The Career Pathways Communities

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Photo: Students and professionals in a discussion in a Career Pathways Community at University of Massachusetts Medical School

UMass Medical School connects students with professionals in peer learning communities

It is always great to hear of a BEST consortium program getting recognized for their contribution to graduate education. Recently, a core part of the University of Massachusetts Medical School’s BEST program, Career Pathways Communities, was highlighted in UMass Med Now.

The Career Pathways Community program is the latest curricular innovation developed by the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences’ Center for Biomedical Career Development (GSBS cBCD) as a result of their NIH BEST award. UMassMed’s NIH BEST award has fundamentally changed the way the school exposes graduate students to career options by integrating career development directly into the core Ph.D. curriculum. In this way, all graduate students in the  basic biomedical sciences at UMassMed are supported in their preparation for careers outside, and inside, of academia.

Cynthia Fuhrmann

Career Pathways Communities is for students who have finished their qualifying exams and are ready to explore their career interests more deeply. It is composed of eight different pathways, with each community bringing together 5 – 15 students and two professionals employed in careers within the pathway. The program is designed to be time-efficient: each community meets three times throught a 6-week period. It is discussion-based and uses activities such as job simulations to spark more in-depth career exploration.

Cynthia Fuhrmann, associate professor of biochemistry & molecular pharmacology, assistant dean of career & professional development, and PI of UMassMed’s BEST award, developed Career Pathways Communities as an opportunity to support students’ career exploration in peer learning communities while connecting them with professionals in a meaningful, ongoing way. Spencer Fenn, assistant director of the GSBS cBCD, coordinates the program.

Spencer Fenn

Spencer Fenn

“I think Career Pathways Communities is often much different than what trainees (and professionals) are expecting,” said Fenn. The experience is valuable to students, professionals, and facilitators, he continued. “Everyone is learning something new, at every meeting. It is hard not to be engaged in the meeting activities when you are surrounded by a community of people with similar interests to yourself.”

Wes Salomon

“I remember being in grad school during the midst of thesis research and having this feeling of uncertainty when thinking about what my future would or could be,” said Wes Salomon, a UMassMed alum who is now principal scientist at Intellia Therapeutics. “After shedding light on the different research paths that exist in industry, … I could see the students [in our community] become excited about their own possibilities.”

Kristin Krukenberg

Kristin Krukenberg, principal scientist at Jounce Therapeutics, agreed. “Having more information about the varieties of careers available to them is key to helping students decide the right paths for themselves and preparing for success. I enjoyed being able to share my experiences and answer students’ questions in order to help them prepare for the next steps in their careers. This should be a required part of any graduate program.”

Though Career Pathways Communities was designed to be part of the graduate school’s core basic biomedical sciences curriculum, it also works well as an opt-in program. UMass Med accepts applications from postdocs.

For more information about the program or how to launch a similar effort at your school, contact Dr. Fuhrmann or Dr. Fenn at






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