When The Graduate School advertised funding opportunities for professional development, Biology faculty, staff, and students came together to address the dearth of departmental professional development offerings. While Biology Chair Mohamed Noor currently offers an overview of career paths in his half-semester guest lecture series (Bio702: Succeeding Beyond Graduate School), there are no other departmental resources that prepare students to enter the academic or non-academic job markets. As several recent surveys from the NIH, NSF, and others have shown, only a fraction of biomedical and basic science Ph.D.s—between 10 and 20%—are destined for academic faculty positions. It is imperative that doctoral students begin exploring and training for the breadth of careers available in the biological sciences early in their studies.
The goals of our course, “Professional Development for Careers in Biology” (aka “Bio Boot Camp”), are to help Biology Ph.D.s understand what career options are available, and assist in matching students’ skills, interests, and values to their future careers, in or outside the academy. The first half of the course focuses on identifying students’ career goals, recognizing existing skills, discussing interpersonal dynamics, and learning how to obtain new skills necessary to achieve students’ goals. We recognize that some transferable skills are regularly developed in the pursuit of a Ph.D., such as strategic planning of research, but many other essential skills are not even discussed. The course’s second half will explore contemporary issues like work/life balance and women in science, and will offer students the opportunity to create and peer-edit job application materials.
Our experience developing and implementing this course has been an exciting challenge. As we’ve worked to propose the course, organize a syllabus, and bring in guest speakers, we’ve realized that we’re developing many of the skills required of careers in our field, such as grant writing, curriculum development, and networking! So far we’ve benefited from advice and suggestions from students and mentors in the Preparing Future Faculty program, staff in the Duke Career Center, and our participation in professional development workshops. We’re creating a support network while also gaining valuable skills in the process.
Just five weeks into the course, Bio Boot Camp is already stimulating conversation about potential career paths and the skills students have or may work to gain in the future. We are pleased that so far the class has created a safe, open space for students to talk about and make progress on their professional development. We are looking forward to continuing to build and teach this course. Hopefully, with continued support from The Graduate School, “Bio Boot Camp” will become a staple course that many (if not most) Biology Ph.D.s will participate in during their time at Duke. In addition, we hope it can serve as a model for other departments and divisions within the university.
Ph.D. candidate, Biology
Erin McKenney is a gut microbiologist in the biology department. Her dissertation research focuses on colonization in captive lemurs, but she is also interested in a broad range of interdisciplinary teaching and research.
Professional Development Tag
- Career Development
- Career Paths
- Professional Development Grant