PhD Career Exploration Fellow Spotlight: Gedaliah Knizhnik (Hosted by the Science Outreach Initiative)

In the spring of 2021, 44 PhD students from a range of academic disciplines at Penn participated virtually in Career Services’ PhD Career Exploration Fellowship (CEF) program, where they were matched with a host organization to learn about different careers beyond academia. Gedaliah Knizhnik, a PhD candidate in Robotics, was placed as a Fellow with the Science Outreach Initiative. Read about Gedaliah’s experience in the CEF below!

Describe your experience working with your host:

Through the CEF fellowship I got the opportunity to work with Dr. Kristen Coakley Ashare of the Science Outreach Initiative, which focuses on helping professors in the School of Applied Sciences address the Broader Impacts criterion in NSF proposals. I did in-depth reading and research on the origins of the Broader Impacts criterion, its development, and the debates surrounding its implementation. Dr. Coakley Ashare made time to discuss each reading with me, and helped me understand the intricacies of addressing the various aspects of the criterion, especially for scientific work that seems so far from having any broader impacts. To complete the fellowship, I got the chance to research and put together a Broader Impacts menu for some sample proposals –a set of proposed projects based on the scientific research and addressing the various elements of the Broader Impacts criterion. It was an altogether fascinating and enlightening experience.

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

Although I have known for a while that outreach is an important feature of scientific research, I had previously considered myself pretty well equipped for it. In going through the CEF fellowship, however, I came to understand that running good scientific outreach is not something incidental to “real” scientific work –it takes significant time, effort, and practice. I learned that there are a lot of local and national organizations that are already experienced in running outreach programs, and scientists should be aware of and ready to partner with their subject matter expertise.

How does your CEF experience benefit your future career plans?

I am excited by a career in any aspect of science, but the CEF fellowship opened my eyes to scientific opportunities beyond simple benchwork. I have long been fascinated by scientific outreach, and the CEF fellowship showed me that there are significant opportunities to support, expand, and empower science beyond the classical directions.

What was the most valuable part of your CEF experience?

The most valuable part of my CEF experience was building a one-on-one relationship with my mentor. Dr. Coakley Ashare was caring and kind and took an interest in me personally and in my work. She was always willing to make time for me and my questions, and I learned a lot of valuable things from our discussions. I also appreciated the value CEF gave me through a much-needed push to clean up my LinkedIn profile and start assembling my resume for effective job hunting.

Top reason PhD students should apply to the CEF:

PhD students should apply to the CEF because it is a great, easy opportunity to explore career options without taking away from working on their degrees. The time commitment is minimal but full of value, and both the hosts and career center staff are lovely, generous, and wise. It’s never too early to start planning for a career!

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