Johns Hopkins University’s Biomedical Careers Initiative, a Robust PhD Talent Pipeline for the Region’s Life Science Industry

For Ph.D. students, deciding to leave the familiar environment of academia to pursue a career in the industry can be daunting. Often, Ph.D. students are so engrossed in their academic work they are simply unsure of what non-academic opportunities are out there and don’t know how to explore or test these options.

The Johns Hopkins University (JHU ) Biomedical Careers Initiative, or BCI, is a robust internship program that exists to help JHU biomedical Ph.D. candidates and postdoctoral fellows better understand career options outside of academia while also providing real-world, industry experiences to explore and assess.

“BCI provides opportunities for students to go out and test what might be a great fit for them. When you’re in the lab working toward your PhD you get to see what academia is like but you might also have an interest in working in science policy, for example. You might get to attend an info session to hear about working at a venture capital firm, but that doesn’t allow you to experience working there yourself…We want to provide an opportunity for students to actually go and experience a job and prototype it to see if it’s a great fit,” stated Dr. Rhiannon Mayhugh, Assistant Director of Experiential Learning at JHU School of Medicine’s (SOM) Professional Development and Career Office (PDCO).

“We want our interns to build new skills in their chosen field, which they can bring back to the lab and make them more competitive in the job market. We also encourage students to do informational interviews during the internship to help them build their professional network, which is another important part of career exploration and making the transition into a new field,” she added. 

The program launched in 2013 and is housed within the PDCO. Dr. Peter Espenshade, JHU SOM’s current Associate Dean for Graduate Biomedical Education and Professor of Cell Biology, and Dr. Arhonda Gogos, current JHU SOM Deputy Director of the Biochemistry, Cellular and Molecular Biology Graduate Program, spearheaded BCI’s creation. The program was initially supported by the JHU Office of the Provost’s Ph.D. Professional Development Innovation Initiative, which still supports the program in its effort to “…ensure that Johns Hopkins Ph.D. students, while immersed in their training, can learn about, have exposure to, and begin to explore a range of career options relevant for their field, and for their lives.” 

Since 2013, BCI has helped more than 80 JHU trainees obtain paid internship positions across a wide range of non-academic, industry fields, including biotechnology and pharma, science policy, and consulting, among others. The program is highly structured and designed to provide tailored support to both interns and BCI intern host companies, which include some of the BioHealth Capital Region’s (BHCR) best-known companies. 

The PDCO office encourages Ph.D. students to start exploring career options and thinking about internships early on when they are in their first or second year. This allows them to plan ahead for their internships that are typically engaged in the later years of their training. Mayhugh meets with Ph.D. students interested in the internship program to do some discovery about their goals, timing, and needs. She also helps interns with developing their resumes, coordinating with their lab and mentors to ensure continuity between the internship and their Ph.D. work, and preparing for internship interviews. Mayhugh and BCI’s goal is to make the internship application process as close to a real job application process as possible. 

BCI also puts a strong emphasis on assisting interns with making the transition from an academic environment to an industry culture, which can be challenging for some Ph.D. candidates.

“There is a lot of uncertainty. There is some fear of the unknown at first. Being able to test something out can help break down some of these fears and possible myths about working in the industry. An internship can really demystify the industry and help interns make a more informed decision,” stated Mayhugh.   

For BCI partner organizations seeking to hire interns, BCI and Mayhugh handle a great deal of the intern coordination and administrative work to save partner organizations time. For example, Mayhugh markets internship openings to PhDs for host organizations using listserve communications. What’s more, BCI interns can stay on their JHU stipend and health benefits during their 3-month, full-time internship; BCI only requests reimbursement from host organizations post-internship, which simplifies the entire process. 

Former BCI interns speak glowingly about the program and how it helped them crystallize their goals and paved the way for their current careers in the industry. 

Former BCI intern Dr. Leo Hagmann, who is now a Senior Scientist at Thrive Earlier Detection’s Baltimore location, shared this about his internship experience: “The BCI really allows students a low-risk way to experience these careers immersively, while handling the administrative overhead around health insurance, compensation, and leave timing. The selection of sponsoring organizations the BCI assembled was of high quality while providing a diversity of sectors to choose from, and my experience turned out to be even better than I had hoped.” 

“The biggest thing that the BCI internship helped me see was that a career in science outreach was possible. I had long assumed I would continue doing outreach as a hobby while working some other job. Thanks to the internship I did with the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, I was able to experience what a science outreach career looks like and be competitive when applying for positions while finishing up my Ph.D., shared Dr. Lily Raines, who is currently the Manager of the Office of Science Outreach at the American Chemical Society. 

Current Booz Allen Hamilton (BHA) Associate and former BCI BHA intern Felix Yu shared, “As a graduate student, my primary concerns when considering a non-academic career in the industry were whether my existing skillset from graduate school was translatable and whether I’ll receive support from my thesis PI and/or administrators at the University…The steps to initiate and gather relevant resources from scratch were the most daunting and difficult.”

“The BCI team offered me insight, comfort, and support to navigate the transition. I had the privilege to work with Pat Phelps and Caroline Pounds (ex-assistant Director) in the past and our working sessions offered me a safe space to rediscover my own abilities and limits outside of my thesis lab. From our conversations, I became more confident and was able to prepare myself more efficiently for the consulting industry. More importantly, they assisted me with working through any internship requirements with my thesis PI and department administrators, which alleviated any stress and potential complications,” added Yu.

“BCI does a great job connecting Ph.D. candidates to the many opportunities across so many non-academic, innovative fields in the region. Part of what makes our internship program great is that a lot of our opportunities are within commuting distance of Johns Hopkins. There are also so many Hopkins alumni that stay in the area so our interns can really utilize our alumni network,” stated Mayhugh. 

“The BCI program tries to facilitate the internship process to make it as easy as possible for the student and the host organization while remaining flexible for each,” she added. “We want our interns and host organizations to have great experiences that add value and are mutually beneficial.” 

BCI recruits interns for summer, fall, and winter/spring cycles and the internship program is still placing Ph.D. students at host companies despite COVID-19, as internships have moved to a virtual format to adhere to pandemic safety protocols and policies for the time being.

If you’re a current JHU Ph.D. student or post-doctoral fellow, or a company looking to become a BCI partner/host organization, please contact the BCI program at bci@jhmi.edu
Ph.D. students can review current internship openings you can click here.

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Steven Surdez

Steven Surdez

Principal at StoryCore
Steve has over 20 years experience in copywriting, developing brand messaging and creating marketing strategies across a wide range of industries, including the biopharmaceutical, senior living, commercial real estate, IT and renewable energy sectors, among others. He is currently the Principal/Owner of StoryCore, a Frederick, Maryland-based content creation and execution consultancy focused on telling the unique stories of Maryland organizations.

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