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Career development for science students

by Eva Amsen

Last year I was invited to visit my old graduate department at the University of Toronto to speak on a panel about science careers. The panel was part of a pilot course about professional Career development for science students.


Reinhart Reithmeier and Nana Lee in front of the wall of theses by former students.

This week, course organisers Nana Lee and Reinhart Reithmeier are featured in Science’s ScienceCareers magazine where they explain the course and the success of the pilot project.

“Developed and implemented by Lee and Reinhart Reithmeier, the course in graduate professional development will become mandatory for all incoming biochemistry graduate students (about 25 per year.) The pilot course transformed the thinking of the students and opened their eyes to the realities and opportunities of the job market. But for these students, this is only the beginning. During this course they came to recognize that they need to develop new skill sets and a network, and work hard to create something new: their own path to a fulfilling career and life.”

The department started the course because they saw that many of their graduates – myself included – ended up in careers that aren’t normally advocated by their research-focused graduate supervisors. By inviting former graduates to speak on panels about their current jobs, the department is actively showing students a much more realistic view of science careers. Aside from the panel discussions, the students also get lectures that focus on specific skills.

There has been a lot of talk about “alternative” careers lately, and as you may know I really don’t like that word, because it’s in fact a majority of science graduates who do not become researchers. The word “alternative” only appears in Nana and Reinhart’s article as a direct quote, and not as one of their own words, and that’s no coincidence: They’re focusing on the variety of careers available to their students, and the skills they’re teaching are useful in any career path.

Two weeks ago, I talked about diversity in science careers as keynote speaker at the Naturejobs Career Expo, and in the conversations I had with people afterwards I noticed that many graduate students have very limited opportunities to talk to science PhDs who are not in academia. I’m actually working on a side project that tries to combat this lack of access to a varied sample of science PhD grads, but a mandatory course like UofT’s Biochemistry department has launched is a much better way to show students that they’re not on their own, and that their university cares what happens to them after they get their degree.

This course is an amazing opportunity for UofT’s current Biochemistry grad students, and I’m proud to have graduated from a department that cares what happens to their graduates. I just wish they had implemented the course a few years earlier so that I could have taken it myself!


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Nana Lee December 18, 2013 - 2:58 AM

Thanks for writing and for helping making the course a success! You can read about the students’ comments a year later on U of Toronto’s Biochemistry Grad Studies webpage.

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