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News & Press: University News

VA Bio Helps VCU’s School of Medicine Graduate Students Learn Critical Networking Skills

Tuesday, December 01, 2015  
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The Graduate Student Programming Board on the MCV Campus in conjunction with Career Services at VCU coordinated a Networking 101 event. Several dozen students in VCU’s School of Medicine attended the recent event that offered tips to meet and mingle with potential employers – and then a chance to practice what they’d learned with members of VA Bio.

“Last year, it became clear that students and post-docs are seeking opportunities to connect with professionals working in the bioscience field. These professionals are looking to connect with the talent we have here at VCU, strengthening the bioscience workforce pipeline in Virginia,” said Katybeth Lee, associate director, Health Sciences Career & Professional Development. “This event was intended to meet both these objectives, capitalizing on VCU's strong partnership with VA Bio, conveniently located on the MCV Campus.”

Sri Lakshmi Chalasani, a Ph.D. candidate in pharmacology and toxicology, acknowledged that many graduate students are more comfortable in the lab than schmoozing with potential employers. “We’re spending up to 14 hours a day on our work,” she said. “Sometimes we don’t know what’s happening outside.”

At the networking session, Lee encouraged attendees to use those skills they’ve developed through years of study and labwork. “You are scientists,” she told the group. “Consider networking as an alternate form of data collection.”

She encouraged students to be prepared with engaging conversation starters, a knowledge of reception etiquette and a plan to break into (or out of) conversations with others.

And when it comes to conversation, “The key to networking is finding common ground,” Lee told students.

“There’s a growing sensitivity that our graduates, both at the master’s and doctorate level, will not all end up in academia. It’s simply a matter of numbers,” said Jan Chlebowski, Ph.D., the medical school’s associate dean for graduate education. “However, the skill sets that these people are developing are very marketable in a wide variety of areas. Our students have a thirst for any kind of information about any alternatives that are out there.”

Allen Owens, a fifth-year pharmacology and toxicology candidate who plans to graduate next year, has been active in programs for career development. “Being a part of these programs has helped me solidify career goals,” he said. Owens already has an internship with a VA Bio company, which he hopes may become a full-time job after graduation.

After the 30-minute Networking 101 crash course, students were released into a reception attended by dozens of VA Bio industry representatives, also known as “Biotech and Beer”. They shook hands. They chatted. They collected contact info and made plans to stay in touch. VA Bio organizations were pleased, said Chlebowski, and hope to keep communications channels open.

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