Creating Pathways for Diverse Jobs for PhDs and Postdocs, with Dr. David Fruman and Dr. Harinder Singh – Ep #21

In the early 2010s, there were a number of reports from different national organizations that highlighted the need to broaden training for PhDs and postdocs. Grad students and trainees needed to be prepared for a wider spectrum of careers beyond academia. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) responded to this need by funding 17 programs around the country to test approaches for tackling this challenge. How did their efforts pay off? Was the return worth the investment of those funds? Here to talk about their NIH funded program at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) is Dr. David Fruman and Dr. Harinder Singh.

David is a Professor at UCI where he has been a faculty member since 2000. His research interest is signal transduction in lymphocytes, with an emphasis on targeted therapies for blood cancer and immune diseases. He previously served as Associate Director of the UCI Institute for Immunology and is currently the Associate Director of the UCI Cancer Research Institute. He is also co-leader of the Systems, Pathways and Targets program of the UCI Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center. He is currently the Director of the Graduate Professional Success (GPS) BIOMED program, supported by an NIH Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training (BEST) grant, which enhances the professional development of UCI graduate students and postdoc fellows in the biomedical sciences.

Harinder is the Associate Director of the GPS-BIOMED program at UCI. An academic coordinator with a PhD in cardiovascular biology and background in biomedical sciences, Harinder has multiple years of working experience in academia and science-based non-profit organizations. Harinder works at the local and national level providing better career development training mechanisms and avenues for junior researchers by connecting them to the best available resources. His leadership roles at multiple non-profit organizations have helped bring science and society together by building a close-knit community of science professionals.

What You’ll Hear On This Episode of When Science Speaks

  • [1:10] Mark introduces his guests, Dr. David Fruman and Dr. Harinder Singh.
  • [3:15] David talks about his work with the NIH BEST program.
  • [8:00] Does the public still place their trust in scientists?
  • [14:00] What are the plans to continue funding GPS-BIOMED after the NIH grant provisions have ended in September 2019?
  • [16:30] Advice for postdocs who are planning their career path.
  • [20:00] Harinder talks about the value of honing science communication and other professional development skills.
  • [24:20] Why there is a high rate of depression in academia.
  • [25:45] Serving the broadest possible audience at the minimum possible cost.

Connect with Dr. David Fruman and Dr. Harinder Singh

Resources & People Mentioned

Background Information about “Professional Success in Biomedical Sciences (GPS-BIOMED) Website link: https://gps.bio.uci.edu

GPS-BIOMED is an NIH-funded program for UCI graduate students and postdocs in the biomedical sciences, and part of the campus-wide UCI-GPS (UC Irvine Graduate Professional Success) initiative. We aim to better prepare our scientists for a variety of careers within the biomedical research workforce, and empower them to become not only skilled researchers but also polished professionals. As members of the NIH-BEST Consortium, we work to create, identify and support innovative approaches to broaden graduate and postdoctoral training.

Our program is designed to meet the following goals:

Increase awareness and interest in diverse careers outside of academic research (EXPLORE).
Improve communication and other skills needed to pursue academic and non-academic career paths (TRAIN).

Provide hands-on experience through on-campus and external internships (EXPERIENCE).
Build networks that allow our members to prepare for and transition to diverse careers (TRANSITION).

UC Irvine’s Public Policy Prep (P3) Program funded by Burroughs Welcome Fund : 
Website link: https://gps.bio.uci.edu/uci-public-policy-prep/

UCI Public Policy Prep (P3), organized and funded by GPS-BIOMED, is designed to meet this need. We are thrilled to unveil our newest program that will incorporate: public policy seminars, communication workshops, trainee working groups led by local advocacy groups or campus partners, and visits to Sacramento & Washington D.C.

