The University of Georgia Graduate School recently received a $50,000 grant from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund (BWF) to support a new initiative known as Exploring Pathways to Industry Careers (EPIC). In alignment with BWF’s strategy that a diverse scientific workforce is essential to research innovation, academic discovery, and public service, the EPIC program will allow the Graduate School to make further strides in fostering a culture of support around industry career exploration for graduate students.

Through its Office of Experiential Professional Development (xPD), the Graduate School has conducted successful training events such as industry job search workshops, company site visits, and alumni panels on various career fields. xPD also offers funded internships during the summer for doctoral students in the arts, humanities, and social sciences who are interested in higher education administration. The BWF grant, through its Career Guidance for Trainees program, will amplify these efforts by creating new experiential learning opportunities for doctoral students in STEM.

The EPIC initiative includes industry internship funding for STEM graduate trainees through a pilot program known as PhD Industry Scholars. The primary goal of this program is to combine high-impact experiential learning practices such as mentoring, applied projects, and job shadowing in a format that meets the combined needs of STEM doctoral students, faculty advisors, and industry partners.

Participating students will interact with host organizations through a combination of in-person meetings and remote project work—a “virtual internship” model that provides maximum flexibility for busy graduate students. Corporate partners for the program’s first placement cycle include BASF, Boehringer-Ingelheim, The Home Depot, the Kimberly Clark Corporation, and the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.

Participating doctoral students come from academic disciplines such as biochemistry and molecular biology, chemistry, computer science, educational administration and policy, and pharmaceutical and biomedical sciences. Six doctoral students are currently participating in the program.

Historically, time constraints and logistical challenges often make it difficult for PhD students to pursue internships. The PhD Industry Scholars program complements graduate training by exposing doctoral students to diverse career opportunities in industry settings. Jinyang Chen, a doctoral student in statistics who landed a data science internship with The Home Depot, stated that the PhD Industry Scholars initiative would be useful to his career advancement.

“I expect to learn a lot of new things and make important contributions to the company,” said Chen, “Also, I am excited to work with a company that is well-known in its field.”

Employers participating in the PhD Industry Scholars program are also attracted to the innovative model. Cesar Ortiz is the operations manager of a BASF facility in Gordon, Georgia, where another PhD Industry Scholar will be working on a project related to process improvement.

“We greatly value the development of students and feel that opportunities such as these will further shape young talent that will eventually enter the workforce,” said Ortiz. “Aside from their project work, connecting our doctoral intern to leadership within our site will be key to their professional development and expanding their network.”

In addition to PhD Industry Scholars, the EPIC grant will enhance graduate career exploration by incentivizing students to devise their own professional development activities via a new Graduate Student Experiential Learning Fund. The BWF grant will also support a new PhD Career Accelerator program geared toward holistic career development training for Ph.D. students in all disciplines.

Andrew Crain, director of the Graduate School’s xPD program contends that these programs add an important layer of support to the graduate education ecosystem at UGA. While many graduate students are successful academically, Crain says, “We know that there is an increasing reality that graduate students—and especially Ph.D. recipients—find themselves working in a wide variety of career fields. We want to further support and celebrate graduate career diversity and help our students prepare for the exciting professional opportunities that lie ahead.”

UGA’s Graduate School is committed to supporting graduate students by providing outstanding discipline-specific training and broader professional development. According to UGA’s Vice Provost for Graduate Education, Dr. Ron Walcott, “Our overarching goal is to help students prepare for new and emerging career opportunities wherever these opportunities may exist. Ultimately, we are seeking to prepare the next generation of state, national, and global leaders to address the grand challenges of our time.”

Founded in 1955, BWF is a private foundation located in Research Triangle Park, N.C. Its mission is to improve human health through education and powering discovery in the frontiers of greatest need.

Through partnerships with organizations such as BWF, UGA is able to take an important next step in furthering educational opportunities for its graduate students.