“The missing piece to changing the university culture”

“We believe that top-down approaches alone will not bring about the needed change, as they fail to appreciate the role that graduate students and postdocs — who are grossly underrepresented in this discourse — play in eliciting change. We believe that researchers in training should advocate for innovative training opportunities as well as lead their own initiatives for experience-based learning to shape their own career paths. University leaders and faculty members must empower graduate students and postdocs, who must take matters into their own hands, forge their own paths and prove the value of interdisciplinary and entrepreneurially minded programs.
One graduate student– and postdoc-led initiative — autonomous from the university system — is changing how PhD students and postdocs are trained. This nonprofit organization connects teams of graduate students and postdocs from Washington University in St. Louis (WUSTL) with local, resource-constrained startup companies to help solve real business challenges. Through these mutually beneficial collaborations, students and postdocs gain valuable experience and training in the commercialization of science while helping companies overcome obstacles and achieve growth…
Although we have support from deans and department chairs, many graduate students and postdocs are not comfortable discussing their participation in BALSA with their PIs. This lack of transparency among graduate students and postdocs, however, goes beyond their work with BALSA. Many graduate students hide their interest in nonacademic career paths because they are afraid of being judged — or worse, ostracized — by faculty who are not supportive of exploring alternative careers during PhD training. We are working hard to change the perception that a nonacademic career choice is less honorable than a faculty-track one.”