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University Receives NSF Career Development Grant

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A team of students and faculty from the College of Arts and Sciences and the Graduate School at Stony Brook University recently received a $488,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for their project, The Ph.D. Career Ladder Program (PCLP): A Grassroots Approach to Career Development. The team is led by Nancy Goroff, chair of the Department of Chemistry; Kathleen Flint Ehm, director for Graduate and Postdoctoral Professional Development and faculty advisor for the Graduate Career Association; Bonita London, Associate Professor of Psychology; and Jennifer DeLeon, a postdoctoral scholar who recently completed her PhD in Molecular and Cellular Biology at Stony Brook University.

NSF grant team
​Standing, left to right: Alfreda James, Nancy Goroff, Kathleen Flint Ehm, Catherine Scott; seated: Jennifer DeLeon

PCLP is a grassroots peer-mentoring program founded by SBU graduate students that provides a safe place for graduate students to discuss career prospects and prepare for a competitive job market. The program encourages students to consider all of their options, including those that are not considered the traditional academic path. The grant will support both an expansion of PCLP to serve more students, and the creation of a new leadership training program for student group leaders.

Nadia Jaber Holden and DeLeon, both College of Arts and Sciences alum with PhDs in Molecular and Cellular Biology (MCB), developed the program four years ago while they were students.  Like many graduate students, Holden and DeLeon found themselves questioning their commitment to the standard academic career path but were unsure how to learn about other potential careers. Realizing that it would be easier together, they decided to assemble a small group of students to create a safe community where people would be comfortable exploring their career options in a structured way. Students found the program so helpful that MCB Graduate Program Director Wali Karzai institutionalized it for all MCB students.

Kathleen Flint Ehm worked with Holden and DeLeon and the leaders of the Graduate Career Association (GCA) to expand the program further to serve graduate students of all disciplines. The GCA’s centralized version of PCLP and its potential for expansion and institutionalization provided Ehm and PI Goroff with the inspiration for a proposal to NSF. With the support of the new grant, the GCA’s PCLP group will start its third cohort on October 4 and will be joined by two new groups for students affiliated with the Center for Inclusive Education and with the NSF-funded Science, Training, and Research to Inform Decisions (STRIDE) program.

NSG grant group
Standing, left to right: Kathleen Ehm, Lyl Tomlinson,  Bonita London, Jennifer DeLeon; seated, left to right: Catherine Scott, Alfreda James.

Part of the success of PCLP, Ehm suggests, is that it serves a critical need to prepare graduate students for an increasingly diverse array of careers. “This is a model that every institution is looking for,” Ehm said. “It’s something that is really easily adaptable to not only different institutions, but to different disciplines.”

Holden, now a science writer for the National Cancer Institute, will continue to advise the project as part of its advisory committee. DeLeon, who is starting a postdoctoral fellowship at Oregon Health and Sciences University in Portland, will continue in her role as Co-PI and will lead the development of the train-the-trainer program. She will also serve on the PCLP leadership team, together with Goroff, Ehm, London, Catherine Scott from the Faculty Center, Alfreda James of the Career Center, and Lyl Tomlinson in Pharmacology and the Graduate School. Scott will serve as the project’s evaluator and work with London to evaluate the effectiveness of the program using metrics based on some of London’s research into issues of identity and belonging experienced by STEM graduate students. Goroff will lead the leadership team.

According to the National Science Foundation, the awards, part of the NSF Innovations in Graduate Education (IGE) Program, support projects that pilot, test and validate innovative and potentially transformative ways to teach science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in graduate education.

“These IGE projects address important challenges in graduate education: diversity, career pathways and transferrable skillsets,” said Jim Lewis, NSF acting assistant director for Education and Human Resources. “Learning more about what constitutes effective graduate education will enable us to prepare a STEM-capable workforce that can meet the evolving demands of a fast-paced, data-intensive, globally networked world.”

For more information on PCLP and to RSVP to the upcoming meeting on October 4, 2017 at 5pm in Wang Center room 201, visit

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