The United States has led scientific advancement and education in biomedical science and engineering for the past 50 years empowered by a stellar scientific workforce. As non-traditional career paths continue to expand, the majority of science and engineering PhD graduates increasingly choose careers outside academia, such as teaching, entrepreneurship, policy, and research in industry or government. However, most graduate programs train students for academic careers, thereby failing to adequately acquaint students with alternative career paths, or provide them with the basic tools and experiences to succeed in multiple professional sectors. This National Science Foundation Research Traineeship (NRT) award in the Innovations of Graduate Education (IGE) Track to the University of Pennsylvania (Penn Pathfinders) will focus on a pilot training program that will provide trainees in biomedical sciences and engineering with career development opportunities and investigate its effectiveness in comparison to two non-trainee cohorts. The pilot training program appropriately targets preparing graduate students for a wider range of career pathways through professional skills development and increased awareness of and preparation for non-academic career pathways.

The objectives of this innovative testbed project are to foster career path awareness via multiple platforms, to provide longitudinal professional path mentoring, and to devise and enact individualized development plans for acquiring workplace skills and career path-specific competencies. The pilot will involve a carefully selected diverse cohort to be trained in making informed decisions about career paths and in acquiring the essential competencies to be successful in pursuing their career objectives. Data will be collected on trainee demographic profiles and inclusion, program participation, program quality, satisfaction, time-to-degree, and effectiveness of program content in enhancing career development-ultimately via longitudinal career tracking. Using comprehensive comparisons between trainees and non-trainees, this three-year pilot program will be considered successful if significant differences are identified between cohorts in improving the awareness of and satisfaction with preparation for their preferred career path, with the ultimate goal of enhancing the broad impact and engagement of scientists and engineers in society. The critical elements that contribute significantly to improved career path awareness and preparedness will be identified and these features will be incorporated into larger-scale graduate student training programs at Penn and other institutions. The study outcomes will be disseminated in both local and global settings to inform and improve career advising of biomedical scientists and engineers.

The NSF Research Traineeship (NRT) Program is designed to encourage the development and implementation of bold, new, potentially transformative, and scalable models for STEM graduate education training. The Innovations in Graduate Education Track is dedicated solely to piloting, testing, and evaluating novel, innovative, and potentially transformative approaches to graduate education.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Graduate Education (DGE)
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John Weishampel
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University of Pennsylvania
United States
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