Neuronline Spotlight: Training Students for Different Careers
Broadly developing students’ skills can ensure the next generation of neuroscientists possess the abilities and confidence for various academic and nonacademic career paths. In a new Neuronline series, "Training for Diverse Career Paths," four PIs discuss their approaches to training students in the evolving career landscape.
Complementing traditional coursework through encouraging internships, networking, outreach, and other activities, these PIs have not only witnessed growth in students’ critical abilities such as communication and experiment planning, but have also seen positive impacts on their research, lab productivity, and job prospects.
Explore the highlights below, and make sure to read the full articles on Neuronline to see how you may be able to adapt some of their initiatives to your lab.
Stepping Out of the Lab to Prepare for Different Career Paths
“While I believe that graduate students need to build a customized educational experience to prepare themselves for their own unique futures, there are many common building blocks that benefit all students,” says Ania Majewska, associate professor in the department of neuroscience at University of Rochester Medical Center. “Many of those skills cannot be found within a traditional graduate program’s regular coursework and bench work.”
For example, one of Majewska’s students became heavily involved in their university’s Brain Awareness Week. While apprehensive at first, Majewska saw how the student’s participation reinforced skills taught in classes and labs, such as collaboration and time management.
How Experiences Outside of the Lab Benefit Students and PIs
“In addition to the moral imperative to meet the needs of our trainees, change will be driven by enlightened self-interest,” says Stephen Dewhurst, associate vice president for health sciences research and vice dean for research at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. “Students will seek out institutions and mentors that support broad career exploration and eschew those that do not.”
To offer more diverse career training opportunities, Dewhurst supported one of his former MD/PhD student’s work on two patent applications and another trainee’s initiative to create a science communications course.
Why PIs Can and Should Help Graduate Students Look Beyond Academia
“I firmly believe that a happy and grateful student makes for a productive student,” says Davide Comoletti, assistant professor in the department of neuroscience and cell biology at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School at Rutgers University. “We need to remember that PIs are teachers first. If we want our students to succeed, they have to be happy to work with us and feel that they are truly appreciated.”
Comoletti embraced this philosophy when he approved of one student’s three-month leave of absence for a competitive pharmaceutical industry internship, where she learned new experimental techniques that she then implemented upon returning to the lab.
A Dean of Students on How to Strengthen Trainees’ Skills for Diverse Careers
“The single most important thing that professors can do is signal that they are not judgmental about career choices,” says Victoria Prince, professor in the department of organismal biology and anatomy and dean for graduate affairs in the biological sciences division at the University of Chicago. “Professors mostly do not have any expertise in areas outside of academics, but if they are willing to talk to their trainees about their aspirations, that can be really beneficial.”
Through a grant funded by NIH’s BEST program, Prince’s institution fosters professional development learning through workshops, internships, mentoring, and networking. She indicated that trainees have signaled satisfaction with the program and secured job in various fields after taking part.