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Cornell University

The BEST Program

It's time to rethink, retrain, and be ready for tomorrow's careers.

Our mission: Enhance training opportunities for graduate students and postdoctoral scholars to prepare for careers outside of conventional academic research.

We began as part of an NIH-funded consortium of 17 universities charged with coming up with bold and innovative approaches to increase student and postdoc exposure to multiple career options for PhDs. As of 2018-19, Cornell BEST has the support of Cornell's Provost to go university-wide inclusive of all disciplines. From the start the Cornell BEST Program has been flexible, customized, and experientially oriented.

First, we hope to better inform you about the wide variety of career options that require or benefit from advanced degree training. Second, we aim to provide opportunities for doctoral students & postdocs to obtain real experience in a chosen career path.

Our program aims to engage PhD students and postdocs at two levels:


To better inform doctoral students and postdocs about the wide variety of career options that require or benefit from PhD training. It is our experience that many PhD students come into their chosen fields because they “like” them, but liking something is not a career. Many see academia as the only path forward and become frustrated when it doesn’t feel like a good fit for them or when that path seems closed. We hope to help BEST participants learn about the wide variety of careers including but not limited to industry, non-profits, government, communication, policy, consulting, regulatory affairs, and other areas that are available to PhDs as professionals. Perhaps after exploring career paths in more depth, the decision to pursue an academic career is galvanized. In any case, it will be a more informed decision and you will have gained additional skills along the way that can help you in any career.


To provide opportunities for graduate students & postdocs to obtain real experience in a chosen career path. It might be to learn the 'lingo' of the field to ultimately better communicate with others, or it might be a longer experience. This could include BESTernships in industry, non-profits or startup companies, or experience with writing, policy/advocacy, etc. The goal is to give participants the experience needed to be sure this is the career path they would like to pursue, as well as credible expertise that would increase the chances of obtaining a job in that field. 


There are no requirements in the program, aside from our expectation of professionalism and a commitment to sharing your career outcomes and future advice as an alum once you have found your career. Participants can opt to focus a single pathway (through workshops, courses, customized BESTernships) and/or sample each of the pathways in less detail (primarily through lectures). Participant initiated project experiences are encouraged, subject to program staff approval and available funding.

Get Involved

  1. Connect with us via the application link to help guide us on your needs and interests. Don't worry if you do not yet have a fleshed out idea; submitting the incomplete questionnaire (e.g. without filling out the last three questions) will in no way preclude you from a deeper involvement at a later time.
  2. Request to join our BEST LinkedIn Group by clicking on the blue LinkedIn logo at the top right of this page. Instead of receiving individual messages every time there is an interesting opportunity, you can see them posted here and can opt to receive weekly digests. It is also a chance to engage in discussions and actively participate in topics of interest.
  3. You can be added to multiple BEST Listservs based on the tracks you are most interested in. This is done automatically if you have submitted an application. There is a BEST-all list and specific listservs for each pathway: Policy; Industry, Entrepreneurship & Management; Communication; and Governance, Risk and Compliance.
  4. Visit this website frequently to see past and upcoming events and opportunities on the calendar link at the top of this page. As your schedule allows, participate in the ones that help you rule in/rule out a particular career pathway and ones that help you acquire the skills needed for your future success.
  5. Make an appointment with BEST Program staff to learn how BEST can connect you with specific resources needed, and how you can be empowered to take control of your career success.
  6. You qualify as a "BESTie" if you have completed a BEST application (step one above), attended one or more BEST supported events, and have had an individual consultation with BEST Program staff to customize the program to your specific needs. The most active BESTies are awarded a certificate of participation each year.

History of Cornell BEST

Though the initial NIH grant was focused on life science and biomedical researchers, the intent of the Cornell program was always to become institutionalized. Therefore from 2014-2018 the Graduate School, CALS, ENG, A&S, VET and CHE offered additional support to broaden the offering to include all STEM PhD students and post doctoral scholars across campus to broaden the pilot. Having individuals who are from a myriad of fields participate in seminars, workshops, site visits etc. adds value to the programming. This value has been underscored via funding from the Provost to expand university-wide to include all disciplines and embed within the graduate school career and professional programming starting in 2018-19.

Metrics for Success

Evaluation of the program is extensive, to increase program effectiveness, and to gauge the effect on the scientific careers of trainees in the long and medium terms. Trainees are expected to participate in long-term impact studies by sharing their career outcomes.