P3 GOALS:

Increase knowledge of & experience with public policy processes
Increase knowledge of & experience with advocacy related to science policy
Develop the ability of trainees to communicate effectively with members in the policy arena
Unique Programming: 
1. Elevator Pitch Workshop series and competition – https://gps.bio.uci.edu/program-elements/train/elevator-pitch-series/
GPS-BIOMED Elevator Pitch Competition & Effective Communications Certificate Program led by Bri McWhorter. Bri is the founder of Activate to Captivate, where she teaches communication techniques from an actor’s point of view. She is a speech coach for our elevator pitch competition and has worked with GPS-BIOMED leadership to create a new certificate program: Effective Communications. The program covers presentation fundamentals including how to overcome nerves, make a presentation active rather than passive, utilize vocal variety and command a room. Check out videos from 4th Annual Elevator Pitch Competition here.

2. Science Communication Skills Course – https://gps.bio.uci.edu/science-communication-skills/
Science Communication Skills (Phy Sci 220) Offered each Winter Quarter and taught by Sandra Tsing Loh, well-known author, actress and host of the NPR podcast: Loh Down on Science. Grad students and postdocs are taught how to engage and inform the audience in a few words, avoid jargon, and project in a professional manner. The course culminates in TED-style talks performed by each participant! Check out our TED-style talks here: GPS-BIOMED on YouTube!

1. Elevator Pitch Workshop series and competition – https://gps.bio.uci.edu/program-elements/train/elevator-pitch-series/
GPS-BIOMED Elevator Pitch Competition & Effective Communications Certificate Program led by Bri McWhorter. Bri is the founder of Activate to Captivate, where she teaches communication techniques from an actor’s point of view. She is a speech coach for our elevator pitch competition and has worked with GPS-BIOMED leadership to create a new certificate program: Effective Communications. The program covers presentation fundamentals including how to overcome nerves, make a presentation active rather than passive, utilize vocal variety and command a room. Check out videos from 4th Annual Elevator Pitch Competition here.

2. Science Communication Skills Course – https://gps.bio.uci.edu/science-communication-skills/
Science Communication Skills (Phy Sci 220) Offered each Winter Quarter and taught by Sandra Tsing Loh, well-known author, actress and host of the NPR podcast: Loh Down on Science. Grad students and postdocs are taught how to engage and inform the audience in a few words, avoid jargon, and project in a professional manner. The course culminates in TED-style talks performed by each participant! Check out our TED-style talks here: GPS-BIOMED on YouTube!

Are there more diverse career paths for PhDs and postdocs?

When those reports came out several years ago detailing a lack of training for PhDs and postdocs pursuing non-academic jobs, NIH went to work funding programs all over the country through its BEST grants. Years later, many of those programs are shifting gears as the grant funds are no longer available. David and Harinder were kind enough to talk about UCI’s efforts to secure the programs they’ve built so training can continue for researchers seeking postdoc jobs.

David reports that every site that received NIH BEST funding to create these PhD and postdoc training programs have decided to continue the programs even though the NIH funding has ended. These universities, like UCI, have discovered the unique advantage that PhD and postdoc focused programs give them as an intuition to broaden their influence and impact. In short, yes, there are more diverse career paths for postdocs than ever before and the NIH BEST efforts have been well worth the investment.

The critical role of science communication and professional development

As many PhDs. and postdocs search for jobs, according to David, one of the best steps they can take is to focus on honing their skill set, including science communication. Many PhDs and postdocs can become so wrapped up in their professional and academic circles that they fail to develop broader skills that will help them later on in their career.

David and Harinder both point to helpful programs like UCI GPS-BIOMED’s Annual Elevator Pitch Workshop and Competition that encourages students and postdocs to hone their communication skills. Additional resources include, Activate to Captivate, a communications company that focuses on empowering individuals to activate their communication skills, and NPR’s The Loh Down on Science podcast.

Make sure to listen to Mark’s full conversation with David and Harinder on this engaging episode of When Science Speaks.

Connect With Mark and When Science Speaks

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