All 17 NIH BEST Programs are committed to educate and empower biomedical PhD and postdoctoral scientists by offering professional development programs. Scientists learn the skills necessary for a variety of work settings.
Professional Skill Building
Workshops and courses guide trainees to develop business skills to complement their research expertise. Here is a sample of skills that prepare PhD and postdoctoral scientists for a variety of careers.
- Working within a team
- Oral and Written Communication
- Conflict Management
Professional skills can be taught on their own, as in the University of Colorado Denver | Anschuutz Medical Campus’s communication competition. Or skills can be taught in relation to specific careers. For example, New York University School of Medicine teaches courses on professional skills related to nonprofit and government careers, for profit industry positions, science communications careers and careers in academia.
To effectively learn about individual careers and skills specific to those careers, PhD and postdoctoral scientists are encouraged to engage in experiential opportunities such as externships and internships. Externships include job shadowing and company site visits and introduce scientists to the work environment. Internships last for longer periods and allow scientists to build the skills that are applicable to a specific career. For example, to encourage experiential learning, the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill funds month-long internship for qualifying PhD and postdoctoral scientists.
The Job Search
Once a scientist narrows in on a career path, there are additional skills needed to land that first job. Workshops, office hours and online resources aid trainees in the follow areas:
- Resumes & CVs
- Cover letters
- Salary negotiations
To assist with the job search, University of Massachusetts Medical School provides example job titles and search terms for specific career pathways.
Preparing for the Career Transition
Making career decisions and transition can be a challenging process for any individual. Anxiety, motivation and knowledge all influence the transition. Some NIH BEST Programs, such as University of California Irvine, are interested in better understanding the career decision process.
The program gave me the motivation to network and conduct informational interviews that changed my career choice. I got a lot of very useful and valuable advice about different aspects of career and job search that opened my mind.
The BEST program has enhanced collaborations between the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and MassBiologics of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, a non-profit, biopharmaceutical enterprise with research, development and manufacturing of FDA-approved vaccines and biologics. Through a seminar series, small group panel discussions, tours, and interviews with MassBiologics department leaders, graduate students and postdoctoral scientists have gained firsthand knowledge of career paths from a biopharmaceutical enterprise within their own university and MassBiologics has been provided an opportunity to fulfill its mission to educate and train a workforce in biologic drug discovery and development sciences.
The opportunity to do an internship while in graduate school was an invaluable aspect of my training for many reasons. Time management is a critical skill to learn in graduate school, but doing an internship while not losing productivity in the lab took my time management skills to a much higher level. Schools of thought are much different outside of academia in terms of achieving actionable results...Perhaps the most important thing I learned was how to directly apply the skills I've learned as a graduate student to helping a company succeed.
I attended the BEST Program workshop “Scientific & Technical Writing.” The presenter was very knowledgeable and gave us a lot of useful information and tips on how to practice and become more accomplished writers...I have already improved my manuscript and grant proposal using her suggestions. I would highly recommend this workshop to any post-doc or graduate student and would sign up for it again myself.
The opportunity to do an internship while in graduate school was an invaluable aspect of my training. Schools of thought are much different outside of academia in terms of achieving actionable results. Perhaps the most important thing I learned was how to directly apply the skills I've learned as a graduate student to helping a company succeed.
The BEST program has been giving me valuable insights into the various different paths where my academic training can take me, both inside and outside of academia. The professional development classes range from serious (what purpose do you want to make for your life?) to fun and interactive (e.g. jump around making funny gestures and sounds to understand the importance of spontaneity when giving a lecture). Overall it has been a very useful and gratifying experience.