Is the BEST program for aspiring academics?

by Jody W. Enck, BEST Communications Specialist

Many more people graduate with PhD’s in the U.S. every year than there are open faculty positions in academia.  By default, many of those graduates will apply their expertise to careers in communication, policy, government, industry, entrepreneurship, consulting or other fields outside of academic settings.  In addition, quite a few people in PhD graduate programs never intend to pursue a career as a faculty member from the start.  These students can benefit from exposure to the diversity of careers that are available for PhDs outside of academia.

Most PhD graduates will work in nonacademic careers.

Cornell University hosts a program called “Broadening Experiences in Scholarly Training” (BEST) which provides this exposure.  Cornell BEST helps PhD students and postdoctoral scholars make the most informed decisions possible about their career paths.  The program is facilitative in nature rather than being prescriptive about what participants must do to complete it.  Our vision is to help PhD students and postdocs fall in love with their future careers.  It achieves this vision through flexibility, empowerment, and individualized service.  Successful participation results in BESTies who are more confident about, and better prepared to pursue, a career path of their choice.

Some people have wondered whether PhD students who are sure they want to seek a career as a professor should take the time to participate in BEST activities.  Others have asked legitimately whether BEST activities are a good use of time for postdocs and graduate students who already are very busy learning and developing specific skills which can really only emerge only from their engagement in academic research.

The short answer is that BEST is for all PhD students and postdocs regardless of whether they intend to pursue a career as a faculty member.  In addition to knowing how to conduct novel research, being a faculty member entails developing and demonstrating a host of other, complementary skills.  BEST provides opportunities for folks to engage in a suite of activities to help develop these complementary skills.

Even aspiring academics have much to gain by participating in the BEST Program at Cornell.

When current Cornell University President, Martha Pollack, was Provost at the University of Michigan, she issued a set of questions to the faculty there that led to the publication of a document called “Being a Faculty Member in the 21st Century.”  That document highlighted several of the non-research complementary skills that new faculty are expected to have, but for which they typically receive little or no training:

  • Experience or expertise in compliance, risk-monitoring and reporting.
  • Understanding how to establish collaborations or partnerships
  • Formal and informal mentoring
  • Service-oriented skills, such as participating in professional societies, conducting grant reviews, organizing committees and meetings, and participating in advisory roles.

Where does a PhD student or postdoc turn to develop these skills?  The BEST program can provide the answers.  Check us out at

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