The Career Development Peer Groups (CDPG) program for science students was created by Rebecca (Becky) Delventhal (Molecular, Cellular, Developmental Biology), who is now a Career Services fellow.
This is the third time Becky is running the program and the first time it is being co-sponsored by Graduate Career Services (GCS), along with the two original sponsoring organizations, Women in Science at Yale (WISAY) and Career Network for Science PhDs at Yale (CNSPY). Representatives of all three plan and produce the program together.
“Graduate Career Services is very happy to co-host and we hope that we can provide the structure and support needed to firmly establish this program for years to come,” says Victoria Blodgett, director of GCS. “Becky and the other members of the team are doing an amazing job.”
Each participant will be matched with one or two students or postdoctoral fellows who are at approximately the same stage in their career progression. Becky will organize program-wide events and keep participants supplied with useful information, but most of the work will be done by the small groups that will meet every week or two, now through May. Between meetings, individuals will engage in structured exercises of self reflection and explore the wide range of careers open to them.
“I think the small group format is beneficial for a number of reasons,” Becky says. “Going through the process with a peer or two helps to hold individuals accountable for actually doing the work necessary to start to think systematically about their career paths. Even though personal reflection on career development is critical, it is often not perceived as urgent by graduate students in the middle of their research: Experiments and other responsibilities take priority. Commitment to a peer group can help overcome that barrier. An added benefit is the sense of support and community that is fostered through a long-form peer-group/peer-mentoring program,” she says.
Becky was inspired to work on her own career development after hearing a talk hosted by Graduate Career Services in May 2012. At that event, Peter S. Fiske, author of Put Your Science to Work: The Take-Charge Career Guide for Scientists, presented practical ideas for PhD students facing the job market. Fiske is a scientist and an entrepreneur who has both a PhD in geology from Stanford and an MBA from the University of California – Berkeley.
“I attended with a labmate and good friend of mine, Nikki Woodward (Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program), and we both realized we needed some help figuring out the first couple of steps of career development as outlined by Peter Fiske: self-assessment and career exploration. We decided to each start a ‘career development journal,’ which Fiske had suggested. We met every couple of weeks throughout the summer of 2012, and we found the structure and support we gave each other so helpful that I decided to try and write up what we had done as a program to help others in similar situations.”
As a WISAY board member, Becky had previously run mentoring programs and events, and so creating CDPG “seemed a natural way to blend my passions for supporting fellow scientists and for developing programs.”
Last summer’s version had 60 participants. One was Michelle Kriner (Microbiology), who hopes to finish her PhD in 2016.
“CDPG provided the opportunity to speak candidly with peers who could relate to me and contribute a variety of perspectives on career development,” she says. “I appreciated the structure and accountability that it afforded. In academic research, we spend most of our time thinking about extremely specialized topics, so I found it rewarding to take a step back to assess my own interests, talents, and needs, and to learn that there really will be a wide variety of career options available to me when I graduate.”
The program helped Dionna Kasper (Genetics) “pinpoint the best-suited careers for me from the overwhelming list of diverse biomedical career paths. I was surprised to see how much my professional network expanded as a result of CDPG events.”
Postdoctoral fellow Carole Kuehl says, “The most valuable aspect of the program for me was the camaraderie gained meeting other post docs who were a few steps ahead in the process of transitioning to industrial research or teaching positions, and finding out I was not alone in my career confusion,” she says.
When not running the career development program or working with WISAY, CNSPY, and GCS, Becky studies the molecular basis of bitter taste in insects, using Drosophila as a model organism. Her adviser is John Carlson.