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Cornell University


Tuesday, March 18, 2014
Program Helps Researchers Find Non-Academic Careers

Cornell kicked off its new Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training program — which is aimed to help postdoctoral scholars in the sciences pursue careers outside academia — Tuesday with a panel and networking event in the Biotechnology Building.

The BEST program is funded by a five year, $1.8 million National Institutes of Health award and geared towards postdoctoral scholars and graduate students studying biomedical sciences, according to Prof. John Parker, veterinary medicine, a principle of the program.

According to Parker, many who pursue higher studies in biomedical sciences do not enter careers in academia or research. The BEST program aims to ensure students can explore non-academic careers and gain experience in other sectors such as government and industry.

A 2011 NIH study found that [23] percent of biomedical Ph.D.s enter tenure or tenure-track faculty positions. According to the study, biomedical Ph.D.s are instead increasingly holding science-related occupations that do not involve research or a graduate training in science, even though most universities focus on preparing students for exclusively academic positions.

Harvey Tian grad cited both academia’s “highly competitive environment” and the wide range of possible careers in industry and consulting as reasons why more graduate and postdoctoral students may not be entering academia.

“There’s a very broad range of careers that folks in biomedical and life sciences can get into, but most universities only train graduate students and post-docs primarily for positions in academia,” Parker said. “We’re hoping that in the next five years, we’ll see a shift of culture in faculty to lead students not just to academics but also to industry, teaching, and policy.”

Cornell is one of [ten] universities to receive the grant, according to the NIH’s website. Parker said Cornell is well-suited for the BEST program because the University is already strong in the four areas that the program will focus on — communication; industry, entrepreneurship and management; governance, risk and compliance; science policy. Parker added that he felt Cornell students were “ideal trainees” for the BEST program.

“The people who are trained at Cornell are some of the best trained scientists,” Parker said. “We want these people to step up and use their training in ways they never thought about until now.”

Graduate students in the Department of Biomedical Engineering said they were “excited” about the beginning of the program. “As a biomedical engineer, I can only begin to imagine the possibilities that lay before us and the impact that we will have on the future of our species. Thus, at worst, the BEST program will help PhD students gain practical knowledge and experience in non-academic career paths,” Tian said. “[At] best, the BEST program will serve as an example to our government as to the far-reaching impacts that scientists can have on a society.”

In partnership with several University departments — including the Graduate School and Office of Postdoctoral Studies — the BEST program will sponsor seminars, workshops, internships and mentorships, according to the program’s website. Caldwell Hall is home to the Office of Postdoctoral Studies, which addresses the needs of Cornell’s postdoctoral community.

Later this semester, the program will open applications to graduate and postdoctoral students in biomedical and life sciences. Tian, who said he considers the program “an absolute necessity for today’s graduate programs in biomedical engineering,” said he plans to apply. “I believe there has never been a time in history in which the public has had a better understanding of the importance of biomedical engineering and its potential,” he said.

by Sofia Hu, The Cornell Daily Sun 

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