An action recommended in our strategic plan for biomedical and behavioral research training and by a working group of the Advisory Committee to the Director, NIH, is providing graduate students with a greater awareness of their career options. An inaugural career development conference that we co-sponsored and that was recently highlighted in a Chemical & Engineering News article may lead to the development of a sustainable workshop model to inform graduate students about and help them prepare for a range of scientific careers.
Organized by the directors of chemistry-biology interface graduate training programs at 10 Midwestern institutions, the 3-day event took place in June on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus. It brought together nearly 100 graduate students and 30 career mentors with jobs in academia, government and the private sector, including in nontraditional areas such as consulting, patent law and communicating science to the public.
A significant portion of the meeting consisted of structured discussion and presentations organized around different job opportunities. The meeting also included activities that let students improve their communication skills by explaining their research clearly and concisely to various audiences. Other career sessions focused on entrepreneurship and acquiring a postdoctoral position.
Early in the group discussions, students considering careers outside academia shared their concerns about the job market and about whether their graduate research training might potentially narrow their employment opportunities. By the end of the meeting, however, most had the sense that their graduate training would actually open up new opportunities. The group discussions also enhanced the mentors’ knowledge of various career paths and raised their awareness of the students’ career development needs.
A formal evaluation of the meeting’s usefulness and effectiveness is under way, and the organizers are experimenting with a variety of novel approaches to ensure sustainability for the conference by rotating venues, sharing organizational responsibilities and developing consistent sponsorships.