Networking at Joint Pathways to Success and BEST Symposium

By Luisa Torres, PhD

Professional development is an important part of student life.  In the tough job market for people with PhDs, there is a need for aspiring professionals to market themselves well to beat the competition.  The Pathways to Success (P2S) and 5th annual BEST symposium, that took place on June 6th, 2018 on Cornell’s main campus, was aimed at helping with this effort.  Attendees learned about careers in government and industry, identifying transferrable skills, using social media, conducting informational interviews, and building professional networks to learn about different career paths.  “Our hope was to engage grad students and postdocs from all fields to help them realize their skills are needed in a broad variety of careers, whether in government or non-governmental organizations, in consulting or industry, whether they are internationals or want to become academics,” says the Executive Director of the BEST program, Susi Varvayanis.

This was the first time the BEST Program’s annual symposium was fully integrated with the graduate school pathways to success framework. “Pathways to Success is the Graduate School’s comprehensive professional development platform,” explains Sara Xayarath Hernandez, Associate Dean for Inclusion and Student Engagement. It includes four focus areas: Navigate Academia, Build Your Skills, Create Your Plan, and Prepare for Your Career. “Many of these programs also support the development of one or more of the transferable skills that are part of the Pathways to Success framework, such as developing an entrepreneurial mindset, and skills in leadership, resilience, communications, and more,” Associate Dean Hernandez says.

Associate Dean Hernandez explaining the P2S framework. Photo: Susi Varvayanis

The symposium featured a variety of speakers, many of which were Cornell graduates interested in giving back to the Cornell community.  The organization of the event was a collaborative effort between the sponsors, which included regular meetings to decide on the structure, format and content. The organizers considered participant feedback from previous symposiums and requests from graduate students and postdocs to decide what topics to cover during the event and which speakers to invite.

I witnessed many positive interactions between the attendees and the speakers, and several of the invited panelists asked for an additional information session for recruiting PhDs to their company. I saw many of them having conversations with students and postdocs both after the lunch hour and the networking session. Sabrina Solouki, 4th year graduate student in the department of Immunology and Infectious disease interested in patent law, met Dr. Elysa Goldberg, a patent attorney at Regeneron and one of the symposium panelists. “We talked for about an hour after lunch. She put me in contact with another girl who is partner at a patent firm. I like the fact that I got to meet people that were willing to help me. I’m going to make it my goal to take advantage of the fact that most people want to help when they can,” says Sabrina.

Dr. Ana Maria Porras, a postdoctoral researcher from the department of Biomedical Engineering, says that “the symposium gave me the skills and information I needed to expand my current efforts as a postdoctoral researcher beyond the laboratory into outreach settings both through social media and in person.”  She had the opportunity to connect with Gemima Philippe, communications associate at AAAS and one of the speakers, with whom she still interacts on social media.

Although the symposium included networking time with the speakers, “there have been several requests to increase the opportunity for discussion with them, and to have a networking lunch without a talk, “says Susi. “We ended up having so many fabulous speakers that we might have shortchanged the interactive component, even though we factored in 15 minutes after each session and three half-hour networking breaks. It was a packed day!”