UT Southwestern Piloting Career Exploration Program

Postdoctoral and doctoral students are getting more direction for their futures outside academia in a new career development program UT Southwestern is piloting with Dallas-based Acceleron Learning.

Pro Path

Jennifer Peters knew as she started her postdoctoral work in cancer biology at UT Southwestern Medical Center that academia wasn’t in her future. 

The fifth year postdoctoral researcher wanted to receive more training before heading out into the workforce, though she wasn’t sure what career path was for her.

“I knew from the very beginning when I started as a postdoc that I didn’t want to stay in academia, but I wanted to get the extra training before I looked for a career,” Peters said.

Postdoctoral students like Peters and doctoral students are getting more direction for their futures in a new career development program UT Southwestern is piloting with Dallas-based Acceleron Learning.

“The two things that make this program really interesting, No. 1, it is comprehensive step by step, the other thing is it’s really inexpensive for the institution.”

Ryan Jackson

Pro Path helps students explore career paths outside of academia through a self-paced, voluntary online class that includes self assessment, career exploration, work readiness, job search, and a case study.

“The two things that make this program really interesting, No. 1, it is comprehensive step by step, the other thing is it’s really inexpensive for the institution,” said Acceleron Learning CEO Ryan Jackson.

Acceleron Learning offers programs for children, students, and adults to learn practical life skills online such as career readiness, financial literacy, legal basics, and personal wellness. Pro Path is one of its newest offerings.

“It’s been a great opportunity for me since I’m at UT Southwestern in the lab everyday, all I see is academia, professors, and what I could do in academia. But since I know I don’t want to stay there, the class has really helped me learn and expose me to a world outside of academia,” Peters said. “It’s also giving me the tools that I need. I don’t really know how to go about looking for those careers or how to apply for those jobs.”

ESTABLISHING THE PRO PATH PROGRAM

Jackson and Natalie Lundsteen, UT Southwestern’s assistant dean for career and professional development, saw an opportunity to help students and filled the need.

“The problem for a lot of postdocs is that they have spent their entire professional career, for the most part, in an academic setting so being prepared and understanding how to look for a job, how to think creatively about your skill set because it’s obviously very specialized and how to apply that in to different work environments, that’s a tough thing for them to do,” Jackson said.

After meeting with Lundsteen, Jackson realized that this was a universal problem for many graduate students.

“So we said why don’t we create something that provides a highly structured environment and gives you sort of critical mass and focus to really think about and understand your career direction and that was where Pro Path began,” Jackson said.

Lundsteen said she has identified a number of potential career options for biomedical scientists. For instance, a Pro Path participant from last year is now a research scientist at Addison-based Mary Kay.

“Beyond academia, there are limitless possibilities for our PhDs, but I have identified about 15 broad career categories for biomedical scientists …”

Natalie Lundsteen

“Beyond academia, there are limitless possibilities for our PhDs, but I have identified about 15 broad career categories for biomedical scientists ranging from research in biopharma, to work in government/science policy, science and/or medical writing and communication, patent law, management consulting and life sciences investment/venture capital, and data science,” Lundsteen said.

Not only do students get a chance to explore career options, they get to participate in a practical experience outside the lab. For two days students get the opportunity to work at Health Wildcatters and do a case study.

Participants last year did a case study advising the Dallas health care incubator and also a project for Optologix, a biotech startup that was founded by UT Southwestern scientist Laura Motta-Mena.

“We do this to provide students who have spent their entire lives in academics to see options for career paths and paths to success beyond the academic world,” said Loren Bolton, operations program manager for Health Wildcatters.

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