Some doctoral students at the University of California, Davis, are going far beyond campus labs and academia. They are engaging in practical work at a leading pharmaceutical company, studying air pollution for a state agency and researching malaria in Uganda.
The Career Exploration Through Internships, or CETI, program, a new career development and paid internship program at UC Davis, is part of a growing trend of university programs helping doctoral students consider a variety of careers.
"It's very empowering and motivating," Monica Pombo, who will graduate in June with a degree in pharmacology and toxicology, said of the program.
The CETI program meets a need as universities are producing more doctoral graduates as the share of tenure-track jobs is declining. The program augments well-established professional development programs for graduate students at UC Davis.
"Our program responds directly to national calls for graduate schools to help prepare their students — especially doctoral students — for a broad range of career opportunities," said Jeffery Gibeling, vice provost for Graduate Education and dean of Graduate Studies at UC Davis.
Funded by a $100,000 grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the CETI program is a collaboration of Graduate Studies and the Internship and Career Center at UC Davis in partnership with UC San Francisco's School of Medicine.
UC Davis is a leading university for participation in undergraduate internships, and CETI is one of four campus programs to offer internships for graduate students, including FUTURE (Frontiers of University Training to Unlock the Research Enterprise), the Designated Emphasis in Biotechnology and the Research and Innovation Fellowship for Agriculture.
State government intern analyzes air pollution in border communities
Working for the California Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, Pombo is using her native Spanish to collect and analyze data on Mexican emissions that may be contributing to air pollution affecting the health of California border communities.
"I've been in the lab for a long, long time, so I've been eager to change the environment," she said. "The work is all based on the betterment of communities and children's lives. I really like the work experience and looking at things with a different perspective."
George Alexeeff, director of the Cal/EPA office where Pombo is interning, has some 20 interns working with his staff. "Part of it is helping emerging scientists," he said. "This can be an important time for them to think through their options."
CETI is open to doctoral students in nine science and engineering programs. About 20 students a year participate in workshops to explore career options, develop a resume and gain skills in job search techniques. Participants take the Myers-Brigg Type Indicator assessment and create an individual development plan for their career.
Students then serve three- to six-month paid internships in industry, government or nongovernmental organizations. The supporting foundation provides one stipend for an internship with a nongovernmental organization that is unable to pay the student.
Helping malaria patients in Uganda internship
Jason Mooney, an immunology student, said the workshops helped him home in on his desire to help others through science. "The most striking thing I realized was how much work true career exploration can be," he said. "CETI showed me that networking and informational interviews are not only doable for a graduate student, but extremely helpful."
Now on his internship, Mooney is helping establish methodologies for monitoring blood-borne bacteria in pediatric malaria patients in Uganda. He is working with the International Center for Excellence for Malaria Research, a malaria surveillance program funded by the National Institutes of Health.
"The internship experience so far has been amazing," Mooney said. He has visited three hospitals in Kampala, Jinja and Tororo; met with hospital administrators, physicians and lab personnel; and seen the sick children who would benefit from his work. "In all, it's truly been a life-changing experience," he said.
In corporate labs
Rose Savoy is one of two students who will complete internships with pharmaceutical manufacturer Genentech. At the Vacaville facility, she is helping to develop methods to reduce the time it takes to get results from quality-control tests for drug purity.
"A lab at a university and a lab in industry are different," said Savoy, noting the rigorous regulations and training for the Genentech lab. "Getting in that mindset is really valuable for working in future jobs," she added.
Brandon Brown, a student of pharmacology and toxicology, participates in CETI and is working toward the designated emphasis in biotechnology. He turned CETI's requirement to conduct an informational interview in his industry of choice and persistent networking into an internship at Genentech's South San Francisco facility beginning in June.
Working in a neuroscience lab, he will be focusing on the electrical properties of cells and tissues and studying potential therapies for Alzheimer's disease.
Brown credits his fellow CETI students with helping him pursue and find an internship. "Just having that network and discussion — we kind of pushed each other," he said.