OCPD Helps Grad Students Explore Career Options

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Biomedical research education has traditionally focused on preparing trainees for careers in academia.  However, recent UCSF events — such as the Forum on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Biomedical Workforce Reports and informal brown-bag lunch discussions — have raised awareness of the need for graduate programs to expose students to additional career paths. 

What does this mean for those at UCSF who are considering careers outside academia? 

While institutional reforms are still in the discussion phase at a national level, UCSF appears to be ahead of the curve when it comes to making resources available for students and postdocs to explore and prepare for jobs in the biomedical workforce.

The Office of Career and Professional Development (OCPD) offers career services in the life sciences. In addition to receiving individual counseling, students can attend seminars to learn about different career paths, including how to identify skills they are missing and how to strategize their job searches. 

OCPD also runs the Graduate Student Internships for Career Exploration (GSICE), a unique career exploration program that guides a cohort of UCSF graduate students in career exploration and preparation, including planning for an internship in a field of their choice. 

Trainees can utilize online tools such as myIDP, a website produced by the OCPD staff, that provides career exploration specifically for PhD-trained biomedical scientists. 

Considering their demanding schedule, when should students and postdocs begin career exploration? 

The sooner the better, according to OCPD Director Bill Lindstaedt.  “Students should start planning their careers on a large-scale basis, using tools such as myIDP, as soon as they finish their qualifying exams,” he said. “For postdocs, they should do it right away (upon starting at UCSF).” 

Lindstaedt suggested that graduate programs offer career exploration as part of the curriculum. This would allow students to make the career decisions earlier, and determine whether they should do a postdoc.  

In light of the campus-wide discussion surrounding the Biomedical Workforce reports, Lindstaedt is pleased to see that funding is finally being dedicated to career development programs.  In fact, the OCPD is collaborating with other offices, such as the School of Medicine, the Dean’s Office and the graduate division, to apply for a grant to pilot some new career development programs here at UCSF.  With such plans in the works, UCSF is poised to be at the forefront of preparing future trainees for success in a wide range of biomedical careers. 

So, is it possible for current trainees to prepare themselves for success in the job market, while making sure they remain productive scientists while at UCSF? 

“Start early in deciding what you want to do and figuring out how you can get there,” said Lindstaedt.  “The earlier you start, the more likely you are to have a positive outcome, with the least amount of upheaval in your life.”                   

All resources and programs mentioned in this article, including a calendar of seminars, can be accessed through the OCPD website.