Current Biology highlights innovative GSBS career training initiative

Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training program to prepare PhD students for diverse opportunities ‘having a positive impact’

By Sandra Gray

UMass Medical School Communications

December 19, 2014
  Cynthia Fuhrmann, PhD,
  Cynthia Fuhrmann, PhD

The Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences is ahead of the curve when it comes to career preparation for its PhD students, according to a Dec. 15 article in the CELL Press journal Current Biology. “Breathing fresh life into life science education” spotlights the graduate school’s recently launched initiative to prepare PhDs and postdoctoral fellows for the diverse professional options available to them.

Funded by a Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training (BEST) grant from the National Institutes of Health, “An Integrated Curriculum and Community-Based Approach to Career Development” provides the GSBS with a comprehensive and structured way to prepare trainees for the changing biomedical sciences job market, in which the number of traditional tenure-track research faculty jobs continues to decline. The innovative “co-curriculum” introduces PhD students to various career paths early in their graduate studies, then helps them consider their options and better prepare for the future throughout their years of study.

The GSBS is one of the first 10 graduate biomedical sciences training programs nationally to receive a grant from the BEST funding stream established by the NIH in 2013 in response to the realization that doctoral programs in the United States have been too narrowly focused on academic research.

And while most of the awardees are establishing pilot programs, UMMS is one of the first to fully integrate its BEST grant-funded program into the entire graduate curriculum, incorporating professional skills development and career planning into standard graduate and postdoctoral biomedical sciences training.

Current Biology quotes Cynthia Fuhrmann, PhD, assistant dean of career development for the GSBS and co-principal investigator of the grant, about the curriculum’s mini-course on career paths that helps students focus their interests on specific careers and creates a step-by-step map to achieve their professional goals.

“Interestingly, several students were skeptical of the course at first,” said Dr. Fuhrmann. “Third-year students tend to feel that career planning is not a priority so early in training, and students wanting to pursue academic careers feared the course would be too focused on what they used to call ‘alternative careers.’ But at the end of the course, 90 percent of students reported that they were glad they had participated. Students appreciated that the course pushed them to start thinking about their long-term career.”

Current Biology also highlights myIDP, the online biomedical sciences career exploration tool that is a centerpiece of the GSBS program. Developed by Fuhrmann with former colleagues at the University of California San Francisco before she came to UMMS, my IDP was recognized by the American Association of Medical Colleges with the 2013 Building Bridges and Spanning Boundaries Award for Innovative Institutional Partnerships in Research and Research-Focused Training.

“While the UMMS BEST program is only a year old, there are signs that it may be having a positive impact,” concludes article author and Current Biology senior science editor Cyrus Martin, PhD.

Read Dr. Martin’s full story here (registration required).

Related links on UMassMedNow:
Tilghman speaks about research and career trends for biomedical scientists: Visit from national leader marks launch of GSBS career development initiative
NIH grant integrates career planning with scientific training, will help biomedical sciences trainees prepare for nontraditional careers
UMMS tech tool helps scientists navigate career path
Newsmaker: Career planning tool wins AAMC award

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