PhD Career Exploration Fellow Spotlight: Vanessa Fleites (Hosted by Perelman School of Medicine, Office of Research and Diversity Training)

In the spring of 2020, 36 PhD students from a range of academic disciplines at Penn participated in Career Services’ PhD Career Exploration Fellowship (CEF) program, where they were matched with a host organization in Philadelphia to learn about different careers beyond academia. Vanessa Fleites, a PhD candidate in Neuroscience, was placed as a Fellow with the Office of Research and Diversity Training (ORDT) at the Perelman School of Medicine. Read about her experience in the CEF below!

What was your fellowship experience like working with your host? What activities did you engage in?

I had a great fellowship experience with Dr. Arnaldo Diaz and Dr. Linnet Ramos in the Office of Research and Diversity Training (ORDT). In my initial informational meeting, we decided that I would help work on a semester-long project with the Post-Baccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP) and Summer Undergraduate Internship Program (SUIP). These are programs where students come to Penn’s campus to do research in a specific lab. Due to the COVID-related university shutdown, Dr. Diaz advocated to still give these students a virtual component of what they would have experienced at Penn. My role was to help develop the schedule and content for these new virtual format of the programs.

What did you learn from this opportunity (about yourself, about career fields, the job search, etc.)?

I learned a great deal from the informational meetings with Dr. Diaz about what a career in academic administration entails and how I should be preparing myself in graduate school/postdoc to be a competitive candidate during my future job search. This opportunity also challenged me to prioritize tasks and hone-in on effective time management skills.

How does your CEF experience benefit your future career plans?

CEF allowed me to network with other peers at Penn during our small group meetings. Also, the resume and LINKEDIN workshop was really useful in starting to think of how to market yourself and tailor documents for specific job listings. CEF also highlighted what what type of questions to ask in informational meetings, which is essential for networking and learning more about specific careers.

What was the most valuable part of your CEF experience?

The most valuable part of the CEF experience is having a structured format and time to think about your career goals. Also, due to my CEF placement in ORDT I was offered a paid internship in the office to continue helping with the PREP and SUIP virtual program throughout the summer. This allows me to put this experience in my resume, learn what it entails to develop educational programs, and foster relationships with peers and colleagues.

Top reason PhD students should apply to the CEF?

The CEF allows students to network and build close relationships with others in the prospective career field they are interested in. This allows students to learn what these individuals do day-to-day and dedicate time to think about what they should currently be doing to reach their future goals.

For more information about Career Services’ PhD Career Exploration Fellowship, please visit our program webpage here.

By Helen Pho
Helen Pho Associate Director, Graduate Students & Postdocs