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Wayne State's NIH-funded BEST Program Achieving Successful Outcomes

Wednesday, April 20, 2016   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Kate Oesterle
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Detroit:  Wayne State University’s NIH-funded BEST Program achieving successful outcomes as it completes second year of expanding career options for biomedical doctoral trainees


In 2013, Wayne State University was one of 17 institutions nationwide to receive a five-year, $1.8 million BEST (Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training) grant from the National Institutes of Health to help doctoral trainees learn about the multiple career pathways open to them beyond academic positions in university research settings.  This federal initiative will provide Wayne State, one of three research-intensive universities in Michigan, with an opportunity to take a leadership role in transforming graduate education in the biomedical sciences.  While completing their Ph.D., participants in the BEST Program can participate in  a professional development curriculum that focuses on how their scientific training, problem-solving skills and analytical aptitude can help them achieve success in the biotech and pharmaceutical industries, patent and intellectual property law, state and federal government, and science communication.


“The BEST Program provided me with a great opportunity to explore career options outside of academia while completing my doctorate in cancer biology,” says Dr. Sidra Ahsan, now Product Manager at Advaita, a bioinformatics startup in Plymouth, Michigan.  “My first inclination after finishing my Ph.D. was to secure a postdoc and then an assistant professorship, but I knew research funding is tight, so I was also interested in industry positions.  I just didn’t know how to go about preparing myself to make a transition.”  During the summer of 2014, Dr. Ahsan received a BEST award to engage in an 8-week career exploration at Advaita while continuing her research on neurofibromatosis-type I in Dr. Michael Tainsky’s lab at Wayne State.  Other BEST program participants have undertaken similar career exploration opportunities at companies such as Cayman Chemical, Arbor Assays, MMS Holdings, and the Journal of Clinical Investigation; government agencies like the U.S. Department of Agriculture; and international groups such as the World Health Organization.


According to the grant’s principal investigator, Dean of the Wayne State Graduate School Dr. Ambika Mathur, “Our goal is to help prepare doctoral trainees to meet the needs of the 21st century economy in a dynamic and evolving job market.”  BEST participants receive training in those skills required for positions in nonacademic settings via seminars and workshops led by alumni, industry partners, and faculty facilitators, as well as an on-site career exploration opportunities such as Dr. Ahsan’s at Advaita. 


Evaluation data for the last two years indicates that participants are learning how to align the abilities they already possess with employers’ needs and expectations.  For Dr. Ahsan, the internship was especially valuable for providing a broader view of the biomedical research enterprise and “the business side of science, which you don’t get in a Ph.D. program.”  Upon graduation, she applied to Advaita for a permanent position and was quickly hired as a “good fit.”  Dr. Ahsan’s long-term career goal is to eventually start her own company in the Detroit metro area, and the BEST program has helped launch her on this career path.


Student interest in BEST Program activities at Wayne State has remained high, and the number of activities has increased.  Consequently, Dr. Christine Chow, professor of chemistry and the grant’s co-principal investigator, members of the BEST Steering Committee, and the Program Manager are working hard to develop program curriculum, facilitate faculty engagement, and build the infrastructure that will sustain the BEST initiative at Wayne State beyond the grant period.


For more information on BEST at Wayne State, see

Or contact the Program Manager, Dr. Heidi Kenaga, at 313 577 5499


For details about the national NIH-BEST initiative, see


For more information about the origins of BEST, see this editorial in Science Translational Medicine, co-authored by the grant’s principal investigator, Dean of the Graduate School Dr. Ambika Mathur

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