Cornell University

Today’s BEST PhDs Students Are Tomorrow’s Workforce

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Kenneth Yancey, MS, PhD Candidate, Department of Biological and Environmental Engineering, Cornell University

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Susi Varvayanis, MS, Senior Director, Cornell Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training (BEST) Program, Cornell University

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Avery August, PhD, Professor and Chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, College of Veterinary Medicine, Principal Investigator, Cornell BEST Program, Cornell University

Over the past 50 years, the number of new product approvals per billion dollars spent on research and development (R&D) has halved every nine years.

Poor drug success rates have forced companies to look for innovative ways to develop an efficient workforce that will bring new solutions to their R&D programs. The necessity to streamline R&D programs has only been reinforced by the changing healthcare landscape, which is putting even more of an emphasis on value-based healthcare. 

Cornell University’s National Institute of Health (NIH)-funded Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training (BEST) Program is a response to the changing needs of PhD students and postdocs who want to be competitive candidates for careers in areas such as industry, entrepreneurship, management, science policy, and science communication. Cornell University’s mission is to provide graduate students with hands-on-skills, training, and mentorship for the careers they will pursue.

This is in contrast to the traditional model of training all students with the assumption that they will become professors on the academic track, even though nationally only approximately 20% of students end up in tenured academic positions. The result is that the BEST Program is producing a pool of highly trained and experienced PhD graduates who have the technical and leadership skills, as well as new ideas and approaches, needed by employers if they are to adjust to the demands of the current healthcare landscape.

The BEST Program gives trainees the opportunity to seek mentorship, ask questions, and determine what skills they need to become competitive candidates in the future. Companies gain pipeline of pre-trained and experienced potential recruits, who can also bring fresh perspectives to their companies.

For those interested in pursuing jobs, such as industrial researchers and managers, Cornell University connects BEST Program members with mentorship and experiential opportunities with local companies. By reaching out and recruiting industry representatives to Cornell’s campus, The BEST Program gives trainees the opportunity to seek mentorship, ask questions, and determine what skills they need to become competitive candidates in the future. In turn, this allows companies access to Cornell’s outstanding students, expand their brand awareness among the Cornell community, and shape the development of an effective future workforce. By working with companies to create shadowing, internship, and cooperative experiences, the BEST Program places trainees at companies so they can learn first-hand what it takes to be successful in the careers they will pursue in the future. Companies gain a pipeline of pre-trained and experienced potential recruits, who can also bring fresh perspectives to their companies. Cornell graduate students and postdoctoral trainees work on interdisciplinary projects as a matter of course, and it is precisely at the intersection of these disciplines where innovation occurs. Furthermore, with the student comes the faculty adviser. By hosting a Cornell BEST Program trainee, companies gain access to their cutting edge research labs and insider access to Cornell’s extensive core facilities.

The result is a symbiotic relationship where students gain critical skills and employment opportunities, and companies gain access to Cornell facilities and a source of trained employees who will bring new approaches to their R&D programs. Already in its second year, the BEST Program has notable success stories. A postdoctoral scholar who completed a ProSky BESTernship accepted an offer at Kraft Foods. A graduate student’s case competition experience directly contributed to the trainee’s job offer to perform strategic analysis for a national research laboratory. Numerous BEST Program trainees have received awards or fellowships for leadership experiences at institutions such as GE Global Research, ARPA-E, NewYorkBio (NYBIO), and High Tech Rochester. The BEST Program empowers graduate students and postdocs scholars to gain the experiential skills that their future employers seek. The combination of an effective workforce and innovative solutions to healthcare challenges are critical to companies finding success in today’s environment.

Cornell University’s mission is to provide graduate students with hands-on-skills, training, and mentorship for the careers they will pursue.

In addition to Cornell University’s BEST Program, the Department of Biomedical Engineering is becoming its own independent school, the Nancy E. and Peter C. Meinig School of Biomedical Engineering. The school will offer an undergraduate major in biomedical engineering and the curriculum will include options for four biomedical-related concentrations. Cornell University’s new School of Biomedical Engineering, together with the BEST Program, aims to prepare students for a future career in the Bio/Med and healthcare industry.

About The Authors

Kenneth Yancey is a PhD student in the Luo Lab in the department of biological and environmental engineering. His professional interests include areas relating to diagnostics, drug delivery and development. Kenneth received his master's in Chemistry from Clarkson University. 

Susi Varvayanis has been with Cornell since 1988 and is currently the senior director for the BEST Program. Previously, she was the business development officer at the Institute of Biotechnology and the liaison to the McGovern Center for Venture Development in the Life Sciences, which is the Cornell business incubator. Susi has also managed the Presidential Life Science Fellowship Program and the Center for Advanced Technology NYSTAR Award.  At the Pre-See Workshop (PSW) in Switzerland, which she helped launch, Susi was responsible for technology transfer, science communication, advancement of women in science, and education and training efforts. Susi obtained her master's in Microbiology and Immunology from Georgetown University.

Dr. Avery August has been professor and chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology since July 2010. Previously, he was distinguished professor of immunology in the Department of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences and director of the Center for Molecular Immunology and Infectious Disease at Pennsylvania State University. He received his doctorate in Immunology from the Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences. He was a postdoctoral fellow at The Rockefeller University with the late Hidesaburo Hanafusa. 

About Cornell University 

Headquarters: Ithaca, NY.

Cornell is a private, Ivy League university and the land-grant university for New York State. Cornell’s mission is to discover, preserve, and disseminate knowledge; produce creative work; and promote a culture of broad inquiry throughout and beyond the Cornell community. Cornell also aims, through public service, to enhance the lives and livelihoods of their students, the people of New York, and others around the world. Cornell’s faculty, students, alumni, and staff strive toward these objectives in a context of freedom with responsibility. Cornell University foster initiative, integrity, and excellence, in an environment of collegiality, civility, and responsible stewardship. As the land-grant university for the state of New York, Cornell  applies the results of the university’s endeavors in service to alumni, the community, the state, the nation, and the world.

NYS Employees: 1628 faculty, 8103 staff
Number of Students: 21,593
Website:  www.cornell.edu / www.BEST.cornell.edu
Twitter: @Cornell / @Cornell_BEST

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