My experience with the Career Exploration Fellowship for PhD students

Written by:
Roseanne Dávila-Rivera (she/her) 
Ph.D. Candidate, Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics 
Ph.D. Professionalism Fellow 2023-2024, Career Services 

When I was in college, I used to go to the office of my Chemistry professor, Dr. Carlos R. Ruiz-Martinez, to receive advice regarding what classes to take each semester, extracurricular activities where I should get involved, experiences I should have before applying to graduate or medical school such as summer internships and how to develop leadership skills. Since I attended a small college, the institution didn’t have an office dedicated to offer academic advising to undergraduate students. We relied on the kindness of our professors who used to take the time to mentor us and help us become the best version of ourselves. Thanks to professors like Dr. Ruiz-Martinez, many students that aren’t expected to have high aspirations, discover a world of unimaginable possibilities. I am grateful for the amazing mentors I had who believed in my potential, motivated me to pursue a career in science and fostered in me that passion for teaching.

Dr. Ruiz-Martinez became an inspiration to me. I wanted to be like him and guide my students in their journey to find their true passion and offer them the tools to explore the different opportunities they have available. The main reason I pursued a PhD is because I wanted to become a college professor at a small institution where I could be focused on teaching and academic advising. Since then, many things changed, and I faced different challenges during my PhD that at some point discouraged me to follow that dream. I was disappointed and frustrated but I really enjoyed the experiences I have had working with students during my PhD training. I was confused because I wasn’t sure if I still wanted to become a professor, but I loved mentoring students and serve as a guidance so they can succeed in life.

Being a 4th year PhD student and listening to other colleagues talking about their plans after PhD and the experiences they were having to prepare to that stage like participating in internships, professional development programs and graduate clubs was frustrating. That led me to avoid conversations with them and participate in some social events at Penn. I felt that I was lost and behind compared to my peers. Looking for some guidance and advice, I decided to apply to the Career Exploration Fellowship (CEF) program. Thanks to CEF, I had the opportunity to meet some of the other fellows with the same situation as me where they were trying to figure out their pathways.

When I saw in the list of hosts available “Penn Career Services – Graduate and Professional School Advising” and read the description, I felt a bit of hope to finally finding the right place for me, so I was very excited. I am glad that I had the opportunity to be a CEF fellow during Spring 2023. My experience with Dr. Ariana Alexander was amazing. I learned a lot about the things I would like to do in the future and now I have a better understanding of how a career in academic advising looks like. Dr. Alexander connected me with people working in the field which allowed me to discover different branches I could focus on in my potential future job.

Since I know the struggle of being lost and frustrated thinking about what to do after the PhD, I wanted to apply to the position of PhD Professionalism Fellow to coordinate CEF during 2024 and help other students that might be in the same situation I was one year ago. I am very glad to coordinate the program and work on the recruitment of hosts that are happy to share their journey and seem committed to mentor students, give them a great experience and help them in their professional development.

CEF is an excellent program that brings you the opportunity to really explore what a career outside academia looks like in a personalized approach, focused on the interests, inquiries, and concerns of the student. One of the great aspects of this program is that the students are matched with one host with who will be working during the semester which allows them to build a stronger connection.

I encourage all PhD students that are trying to find their pathway to apply to CEF. This would be a great opportunity to explore a career you might pursue in the future or at least determine if a specific career is not the right fit for you before you decide to pursue it.

The application is now open – Apply today!

By Joseph Barber
Joseph Barber Director, Graduate Career Initiatives