2020 PhD Career Exploration Fellowship

The PhD Career Exploration Fellowship (formerly the PhD Externship) program encourages non-faculty career exploration among doctoral students by facilitating shadowing experiences and fostering mentorship relationships with advanced-degree holding professionals. This unpaid opportunity allows doctoral students to gain hands-on, real-world career experience in administrative offices, libraries, pharmaceuticals, museums, science outreach, and other centers on Penn’s campus and in the Philadelphia area. Students can use this experience to cultivate a stronger professional profile and to develop career-readiness competencies and administrative skills in preparation for a range of careers.

The program was created in 2017 to help meet the need for career development among doctoral students interested in pursuing non-faculty tracks. In 2019, 26 PhD students participated in opportunities across 20 organizations both within and beyond the university to support an array of career interests.

PhD students in any department or school within the University may apply. Fellows will meet with their hosts for informational interviews to learn about their host’s career paths and the various aspects of the host’s position, including specific responsibilities, work culture, challenges and rewards of the role, etc. Additionally, Fellows will attend meetings when appropriate and debrief with their hosts to learn more about the day-to-day functions and greater missions of their host organizations. Fellows may have the opportunity to use their writing, organizational skills, and research training to advance meaningful projects in the host office.

This fellowship typically entails 8-10 hours in total time commitment with the host organization. It is intended to enhance your professional development and exploration of non-tenure track careers. This fellowship will not impede your course work or dissertation research but rather, we hope, will excite you about the career possibilities that await after completion of your PhD program.

*Please note: Because this is an unpaid career exploration opportunity, there are no Visa restrictions for international students.

New for the 2020 PhD Career Exploration Fellowship:

In addition to the career exploration provided through placement with a host organization, this year’s cohort of Fellows will also receive professional development opportunities to help them achieve career success after they finish their PhD programs.

By the end of the program, each Fellow will have the following resources and assets provided courtesy of Penn Career Services:

  • Professional headshot
  • StrengthsQuest online talent assessment
  • Polished LinkedIn profile
  • Strong resume tailored for a specific career field
  • Individual career advising appointment with a Grad Student/Postdoc Team Career Advisor

This year’s program will also feature informal, biweekly breakfast meet-ups where Fellows can get together to share their experiences of working with a host and their thoughts on career and professional development. Each breakfast meet-up, hosted by a Grad Student/Postdoc Team Career Advisor, will also have a thematic focus; topics can include networking, self-care and wellness for a job search, time management and work/life balance, and making the most out of your time at Penn. These breakfast conversations aim to help foster community among PhD students from across different disciplines interested in career exploration beyond the tenure-track.


The PhD Career Exploration Fellowship program has the following aims:

  • Facilitate non-faculty career exploration for PhD students
  • Educate graduate students about the roles and responsibilities in a specific career field
  • Allow graduate students to form relationships and create networks with non-faculty members of the university and with Philadelphia-area graduate-alumni, through one-on-one mentoring and professional development activities
  • Enhance the professional development and leadership skills of graduate students
  • Facilitate students’ ability to conduct informational interviews as part of their career exploration and networking
  • Provide experiences that can be described in skill-focused ways within CVs, resumes, cover letters, and interviews

Participating Offices for 2020

Descriptions of each host office and possible projects at each placement can be downloaded here Each student may indicate a first, second, and third choice host opportunity in their application.

Confirmed hosts for 2020 include:

    • The Center for Teaching and Learning
    • Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) – Department of Biomedical and Health Informatics
    • The Franklin Institute
    • The Price Lab for Digital Humanities
    • Merck- Infectious Disease and Virology
    • Merck-Neuropharmacology
    • Penn Sustainability
    • Perelman School of Medicine – Office of Research and Diversity Training
    • Penn Online Learning Initiative
    • Penn Libraries- Area Studies, Teaching, Research and Learning, Education Commons and the Kislak Center
    • Penn Museum – Academic Engagement
    • The Kleinman Center for Energy Policy- Research and Communications
    • Laboratory for Research on the Structure of Matter- Education and Outreach
    • Office of Research and Academic Services (RAS) at Penn Engineering
    • Penn Center for Innovation (PCI)-Ventures
    • Office of the Vice Provost for Global Initiatives
    • Philadelphia Museum of Art- Library & Archives and Publishing


Fellows will attend a brief orientation session at Career Services on Tuesday, February 18 from 9:30am – 11am in the McNeil Building, conference room 97.

We estimate that Fellowships with the host office will entail 8-10 hours of mentorship and shadowing activities, in addition to time devoted to the optional project. Optional projects may entail an additional 10-15 hours of work, although further time is encouraged if the Fellow desires more hours and if this is feasible for the center. Fellowships at host organizations will take place between the orientation in mid-February and the end of April; scheduling will vary according to particular projects and the availability of both the Fellow and host. All Fellowships with host offices should be completed by the end of April 2020.

The first two breakfast meet-ups are scheduled for Monday, March 2 and Monday, March 23 from 9:30-10:30am at the Career Services library.

Fellows will also attend an end-of-program luncheon in April; details will be shared at a later date.

Application Deadline

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Application Materials

Please apply through Handshake: https://upenn.joinhandshake.com/jobs/3417819

Candidates should prepare the following materials:

  • A cover sheet detailing: your name, program, program start and anticipated end dates, and your top three ranked placement choices.
  • A brief statement (no more than 250 words) explaining why you are interested in working with a particular host office and what you hope to gain out of the experience. If you are applying to more than one office, please include on separate pages for each host 1) your name, 2) placement choice, and 3) your statement. If there are particular projects you’d like to work on, let us know. (What projects Fellows complete will ultimately depend both on the needs of the host center and the student’s interests.) If you don’t have ideas, that’s ok too! Just start thinking about what you’d like out of the experience.
  • A curriculum vitae or resume

If you have any questions about this program, please contact Career Services’ PhD Professionalism Fellow, Kate Webb (katwebb@pennmedicine.upenn.edu).