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. Keana Richards, a PhD candidate in Psychology, was placed as a Fellow with the Department of Biomedical and Health Informatics at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). Read about her experience in the CEF below!
What was your fellowship experience like working with your host? What activities did you engage in?
The experience was incredibly helpful for improving skills (e.g., coding) that will be desirable to employers down the line and learning about the options available for people like me after graduation. I was able to learn a lot through the various activities I completed. I met with my mentor once a week, where I was able to ask questions about the transition from psychology into their current position. We also had several sessions where they taught me a specific skill and introduced me to resources to learn or improve my skills (e.g., strategies and resources to improve coding efficiency, how to use Github, applying a license to your code, how to decide on a coding project, project management). I attended virtual workshops held at CHOP throughout the week, including applied introductions to new coding languages and skills (e.g., command line and SQL). Additionally, I sat in on meetings with the development team to learn about the work dynamic on the team and completed informational interviews with other employees at the host site in career paths that I’m considering down the line.
What did you learn from this opportunity (about yourself, about career fields, the job search, etc.)?
I took away several concrete skills (most notably, Github, which I use everyday now and probably would have continued to push off if not for my mentor teaching me how to use it) that will be useful for the career paths I am considering. I also gained further insight into the various careers that are available to me and which skills are prioritized in those fields. Finally, I learned about the specific questions that I might expect during interviews given my resume and Linkedin from the workshop on improving application materials.
How does your CEF experience benefit your future career plans?
Given the importance of networking in improving career prospects and the challenge of developing these relationships outside of the academy, the CEF has benefitted my career plans by providing a means of developing a relationship with a professional with my background outside of the academy. Also, the skills and resources I acquired through the program will be important for giving me more flexibility in career options down the line.
What was the most valuable part of your CEF experience?
Having a mentor outside of industry that shares my background and that is actively invested in supporting my career has been amazing.
Top reason PhD students should apply to the CEF?
The CEF serves as a low-pressure, low-cost way to explore options outside of the academy, with the flexibility and support to get exactly what you need out of the program.
For more information about Career Services’ PhD Career Exploration Fellowship, please visit our program webpage here.