Program equips grad students, postdocs with tools for finding meaningful careers

Graduate students and postdoctoral scholars can apply for the 2024 Accelerate to Industry: Immersion Week program through March 18
Accelerate to Industry Immersion Week

The Graduate School will host Accelerate to Industry Immersion Week again in May 2024, and the program will be open to master’s and doctoral students nearing completion of their degrees as well as postdoctoral scholars. Interested students and postdoctoral scholars can apply through March 18 on the A2i Immersion Week website.  

Credit: The Graduate School

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Forty-five graduate students and postdoctoral scholars participated in an immersive, industry career preparation program organized by the Graduate School and held May 8-12, 2023, on the University Park campus. Throughout the weeklong program, known as Accelerate to Industry: Immersion Week, participants learned from Graduate School alumni, career services professionals and industry representatives about what it takes to be successful in industry careers.

The Accelerate to Industry (A2i) program was originally founded by the North Carolina State University Graduate School and has since been adopted by dozens of graduate schools across the U.S. The Graduate School first launched the program at Penn State in 2022.

“At Immersion Week, graduate students and postdoctoral scholars can learn how to succeed in professional environments outside of academia by gaining perspectives from alumni, industry leaders and career professionals,” said Lesley Jackson, associate director for graduate student career and professional development in the Graduate School and A2i program lead. “Attendees can devote themselves to their career and professional development among a supportive and interdisciplinary community of peers and professionals.”

Finding confidence in the job search

As he approached graduation, Bharadwaj Mudumba, a master’s degree student in computer science at Penn State Harrisburg, was considering different career search strategies.

“Many questions ran through my mind, like how to apply for jobs, how good my resume is, and whether I am on the right path in the search process,” he said.

Mudumba got answers to his questions after attending Industry Immersion Week. He and the other 44 participants learned about critical career skills and heard personal experiences on topics that included leveraging professional networks, innovation in the workplace, emotional intelligence, salary negotiations, entrepreneurship for scholars and more. The week also included mock interviews and a resume review session with alumni and Career Services staff, as well as an interdisciplinary team project that culminated in a presentation pitch.

“The process of finding a job is difficult, but attending this program has helped me realize that we are not alone in this journey. There are many people who are willing to offer their assistance,” said Mudumba. “The program provided me not only with techniques to find employment but also with the organizational skills necessary for a successful transition from academia to industry.”

Mudumba said some of his takeaways from the week included learning interview tips during the mock interview session and strategies for building his professional network.

Learning the ropes of career exploration

Rachael Bishop came to Penn State to pursue a graduate education that would allow her to find a career at the intersection of two passions: communication practices and health care. As a doctoral student in communication arts and sciences, as well as a translational research training scholar with the Clinical and Translational Science Institute, Bishop is seeking a career with a health-based federal agency that has a strong research component.

“I’m interested in translational science, and specifically how to move discoveries through a pipeline to get them to the end-users who can most benefit, and so I thought industry or government would be the best path that aligned with my values and goals,” she said.

Bishop was intrigued when she heard about the A2i Immersion Week program, and so she applied.

“I was looking for experiences of people who have gone through the job search process, and to get hands-on training about how to market what I can do and what I’ve done and show what I could contribute to a company,” Bishop said.

Like Mudumba, Bishop felt more confident about career exploration after attending A2i Immersion Week.

“A2i showed me that I have value as a person and a scholar and a potential employee right now,” she said. “I don’t need to wait until I get my degree or until I have 10 years of experience. Who I am and what I do now is meaningful, and I learned that I should not take myself out of the running for a career before I have a chance to see where it might go.”

Bishop was glad the week gave her a chance to put extra time into her career exploration during her doctoral program.

“Participating really encouraged me to prioritize the career search, because I found that there’s always going to be another project, another deadline in my graduate education,” she said. “I took the time to dig down and map out my future and connect my personal mission and values to those of an organization or company. A2i has helped me inventory who I am and what I’m looking for and determine the steps to make that happen.

Benefiting students, postdocs and employers

Axient Corp., a leader in the defense and aerospace sector, sponsored Immersion Week in 2022 and 2023. One reason for this, said Jay Kovacs, Axient's chief innovation officer, is the perspective it gives to employers.

“Through Accelerate to Industry, employers gain insight and access to graduate students who are representative of the graduate education community at large,” said Kovacs, who earned a master of management degree from Penn State Great Valley. “This can provide an awareness to the types of challenges and gaps in knowledge that may exist, allowing companies the opportunity to be better prepare to identify, recruit and then bring on board new employees fresh from graduate school.”

As a sponsor, Axient developed a pitch presentation project for the week that students completed in small, interdisciplinary teams. Kovacs also spoke about strategies that companies use to foster innovation in the workplace, and he said his interactions with students throughout the week were inspiring to him.

“Every year I am amazed at the background, experiences and enthusiasm of the attendees of the program,” said Kovacs. “The diversity of thought and experiences is very refreshing. They ask very thoughtful and insightful questions and are clearly very highly motivated and talented individuals.”

The Graduate School will again host Accelerate to Industry: Immersion Week in May 2024, and the program will be open to master’s and doctoral students nearing completion of their degrees as well as postdoctoral scholars. Interested students and postdoctoral scholars can apply through March 18 on the A2i Immersion Week website.