One BEST Opportunity Leads to Another

Careers Beyond Academia

Ask any BESTie and they’ll tell you: the more you engage, the more you benefit. This and many other lessons, like ‘opportunities aren’t found, they’re made’, were shared at the New Year Celebration at the Big Red Barn in January. Provost Kotlikoff welcomed everyone and underscored the importance of honing skills beyond your technical expertise for your future success. A staunch supporter, even as it was pitched to the National Institutes of Health in the form of a proposal six years ago, the Provost was impressed by the scope and participation among faculty and trainees across the Ithaca campus. Indeed, participants, 83% graduate students and 17% postdoctoral scholars, hail from over 50 different departments in all colleges across campus. Collectively they have 147 distinct different faculty advisors who are overwhelmingly supportive of their involvement in exploring careers beyond academia.

There is a great need for trained experts in many sectors of our economy and society, not just in academia and government/industrial research. The program is not just set to help PhD students and post-docs find jobs, but rather it helps participants to better learn about and contribute successfully in career paths where their expertise is desperately needed, said Avery August in his summary of the program he heads as Principal Investigator. The nationwide consortium of 17 NIH BEST(Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training) funded institutions work together to redefine the paradigm for PhD education. Collectively the group has published in scientific journals (see figure below) the message that times have changed and faculty can no longer only train PhDs in their own image.

BEST Enhanced Model for Graduate Education: FASEB Oct. 2015; 29 (10)

The Cornell BEST Program — now Careers Beyond Academia — has been providing participants exposure to the various career options for PhDs via seminars in collaboration with department seminar series organizers, and the signature “Careers in…” panel discussion series which cover many career path options: Science Policy; Communication; Governance, Risk and Compliance; Industry, Entrepreneurship & Management; Non-profits and more. An annual symposium features panels and skill-building workshops. In addition, several trips, workshops, symposia and courses have been strengthened or developed to give an overview of the fields and some hands-on experience, for instance Comm 5660 “Science Communication”, “Finding Your Research Voice” workshop, BME 5960: “Business As A Second Language” (now Business and Management Fundamentals), and BME 4440 “Science Policy Bootcamp: From Concept to Conclusion”.

Several successful outcomes have emanated from trainees’ participation, which have led to further successes in science policy, science communication, industry and entrepreneurship, including company formation and securing federal SBIR funding. Several student/postdoc-run clubs have been formed, including the Cornell Graduate Consulting Club (CGCC) and Advancing Science and Policy (ASAP). Others collaborate with Careers Beyond Academia/BEST, such as the Technology & Entrepreneurship Club (TEC), Engineering Graduate Student Organization (EGSA), SiGMA, or BTI (Boyce Thompson Institute) Postdoctoral Society. Together they provide training, interactions with practitioners in the field, case competitions, practice describing their expertise in the language of their future employer (or funder), and practical advice on how to find and land a job using the skills learned.

As a result of guidance, several postdoctoral society or student run symposia have incorporated career development panel discussions as a new paradigm, and trainees have been empowered to bring a national conference to Ithaca for regional participation. Other trainees were awarded travel funds to attend conferences beyond their academic discipline, such as the AIMBE Public Policy Institute for Rising Leaders, or What Can You Be with a PhD hosted by NYU. The Program has also funded membership to select participants in the Medical Science Liaison Society, the Licensing Executives Society, and others.

Cornell participants have gone on to advocate for and practice what they learn. Through mentorship they have learned about the writing and editing process. They have authored articles in the BioMed Breakthroughs Industry Report, the Atlanta BEST Magazine; run and won business case competitions; been interviewed for alumni magazines; and shared their opinions on energy generation, and even the future of the postdoctoral experience with Science. They have also given keynote talks, formal presentations at industry conferences, and participated in live Science Cabarets.

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