Startup Check-in: WorkReadyGrad and BEST

A loyal reader of The Pioneer may find the name Brian Srikanchana familiar. He was featured two years ago for launching WorkReadyGrad, a startup that uses a website to bridge the gap between students and industry before graduation. More specifically, the end goal is that students would be equipped with a professional network and the proper skills to enter the workforce. Srikanchana, a 2008 Georgia Tech BME alumnus, is now using the technology of WorkReadyGrad to assess a different problem: the life science doctorate “brain drain”.

Most doctoral programs solely encourage graduate students to pursue a career in academic research, yet the National Science Foundation reports that only 14% of engineers remain in academia after they graduate with a PhD.

However, because these programs focus exclusively on training potential doctorates for academia, many graduates enter the industry unprepared.

Their lack of connections in and exposure to the various professions that PhDs can hold in the life sciences cause them to remain oblivious to a majority of jobs offers. Some PhDs even become discouraged and settle for jobs for which they are overqualified. As such, the root of the problem – the life science “brain drain” – rests in myopic PhD programs.

The Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training (BEST) program, led by Dr. Nael McCarty at Emory, addresses this problem for the biomedical workforce. BEST does this by taking 50 applicants, both predoctoral and postdoctoral, from Georgia Tech and Emory each year and exposing them to different biomedical and pharmaceutical institutions in Atlanta. The program also engages faculty members by helping them train their graduate students for the needs of the modern life science workforce.

This semester, BEST is exploring the use of WorkReadyGrad, though tailored to the needs of its PhD trainees, in the form of

“The technology is basically the same, but the demographics are different,” said Srikanchana. Employers are encouraged to define their ideal post-doctorate candidate so that PhD trainees can learn what qualities they need to develop based on industry demand while they still have time. PhD alumni from Georgia Tech and Emory are sought out to submit their “success stories,” describing their current work, how they gained employment, what made them stand out to employers, and what they wished they had known when they were in graduate school. Trainees are then encouraged to create a digital resume in this platform, where employers receive notifications when talent exists matching their ideal candidate descriptions for job offers.

Beyond being an online tool to connect PhD trainees with employers and PhD professionals, WorkReadyPhD seeks to usher PhD trainees out of their labs and over to programming with Georgia Bio’s Emerging Leaders Network (ELN). Within ELN, PhD trainees, postdoctoral scientists, and biomedical practicing professionals build relationships with each other around shared interest areas and spur innovation, all the while expanding their professional networks. Thus, BEST and WorkReady PhD have the capacity to make a difference in school-to-industry transitions.