PhD Career Exploration Fellowship (CEF)

The PhD Career Exploration Fellowship (CEF) program encourages non-faculty career exploration among doctoral students by facilitating networking experiences and fostering mentorship relationships with advanced degree holding professionals. This unpaid opportunity allows doctoral students to gain a better understanding of day-to-day life in administrative offices, libraries, pharmaceutical companies, museums, science outreach, and other organizations, on Penn’s campus, in the greater Philadelphia area, and beyond. In 2022, the program will allow for both virtual and hybrid fellowships, which gives students the opportunity to interact with hosts in offices all across the country. Fellows can use this experience to cultivate a stronger professional profile and grow their network in a career field. Through a series of complementary professional development programs hosted by Penn Career Services, Fellows will also develop career-readiness competencies and create a Career Individual Development Plan (IDP) to implement during and after the CEF experience.

The program was created in 2017 to help meet the need for career development among doctoral students interested in pursuing non-faculty tracks. In 2022, 34 PhD students participated in opportunities across 33 organizations both within and beyond the university to support an array of career interests. For the 2022 program, we are excited to invite back hosts, like the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Merck, and to recruit several new hosts, like the City of Philadelphia and Fisher Fine Arts Library.

Fellows will first meet with their hosts to both 1) learn about their host’s career path and the various aspects of the host’s position, including specific responsibilities, work culture, challenges and rewards of the role, etc. and 2) share their own interests as well as any of their short- and long- term career goals. Following this initial meeting, the host will facilitate additional informational interviews with colleagues and other members of their network whose career path and interests align with the interests of the Fellow. After this first series of interviews, Fellows and hosts will reconvene for another meeting to discuss the Fellow’s career exploration thus far, after which the host will setup one or two more informational interviews with colleagues. A final, debrief meeting between host and Fellow will occur at the end of the fellowship. Additional opportunities, like attendance at virtual meetings and the completion of small projects, may also be available. More information on specific opportunities and projects offered by individual host organizations are outlined in the 2022 Host Descriptions Packet.

This fellowship runs from February to May and typically entails 8-10 hours in total time commitment with host meetings and informational interviews. Fellows are also required to attend the CEF program orientation on Tuesday, February 8th from 9am – 12am as well as two professional development programs hosted by Penn Career Services. These workshops are designed to enhance professional development and the exploration of non-tenure track careers. They are also intended to foster community and cultivate meaningful relationships between Fellows both within and across disciplines. 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. To read about students’ experiences in the 2021 program, please visit the PhD Career Exploration Fellow Spotlight Series on the Career Services blog.

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


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 advanced degree holding professionals through one-on-one mentoring
  • 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

All CEF Fellows will have the opportunity to:

  • Complete a CliftonStrengths online talent assessment and analysis
  • Participate in LinkedIn and resume review workshops
  • Design a Career Individual Development Plan (IDP)
  • Meet with a  Grad Student/Postdoc Team Career Advisor in an individual one-on-one appointment

Participating Offices for 2022

Participating offices for 2023 will be announced in the fall. Participating offices for 2022 include 34 placements in university administration, the biomedical industry, nonprofit organizations, local government, and more. This year’s descriptions of confirmed host offices and possible projects at each placement can be downloaded here. Each student should indicate a first, second, and third choice host opportunity in their application.

Hosts for 2022 include:

  • The Aspen Institute
  • Bucks County Community College
  • CFAR (Center for Applied Research) Consulting and Coaching
  • The Center for Teaching and Learning
  • Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia – Biomedical and Health Informatics
  • City of Philadelphia – Innovation & Technology
  • Education and Professional Development at Penn Engineering
  • The Franklin Institute
  • Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies at Penn
  • Janssen – Immunology Translational Sciences
  • The Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies
  • The Kleinman Center for Energy Policy – Communications
  • Laboratory for Research on the Structure of Matter – Education and Outreach
  • Merck – Corporate Strategy, Digital Analytics and Technologies, Neuroscience, Quantitative Biosciences
  • Penn Center for Innovation (PCI) – Ventures
  • Penn Liberal and Professional Studies – Master’s of Behavioral and Decision Sciences
  • Penn Libraries – Academic Engagement, Area Studies, Fisher Fine Arts, the Kislak Center, Museum
  • Penn Museum – Academic Engagement
  • Penn Online Learning Initiative
  • Philadelphia Museum of Art – Library & Archives, Publishing
  • Poverty Solutions – University of Michigan
  • The Price Lab for Digital Humanities
  • SteegeThomson Communications
  • U.S. Department of State – The Office of the Historian
  • Walmart – Applied Behavior Science


Fellows will attend a mandatory virtual orientation session on Tuesday, February 8th from 9am – 12pm. This will include a Q&A panel with CEF alumni as well as a goal-setting activity and small group breakout session. The exact time and date of the other professional development workshops will be determined at a later date. Attendance in at least two additional CEF programs will be required, though participation in all of the workshops is strongly encouraged. In addition, all Fellows who participate in the program must complete the pre- and post-program surveys and write a blog post about their CEF experience to be featured on the Career Services blog at the end of the program.

2022 CEF Program Series:

  • Orientation
  • Goal Setting for CEF: Your Career Individual Development Plan (IDP)
  • Leveraging Your Strengths Workshop
  • Making the Most Out of Informational Interviews
  • Humanities/Social Science Host Q&A Panel: Transitioning to Post-Academic Careers
  • STEM Host Q&A Panel: Transitioning to Post-Academic Careers
  • Making LinkedIn Work for You
  • Crafting a Strong Resume
  • Your Career Individual Development Plan (IDP) Post-CEF

We estimate that fellowships with the host office will entail 8-10 hours of mentorship and informational interviews, 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 host. Fellowships at host organizations will take place between the orientation in early-February and mid-May; scheduling will vary according to particular projects and the availability of both the Fellow and host. All Fellowships with hosts should be completed by the end of May 2022.

Application Deadline

The 2022 application is closed. The deadline for the 2023 application will be announced in the fall.


PhD students in any department or school within the University may apply. Those who participated in the CEF program or the PhD Externship program between 2017-2021 are not eligible.

Application Materials

You can see last year’s application via Handshake:

Candidates should prepare the following materials:

  • cover sheet detailing: your name, program, program start and anticipated end dates, and your top three ranked placement choices. Attached, on the separate pages provided, 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 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 Jacob Myers, PhD Professionalism Fellow, Penn Career Services at