to career options, the University of Chicago provides interviews from alumni pursing a broad spectrum of careers. For examples of career specific training, check out Cornell University’s Science Policy Bootcamp or the University of Rochester’s training pathway for Regulatory Affairs, Compliance and Review.

Mentorship & Networking

Establishing long-term professional and personal relationships through mentorship is key to a successful career. Soliciting advice from mentors can help shape, define, navigate, and advance one’s career. The NIH BEST programs heavily focus on mentoring and have implemented strategies using faculty mentors, alumni, and peer-to-peer mentoring. Virginia Tech guides the mentorship experience by assigning mentors to PhD and postdoctoral scientists and helping to build the relationship through a 9-month structured program.


Photo by Vanderbilt University

Networking is a vital tool for career success and is emphasized in all the NIH BEST programs.  Connecting with people inside and outside of one’s discipline or career can assist with career exploration, planning and decisions. For example, Vanderbilt University devotes a half day for industry experts and faculty to teach PhD and postdoctoral scientists how to build professional relationships.

  • 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.

    PhD student, University of Chicago
  • I'm a first-year PhD student, and I am so excited that Vanderbilt University's ASPIRE Program will help me find my career of choice in the future.

    PhD student, Vanderbilt University
  • Participating in this program has given me a new perspective on potential career paths and has helped strengthen my professional skill set.

    PhD student, Wayne State University
  • The IDP Career Planning Course was important not only because it gave us tools to help prepare for our next career step but also because it got us into the mood of acting. It helped me to switch from a passive to active state of mind to start doing things for my future career.

    PhD student, New York University School of Medicine
  • Top wins for BEST program are the push to actively ask questions and motivation to set up meetings with people that do work I might be interested in doing. I've had informational interviews and reached out to inspirational people, which have given me a good bit of insight. I really enjoyed the personality tests. I'm quite self aware, but diving into and picking apart the nuances of my personality helped me gain perspective about my strengths and how they can best be utilized in a career.

    PhD student, Emory University
  • The activities offered are quite meaningful in terms of exposing me towards the different career options for a PhD rather than the traditional academic track.

    PhD student, Rutgers University