When picking the best graduate school, you should absolutely pick a program that has fantastic scientific training. However, at the same time, there are so many peripheral resources that can make all of the difference in your career. While considering graduate programs, you should ask about these resources. Learn how the Office of Career Development, IMSD program, and Program in Molecular Medicine at Vanderbilt have made a difference to our students.
I was aware coming into Graduate School that I did not want to be an academic professor. However my alternative career aspirations were limited to what I knew to be options at the time. Shortly after coming to Vanderbilt, I became aware of the Career Development Office and its seminar series called PhD Career Connections. I would be sure to open the emails sent by the office so that I could see the topics of the upcoming seminars. I quickly became exposed to many different career paths and was provided with a plethora of advice on how to gear your PhD towards these careers. I then wanted to become involved in any way possible and volunteered to write an Alumni Spotlight article to help expand on my communication skills and to begin to expand my network. I later also volunteered to be a part of the Career Connections Seminar Steering Committee since I had such great experiences attending those seminars.
After the office received the ASPIRE grant, I participated in the pilot Summer Intensive Course for Entrepreneurship and Commercialization. Since then I feel a great sense of community with other like-minded PhDs and post-docs who have discovered a passion for science business and thereby build a great network of people that continues to grow. These experiences as well as consultation through their CV/Resume drop-in clinic helped me land interviews. I have grown so much professionally through the help and guidance always offered and made available to me and I feel that it is through this office that the Biomedical Sciences at Vanderbilt is the one of the best places to get a PhD.
When I first arrived at Vanderbilt I was certain of two things… 1) that I wanted to pursue my PhD and, 2) despite being adamant about a PhD, that I had no desire to be a PI. Because I knew this early on, it was important for me to have resources available that would provide me with the information and access to other opportunities and career tracks. Through my 5 years at Vanderbilt I have used the career development office extensively taking classes covering topics on everything from business to teaching to tech transfer and entrepreneurship. I have gone to seminars, conferences and participated in networking events, career days and resume clinics. Through all of these opportunities, I have been able to narrow in on what it is that I would like to use my degree towards which is essentially the business of science. Had classes and seminars not been offered covering commercialization, business principles and entrepreneurship, I am not sure I would have ever discovered that I truly am passionate about being in the business side of science. While this is not necessarily a “traditional” path, the opportunities that the career development office presented allowed me to identify how a PhD scientist is uniquely positioned to thrive in these (and many other) roles. Without the career development office, I would not have had even the slightest understanding of the many, many, many opportunities that are available once I have completed my degree. My suggestion for future graduate students, even if you think you want to be a PI, is to use the career development office and all of it’s resources because it will give you a greater breadth of knowledge and it will enrich your time at Vanderbilt, truly giving you all the tools that you need to be successful post-grad.
I have always wanted to launch my own business. I have worked as a pharmaceutical sales manager, before joining Ph.D. The summer intensive by the BRET office was a wonderful opportunity for me to practice how to formulate a business plan, to claim intellectual property of an invention, and to practice pitching business plan to potential investors. BRET office has helped me to connect with peers and mentors who have broadened my horizon about entrepreneurship and the process of launching my business in future. BRET office is very active in introducing and networking with specialists involved in the Technology Transfer, Patent Attorneys, and consultants and I am confident to benefit from the resources of the BRET office to help me when I graduate, and begin looking for a job outside of academia.
The BRET office for career and development has truly been a trail blazer and game changer in how I now think about life after a PhD. Before joining graduate school, the choice in my mind was simple: I can either become a professor or do research in industry. However, with the multiple resources provided by the BRET office, i.e seminars, workshops and symposiums on all aspects of jobs for PhDs, I no longer feel limited to one or two career tracks. Now, for me the fun dilemma is which career track to choose. Through these sponsored events, I have expanded my network outside of Vanderbilt and I am meeting persons interested in the skills that PhD students offer.I highly recommend that all graduate students set aside time to participate in the BRET seminars and workshops of their interest during their graduate tenure.
