Professional Training

Irrespective of what career a nascent scientist or engineer eventually pursues, they need to be strong communicators who are ethical decision makers capable of working with others. To help BU graduate students achieve these goals, they are encouraged to participate in the extensive programming offered by BU’s Office of Professional Development and Postdoctoral Affairs (PDPA). The PDPA currently offers a professional development curriculum consisting of workshops and online modules that provide opportunities for graduate students to build and develop their skills relating to their individual career goals and training in areas of project management, leadership, communication, self-awareness, and career development. These resources help graduate students prepare for future careers through self-assessment and the creation of IDPs, as well as guidance for exploring potential career pathways in both academic and non-academic fields.

The PDPA recently developed “Ph.D. Progression”, a project that creates a digital-badge tracking platform and dashboard – using the online software Badger Pro Pathways – that allows graduate students to track their development of skills and their achievement of learning goals connected to seven core capacities (Career Development, Discipline Specific Knowledge, Research Skills, Management & Leadership, Self-Awareness, Communications Skills, and Teaching Skills). Through the acquisition of digital badges connected to the self-guided activities and assessments recorded on the platform – for example, to reflect on personal and professional interests, attitudes, skills, and values and explore related career pathways or to understand foundational principles in the scholarship of teaching – graduate students can monitor their progress through various learning pathways. Each badge is assessed and issued according to completion of specific tasks and learning pathways. The online dashboard allows students to organize, download, and share on other virtual platforms (e.g., LinkedIn) a summary of their achievements, providing a portfolio piece for job applications.

Communication and Scientific Writing. Effective communication is one of the most important skills needed by scientists and engineers, irrespective of their field of study or vocation. Communications training for BU graduate students and postdoctoral fellows is offered through multiple offices and groups, including the PDPA, the BU Office of Research, the BUild Lab IDG Capital Student Innovation Center, and the BDC Communications Lab (BDC Comm Lab). All graduate students affiliated with this training grant will develop their communication skills by giving oral and poster presentations at BU – at the BDC Monthly Seminars, the BDC Annual Symposium, the QBP/TRB/SB2 Joint Symposium, and the SB2 Annual Retreat – and at external conferences. Graduate students will also be encouraged to enroll in the BDC Comm Lab’s Fellowship-writing Workshop, so that they are able to write a competitive proposal for external funding after this grant ends.

Ethics. Researchers in STEM fields have always had to grapple with important ethical questions, but the recent development of techniques like CRISPR and gene editing has reinforced the need to prepare graduate students and postdoctoral fellows for complex, “beyond the bench” ethical questions that they may face in their careers. One mechanism by which this is done is through the RCR training offered by BU.

Antiracism and DEI. To help us advance diversity and inclusion within and outside of the BU community, Professor Ibram X. Kendi was recruited to join the BU community in July 2020 and establish the Center for Antiracist Research, which will help build an antiracist society that ensures racial equity and social justice. The Center for Antiracist Research has numerous programmatic activities that are freely available to all members of the BU community, including “21 Days of Unlearning Racism and Learning Antiracism”, which provides an opportunity to engage directly in antiracist texts and multimedia, to better prepare members of our community for a more diverse, equitable academic environment. We are in the process of identifying ways in which the BDC and the SB2 trainees can work more closely with the Center for Antiracist Research; for example, by holding a joint symposium on Racism and Antiracism in the Biomedical Sciences or by developing a workshop for graduate students that explore some of the social and ethical issues at the interface of these two fields.

Entrepreneurship and Industry Engagement. Initiatives that help graduate students and postdoctoral fellows learn about innovation, entrepreneurship, and effective industry engagement can have a dramatic impact on their future careers, whether inside or outside academia. These initiatives are particularly important given that only a relatively small proportion of STEM Ph.D. students go on to faculty positions. Mr. Rana Gupta, our Director of Faculty Entrepreneurship, was one of the speakers at our SB2 Monthly Meeting in 2022, and he and the other guest speakers at these meetings provide opportunities for our trainees to grow their professional networks in a very ‘low-stakes’ environment and learn about the broad range of scientific positions that are available at these companies.

