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The post-bachelor’s life

3/30/2018 1:03:54 PM

Are you graduating with your bachelor’s degree soon but not exactly sure what you should do next? Your friends may be headed off to graduate or medical school in the fall, and others may be starting their dream jobs. While it may seem that everyone else has a plan, know that you are not alone and it’s OK not to have everything figured out yet. (Heck, most of us still don’t know what we want to be when we grow up.) It takes time (and, yes, you do have time) to explore career options that will put your science degree to good use and lead to a satisfying career.  

In the long run, it may be worth taking a gap year or time off after graduating to get some real-world experience and do some career exploring. This may be more beneficial than jumping right into grad school or a getting stuck in a career track that’s not right for you. And it can boost your qualifications for grad school and jobs — after all, there is no substitute for real life and work experiences. But it’s important to set professional goals during this period and have a transition plan. Check out this ASBMB Today article on gap years for some more tips on this.  

For this week’s post, I have gathered some information to help you find postbaccalaureate options in research training and related programs. I’ll follow up later with options available for careers outside the lab.  

Here is a list of postbac research programs and other opportunities. Most of these are short-term research or training positions (a year or two) for recent college graduates to get more professional experience, expand skill sets and see if a research career or grad school is of interest.  

  • The National Institutes of Health hosts the Postbac Intramural Research Training Award (or Cancer Research Training Award within the National Cancer Institute). The IRTA/CRTA program is designed to provide research training and professional-development support to recent college grads (within three years of graduating) who are interested in graduate or professional school. Postbacs are placed in the labs of NIH researchers. Applications are accepted on a continuous basis and kept on file for one year, in case positions come open. Unfortunately, there is no master list of labs accepting students. Interested applicants are encouraged to review the list of NIH researchers (links provided on the website) and directly reach out to labs of interest. (Note: I found one former position via a Twitter search, so you also can follow NIH researchers on social media to stay updated on any future openings that principal investigators may share.)  
  • The NIH’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences funds the Postbaccalaureate Research Education Program at 35 universities around the country. PREP programs provide training for underrepresented and underserved groups in science to prepare college grads for entry into biomedical graduate programs. Be sure to check the eligibility requirements before applying. Many application deadlines have passed for this year but a number of programs are still open. A listing of PREP programs with links to program websites can be found on the NIGMS website. Also see the Científico Latino website (listed below) for a list of PREP programs with upcoming deadlines.  
  • The Recent Graduates Program through the U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s Pathways Program provides one-year employment experiences, plus mentoring and training support, for those who have graduated with undergraduate and graduate degrees in the past two years. There may be an option to transition to limited or full-time employment upon completion of the program. Government agencies will list this type of open positions on USAJobs.gov as indicated by a graduation-cap icon. You can search for these positions using the “search recent graduates jobs” link. Current openings at the time of this post include chemical and environmental engineers with the Bureau of Reclamation (Department of the Interior) and a safety and occupational health specialist with the Department of the Army.  

Another option for gaining research experience is to directly work as a research technician in a laboratory. For example, I had a fellow lab mate in grad school who worked as an academic hourly in our lab after he finished his undergraduate degree. He then went onto graduate school. Talk to your current and past professors to see if they know anyone who may need some research assistance. Some schools and individual labs have programs that accept postbacs with explicit understanding the position is short term to help recent graduates get more work experience. As an example, I previously mentioned the Neuroscience Research Technician Recruitment program at NYU Langone Health in a neuroscience careers post (and FYI, the final deadline for that program is March 30). Other programs may exist and will require some searches on your part.  

If you are interested in pursuing an M.D. or M.D.-Ph.D. degree program and need more time to consider this route or to enhance your application, consider applying to a postbaccalaureate premedical certificate or master’s program. These programs provide opportunities to catch up on needed coursework, boost academic G.P.A. and get access to mentoring resources (e.g., MCAT test prep). Just be aware that these programs cost tuition, are still competitive to get into and don’t guarantee acceptance to a medical school. For more information about these programs and related insights, check out the following resources and listings of programs.

Here are a few other databases and listings of postbac research and training programs. You also can do a general web search for “postbaccalaureate” or “postbachelor” combined with other keywords (e.g., research, fellowship, training) to find even more options. 

  • The Maryland Center for Undergraduate Research maintains a page of postbaccalaureate research opportunities in the areas of science and engineering, with additional programs not listed in this post.

  • The Institute for Broadening Participation’s Pathways to Science website contains a comprehensive database of nearly 1,300 STEM education and training opportunities, which can be searched by the “postbaccalaureate” level of study and other search parameters.

  • The Científico Latino website has a listing of postbac programs, mainly NIGMS PREP programs, with upcoming deadlines provided (which is so useful). Be sure to check this out asap, as the rest of the deadlines for applying to PREP programs are quickly approaching. The site also has some great blog posts related to how PREP and postbac programs help prepare students for graduate and medical school.  

Author’s note: No matter what you do next, know that the ASBMB community is here for you. There are lots of great career resources available through the ASBMB to help you explore career options. Also, don’t forget about the power of networking to find postbac opportunities that may not be advertised yet and to learn about different careers. You can learn much by reaching out and talking to people with careers that are interesting to you. If you’re an ASBMB member, you can find contact information for fellow scientists listed in the membership directory.   

Donna Kridelbaugh is a contributor to the ASBMB Careers Blog. She holds an advanced degree in microbiology and is a former lab manager.  

Stay updated on new posts by following the ASBMB on social media or click “follow” on this blog (must be a member and signed in). Also, be sure to check out the ASBMB Job Board for even more job listings.   

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