Jean Kim, PhD’10 (MICR) welcomed students to RTI International where she is now a research microbiologist. Photography: Carrie Hawes
Career exploration hit the road when 38 students and four post-docs boarded a bus bound for Raleigh, N.C., to take part in VCU Career Services’ Rams’ Roadtrip program.
The graduate students and postdoctoral scholars from the School of Medicine and the School of Engineering spent two days meeting with researchers, publishers and clinicians to learn more about careers beyond the scope of academia. The goal was for students to walk away with a broader perspective on what they could accomplish after graduation.
Rams’ Roadtrip began because members of VCU Career Services noticed that graduate students were leaving VCU without understanding the breadth of available job opportunities. Many Ph.D. candidates overlook non-academic opportunities in favor of a traditional career trajectory that takes them from doctoral study to postdoctoral research to university faculty, a path where opportunities are in decline.
A 2011 study by the journal Nature noted a 150 percent increase in the number of postdocs from 2000 to 2012. At the same time, full-time, tenure eligible opportunities remained constant or declined. Carrie Hawes, the program’s organizer and assistant director at VCU Career Services, believes exposure through Rams’ Roadtrip helps to enhance students’ perspectives on potential career paths.
Research Triangle Park was the third stop in the Rams’ Roadtrip program that broadens students’ perspective on careers beyond the scope of academia. Photography: Carrie Hawes
North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park is known for its high concentration of organizations focused on pharmaceutical and biological sciences research and development. So it was an ideal destination in October when students visited Becton Dickinson, Research Square, QuintilesIMS and RTI International. They had the chance to tour the facilities, hear overviews of current research and meet with researchers from each organization.
“This was an awesome opportunity for someone like me in their second year of a Ph.D,” said Supriya Joshi, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Human and Molecular Genetics. “I still have some breathing room to look at opportunities and assess what things work in non-academic careers.”
Jean Kim, PhD’10 (MICR) welcomed students to RTI International where they met with members of the commercialization group to learn about monetizing research. At RTI, students also met Jenny Wiley, Ph.D., an alumna of VCU’s College of Humanities and Sciences and a former faculty member in the medical school’s Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology.
At Research Square, the students were exposed to careers in scientific publishing, meeting Jennifer Mietla, PhD’14 (BIOC), who is now quality control editor with the organization.
Throughout the trip, the students got a heavy dose of career advice from their hosts related to how to find their first job.
“People really got to see what others who had once worked in those exact same VCU labs are doing now,” Hawes said. “It was neat for the students to see what you can do come to life.”
This is the third time VCU Career Services has hosted the Rams’ Roadtrip program. In September 2015, the group took students to Bethesda, Maryland, for a look at science policy and consulting careers through visits to the National Institute of Health, American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, American Society of Microbiology and MedImmune. Students also visited the University of Richmond to explore teaching-focused careers at a liberal arts university.
Organizers say this hands-on program is providing graduate students networking opportunities and a greater awareness of potential career options. Seven students from last year’s trip found employment with non-academic research organizations after graduation.
By Brian Nicholas