In addition, our trainees are encouraged to participate in programs developed by BDC SPIN and Nucleate Bio, and our graduate student trainees will also have an opportunity to join their leadership teams, which will further enhance their leadership skills and help them further expand their professional networks. The BDC also hosted several events that brought prominent female CSOs, CEOs, and other C-suite employees at STEM companies to BU campus to give speak about their experiences and professional journeys, and then to network with STEM graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, and senior undergraduates in our community.

Finally, we recommend that our trainees attend events at BU’s Bioengineering Technology & Entrepreneurship Center (BTEC), which is a 5,000 sq. ft. bioengineering “maker space” with a Molecular, Cellular, and Tissue Engineering Suite, a Biosensors and Instrumentation Suite, and a Digital and Predictive Medicine Design Suite. BTEC hosts workshops, career panels, and other events, and Dr. Diane Joseph-McCarthy (the Executive Director of BTEC) provides guidance and mentorship in research careers and enables students to engage open-ended innovation on their own and in partnerships with industry. BTEC offers regular Entrepreneurship Seminars – for example, Jo Viney, the CEO of Seismic Therapeutic, recently came to BTEC to talk about her biotech journey and how she sold her first company for $1.85B – and the BDC has partnered with BTEC to host a Women Leaders in Science event, at which more than 70 BU graduate students had a networking dinner with the board of the American Association of University Women (AWIS) and members of New England Women in Science Executives (NEWISE).

Training in Mentoring and Teaching. As described earlier in this document, all graduate students must satisfy a teaching requirement during their Ph.D. BU has been collaborating with Northwestern University, the University of Michigan, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the University of Utah to develop the NSF-funded “Inclusive STEM Teaching Project”, a six-week Massive Open Online Course designed to advance the awareness, self-efficacy, and ability of graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and faculty to cultivate inclusive STEM learning environments for all their students and to develop themselves as reflective, inclusive practitioners. This is done by employing key features, including embodied case studies, affinity spaces, and an inclusivity framework portfolio. The activities are collectively designed to nurture a transformative mindset and help participants reflect deeply on key identity-related aspects of each module as they go through the course, and to help them apply these aspects in tangible ways to their own teaching and learning contexts. One of our T32 trainees co-led a Learning Community for this initiative, which allows participants to dive deeper into the topics covered in the edX course, including Instructor/Student Identity, Inclusive Course Design, and Climate in the STEM Classroom.

STEM Education and Outreach. STEM Pathways is a STEM education and outreach program at BU that is sponsored by the Department of Defense’s Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (DoD STEM) office. The grant aims to establish a STEM pipeline by exposing high school students – especially women and underrepresented minorities – in the greater Boston area to synthetic biology and biotechnology via educational and networking events, coursework and lab skills training, hackathons, workshops, laboratory rotations, and industry internships. Many of our T32 trainees have participated in STEM Pathways events in the past two years. STEM Pathways:

  • holds mini-Jamborees, which are a free, interactive days of learning and fun to increase awareness of synthetic biology and biotechnology.
  • created and offered a three-session, online course called Synthetic Biology Basics: Introduction, Implementation, and Applications.
  • partnered with the BioBuilder Educational Foundation to offer three synthetic biology ‘weekend workshops’ at BU at no cost to high school students in the greater Boston area.
  • participated in the Cambridge Science Festival’s 2022 Carnival. The Cambridge Science Festival is a week-long, annual celebration of science, technology, engineering, art, and math that attracts more than 100,000 visitors, with events in more than 70 different venues in Massachusetts.
  • partnered with the New Mission High School, which has a 98% minority student enrollment, to act as mentors for their Biotechnology II class’s final project, in which the students will use synthetic biology principles to design a synthetic organism.
  • partnered with the BioBuilder Educational Foundation to help train the next generation of synthetic and molecular biologists, by providing them with laboratory skills, professional development skills, and paid summer internships at biotech and pharma companies in the greater Boston area.