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The “Effective Career Planning for PhDs” course aims to encourage proactive career planning by equipping trainees with the information, resources, confidence, and self-assessment necessary to make informed career choices both inside and beyond academia. After completing self-assessment exercises, PhD student and postdoc course participants undertake career exploration activities, such as informational interviewing, researching and then presenting summaries of PhD-level career paths, and attending a career panel. The course culminates with an IDP poster session where each student presents at least two careers of interest, career-related SMART goals, and self-assessment information in a visual IDP format. You may want to implement this model if you seek to guide students through the career exploration process via an instructor-facilitated approach that leverages a variety of methods for career investigation, self-assessment, and synthesis to assess career fit.



Instructor-facilitated course/series

Course sessions include instructor-facilitated discussions, group activities, student presentations, and self-reflection activities.



  • Eight sessions (2 hours each)
  • Homework assignments (30 min-2 hours each)
  • Facilitator (at least 1)
  • Learners: 10-14 participants, potentially adaptable for more
  • CliftonStrengths-certified facilitator for one session (optional)
  • Employers/ alumni/ professionals for career panel (4-5)
  • Guest facilitators for poster session (one per 5 students)

Typical course preparation time

Recruitment of career panelists and other guests

  Content Structure (homework, in-person session)
Session 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
Competency and Featured Approaches
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Values card sort


Imposter phenomenon and resilience

Risk taking, barriers to action

Possible selves


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Online presence, LinkedIn

Elevator pitches


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Career panel

Online Research

Informational Interviews

Career research presentations

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Group Discussion

IDP Poster Session

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SMART goals

IDP Poster Session




Evidence of Effectiveness

This Model has been implemented five times over the past eight years with graduate students and postdocs in the biomedical sciences at Scripps Research, and its precursor workshop series taught more than 25 times in the years prior. Pre-post quantitative surveys show positive student self-perceived knowledge gains in all learning goal areas, and separate assessments by the Graduate School indicate high student satisfaction. This Model has been previously published in Nature Biotechnology (2018)

Model Development

The model was developed initially in 2015 by Ryan Wheeler and Jean Branan at Scripps Research, building on precursor workshop series at Scripps and inspired by other course-like models presented at Graduate Career Consortium conferences. Over its five iterations, the model has been further refined by Wheeler along with Jean Branan, Delaney Dann, Jeanelle Horcasitas, Briana Konnick, Xinrui Li, and Michael Matrone.

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About the Fellow

Ryan Wheeler brings more than 20 years of experience working with graduate students and postdocs in the biomedical sciences to his role as Fellow of this pd|hub Collection. He conceptualized, co-directed, and co-published this course.

Learn more about Ryan Wheeler
Ryan Wheeler

Ryan Wheeler

The pd|hub Collections are being developed with support from an Innovative Programs to Enhance Research Training (IPERT) award from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIH 1 R25 GM139076-01). The information, opinions, data, and statements contained herein are not necessarily those of the U.S. Government or the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and should not be interpreted, acted on, or represented as such.

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