PhD Career Ladder Program

What is PCLP?

PCLP is short for PhD Career Ladder Program, and was founded in 2015 by GCA member Nadia Jaber and Jennifer DeLeon. PCLP is a step-by-step peer mentorship program to discover different career options, and meets monthly for 9 months over the academic year beginning in the fall.

For news including information sessions and meeting dates, check their Facebook page or official website.

A Brief History

Many PhD students would like to explore their career paths outside of academia, but few of them know what they are interested in or how to prepare for job hunting. This is how Nadia Jaber, a recent graduate of the Molecular and Cellular Biology PhD program at Stony Brook, felt during her third year of study. She realized that she did not want to stay on the academic track, but didn’t know what other careers were available to PhDs. She felt alone in these thoughts, and thought that it meant she should quit the PhD program. She also learned that for every available opening for a tenure-track professorship in the United States, there are roughly seven graduate students ready to squeeze into that spot, making the academic track even less plausible. After a while, Nadia brought it up in a conversation to her labmate and friend, Jennifer DeLeon, another MCB student, and was surprised to learn that Jen was thinking the same way. With their shared interest in preparing for a non-academic career, Nadia and Jen decided to learn about non-academic career options and how to achieve them. They searched and shared information on alternative non-academic careers, went to career development events, and took the IDP test for career exploration. They discussed what each of them had learned, offered feedback and advice, and held one another accountable to their personal goals and aspirations. After months of self-led career exploration, Nadia and Jen realized that their method of career development may be useful for their fellow graduate students. Having talked to fellow students, they knew that many others were also interested in non-academic careers and career preparation.

Nadia created the PhD Career Ladder Program (PCLP), a student-run career development program founded on peer support and incremental progress.

Nadia and Jen ran a pilot program with seven MCB students, leading them through a series of monthly meetings to communally explore and prepare for their futures. The program is “designed to teach students the core skills of career development, such as self-exploration, skill building, and communicating self-worth”. Students sharing same or similar career interests were encouraged to group and work together for information collection and skill set buildup. The program is divided into nine steps, which each step building upon the last one, such that students in the program are actively progressing in career development. The steps are:

  1. Self-assessment: My IDP assessment

  2. Career Match Research: Learn more about career matches via online research

  3. Informational Interviews: Connect with a professional in the field of interest to gain an insider’s perspective

  4. Skill Identification: Identify the core skills required for the career of interest; identify individual skill strengths and weaknesses

  5. Skill Building: Accomplish a task that enhances desired skills

  6. Using LinkedIn: Learn how to use LinkedIn to its greatest potential

  7. Resume Writing: Learn how to communicate the skills and experiences; group-led constructive criticism on individual resumes

  8. Networking: Discuss tips for networking online and in person

  9. Plan for the Future: Draft a list of career development goals and create a detailed plan to achieve them

After a successful pilot in 2014, Nadia and Jen are re-running the program with a new group of MCB students for 2015. The director of the MCB graduate program, Dr. Wali Karzai, has integrated PCLP into the MCB graduate program, requiring it as training for fellowship-supported students and recommended for all.

For more information on PCLP, including how to start the program for your own university or department, see phdladder.wixsite.com/phdladder.