Making PhDs More Employable: New Education Initiative Paves the Way

Oct. 1, 2014

Preparing graduate students and post-doctoral trainees for jobs outside of academia is the goal of a new career-training program at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry (SMD), supported by $1.8 million from the National Institutes of Health.

The award to Principal Investigator Stephen Dewhurst, Ph.D., Vice Dean for Research at the SMD, comes at a time when fewer opportunities for tenure-track faculty positions exist, and yet graduate students in biomedical sciences don’t always have the awareness, robust training, connections, or transferable skills needed to identify and succeed in a range of other careers.

The new NIH-sponsored program – called Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training and dubbed URBEST – begins immediately. It will include instruction in leadership and professionalism, provide internship opportunities and training pathways in industry, manufacturing and entrepreneurship; regulatory affairs, compliance and review; and science and technology policy.

The broader intent of URBEST is to transform the foundation of biomedical research training by infusing it with new exposures to diverse career options through coursework and mentoring.

“The fact is that most PhD scientists will not go into traditional faculty jobs, so we need to better prepare them for the careers they will actually have,” Dewhurst said. “In practical terms, this means shifting our emphasis and preparing our students just as rigorously for both academic and non-traditional science careers. The URBEST program is all about showing our trainees the way toward more diverse paths, and it illustrates our commitment to improving graduate education as part of the URMC strategic plan.”

A few months ago the School of Medicine and Dentistry launched a related program, the Center for Professional Development (CPD), offering a central location for services such as job boards and collaboration opportunities, CV critiques, navigation through the funding process, and writing assistance for grants, dissertations, cover letters, and abstracts. Click here for the new CPD website:

Both programs not only benefit students but enhance the URMC as a destination for the best trainees in the nation.

Faculty will also benefit by receiving the tools and resources to mentor students interested in non-academic careers in the private sector, at non-profits, and in science policy and communication among other areas, Dewhurst said.

“This is important because most of our faculty know a great deal about academia,” he added, “but they are much less familiar with career paths and opportunities in these other areas.”

The NIH started the BEST program in 2013 to strengthen the national scientific workforce. It has awarded a total of 17 grants across the country – including the UR’s and six others that were newly funded in 2014. The financial support validates the UR’s decision to invest in the Center for Professional Development, Dewhurst said. Both programs are based in the Office of Graduate Education and Postdoctoral Affairs.