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Non-academic pathways for STEM examined at workshop

Is there life outside of academia for STEM PhD students? The answer is a resounding “yes,” but many students don’t realize this and, even when they do, do not know where to go for existing information that could guide them through this transition. This is despite the fact that many universities, funders, and non-profits have invested considerable time, resources, and energy in developing materials to guide STEM graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and other early stage career professionals through the very wide range of prospective careers paths.

UIDP convened the workshop, “Bolstering Efforts to Prepare STEM PhD Students and Postdocs for a Full Range of Careers,” on November 16-17, 2016, to foster discussion that would improve nonacademic career path information flow to STEM PhD students and others. The approximately 50 attendees–who came from such various stakeholder groups as universities, companies, nonprofits and federal funding organizations—worked on creating an effective strategy for coordinating the development and dissemination of career materials so that it is readily consumable by a wide range of STEM PhD trainees.

There was general agreement among attendees that most individuals possessing STEM doctorates find very satisfying and productive positions in a broad array of career pathways and that more needs to be done to orient them to the full spectrum of options and opportunities. But the big challenge, as identified by workshop participants, is how to disseminate the existing body of information and resources on STEM career and professional development opportunities to all pre- and postdoctoral programs and positions at all institutions. Attendees pointed out that more collaboration and adoption of resources to limit duplication and identify best practices is needed.

Extensive discussions covered the issues existing among faculty, students, and institutions that may be impeding the flow of information about alternate career pathways. Participants pointed out that it would be helpful if faculty were aware that there are multiple career pathways both inside and outside of academia; if students were willing and able to dedicate themselves to career planning as well as to their research development; and if institutions could incorporate professional development into all graduate programs.

Attendees identified these actionable steps that interested parties can pursue:

  1. Needs assessment: A formal needs assessment is needed to maximize future investments.
  2. Toolkits: The development of toolkits that can be used by different constituencies would greatly advance understanding.
  3. Repository: The creation of a well-maintained website that has a list of all available resources.
  4. Student trainee empowerment: Several approaches are needed to empower students to evaluate career options. Some approaches include the development of a video series with testimonials from individuals who have pursued non-academic and academic careers, infographic series that explains the benefit and challenges of different career paths. Attendees also recommended more effective use of myIDP (or myIDP 2.0). Finally, the attendees urged the use of social media approaches and had one specific recommendation – the creation of #leavethelab to build interest and a movement for trainees considering career approaches.

Workshop Participants

Workshop participants came from the Graduate Career Consortium (GCC), American Chemical Society, The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, Elsevier, University Industry Demonstration Partnership (UIDP), Council of Graduate Schools, National Institutes of Health (NIH), University of Maryland, Facebook, National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), American Association for the Advancement of Science, National Cancer Institute (NCI), Future of Research, American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB), University of Colorado Denver.

Acknowledgement

The UIDP wishes to thank Elsevier for their financial support of this event.