In the fall of 2010, I visited Vanderbilt University through the Vanderbilt University Enhancing Diversity in Graduate Education (VU-EDGE) program in hopes to find a lab that conducted cardiac research. As a first-generation Hispanic student, I had no idea what to expect from graduate school; however, I was confident that I had chosen the right program given the strong mentorship that the Vanderbilt IMSD offered. Drs. Roger Chalkley and Linda Sealy have played a key role in my training and success as a scientist here at Vanderbilt. This program has given me a sense of confidence in my scientific ability that allowed me to truly challenge myself and take risks to explore the unknown in cardiovascular research resulting in important contributions in my field. I believe a lot of my success stems from their never-ending dedication to their student’s scientific and career development, which is demonstrated through their active participation in journal club, data club and one-on-one meetings. It is this type of selflessness that fosters a sense of community and outreach among the graduate students, that has inspired me to take an initiative promote diversity at Vanderbilt.
The Vanderbilt IMSD environment is student centered, and I’ve been fortunate enough to take a leadership role in organizing social events that promote student communication among the different cohorts of students. I’ve also been active in recruiting students for the IMSD and IGP program at SACNAS, ABRCMS and VU-EDGE. This type of leadership and outreach has led to the Levi Watkins, Jr. M.D. Award in 2015 for my commitment to student diversity at Vanderbilt. The believe IMSD is not only training the next generation of scientists but they are training the next generation of leaders as well. I feel that the development and refinement of my scientific training via the IMSD will allow me to confidently pursue novel questions in the field of cardiovascular disease.
When you’re in graduate school, you need someone to be your advocate. IMSD is my advocate. A recent experience that would be a good example of how the IMSD program has made a difference for me, is pushing me out of my comfort level of public speaking as a 1st year graduate student. It is the second semester of my first year in IGP and IMSD requires that 1st year IMSD students give journal club to IMSD members. I can’t even begin to explain how nervous I was. I noticed that most of my spring classes require giving journal club. So, I realized that giving journal club for IMSD was a way of preparing me for giving journal club in class, lab meetings, etc. This is just a minor example of IMSD giving 1st year graduate students the opportunity to be exposed to things other students wouldn’t normally be exposed to at this level. IMSD is a platform for brilliant graduate students to further excel as scientists, and I am so grateful and happy to be a part of it.
As I left the exam room and followed Dr. Howard Kirshner down the halls of The Vanderbilt Clinic, I was struck by two things: first, that I had never fully understood the disease I was studying, and second, that I was determined to do more.
I had thought that I knew a lot about Alzheimer’s disease, and from a purely academic standpoint that may have been true. I knew that Alzheimer’s disease was caused by amyloid beta plaques and tau tangles, but I had never seen the look of fear in a husband’s eyes when he was told that his wife was showing the early symptoms of the disease. I knew the order in which the memory system begins to fail, but I had never watched a person struggle to remember the words for ordinary household objects- words like “comb” and “chair.” I also knew that there was no treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, only drugs that can ease some of the symptoms. I had watched Dr. Kirshner fill out a prescription for the drugs that might slow, but wouldn’t stop the progression of the disease, and I was filled with a new resolve to go back to the lab and do everything I could to contribute to research. Maybe I could discover something so that someday these conversations would not have to happen.
I was given the remarkable opportunity to go into the clinic and see patients because of the Vanderbilt Program in Molecular Medicine. This program recognizes the need for the research world and the clinical world to come together. It pairs graduate students with clinical mentors so that graduate students can fully appreciate the disease or bodily system that they are studying. From breast cancer to fatty liver disease to schizophrenia, I watched my colleagues in the program learn about the human body in ways that textbook chapters and research papers can’t fully articulate. The result for most people was a richer, more patient-focused approach to research, even if that research was based on cell culture or computational modeling.
This program lasts for approximately three years, and is designed to be done concurrently with other graduate school obligations. It should not increase time to graduation, and most PIs understand the value in a program such as this. Graduates of this program have gone on to successful careers in academia, industry, policy, and communication. Participation in the program will make you a more compassionate scientist, but also a more well-rounded one. You will understand the clinical research process, from bench to bedside. You will also become friends with people from outside your field, leading to perspectives on your research that may not have occurred to you.
I am thankful that I was a part of this program. Science is a tough career, and while there are a lot of good days, there will also be days filled with failure and misery. Sometimes, it is difficult to find motivation to go back into lab after a failed experiment. I can’t imagine a better way to motivate research than to actually meet the people experiencing your disease of interest. This program opened my eyes to things I didn’t know I didn’t know, and made me a better scientist.
Finally, learn about the Clinical Neuroscience Scholars Program here!