Developing Future Biologists opens new vistas in STEM

Most students who start in STEM do not fully realize the breadth of scientific career opportunities available to them. I know for myself while growing up in Pakistan, I thought the only careers in science were either medicine or engineering. I remember being super excited in my biology class when I started learning the details of what goes on inside a cell. However, when I used to think about a future in biology, the only path for me seemed to lead toward becoming a physician, and that path did not appeal to me.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, there is a vast ocean of careers in STEM. Now, as a graduate student at the University of Michigan (U-M), I realize that I was not alone in thinking that becoming a physician or an engineer are the only career options in STEM. To tackle this misconception, Andrea Ramos, a former graduate student at the University of Michigan, created the organization called Developing Future Biologists (DFB) with the goal of eliminating barriers to a career in STEM. In line with this goal, the DFB short course was created. Andrea’s vision was to provide hands-on research experience in developmental biology to undergraduate students who did not have access to these opportunities at their own colleges or universities, providing them with research experience and making other research opportunities more attainable.

The DFB course is an intense week full of a variety of learning experiences. During the week, the students attend introductory lectures on developmental biology, perform corresponding hands-on lab experiments, and attend various professional development sessions and career panels. Some of the professional development sessions include how to write a good CV and personal statement. A big part of DFB week-long courses are the career panels. These panels include (but are not limited to) various career options in STEM and Meet-the-Scientist-Graduate Student. One of the most successful panels from last year was the Meet-the-Alumni panel. Participating students were really excited to meet various DFB alumni and had the opportunity to network and ask questions. This panel enabled interaction across previous DFB student cohorts and helped build a sense of community among students. By the end of the week, students were equipped with basic knowledge of developmental biology and, perhaps more importantly, were aware of the vast career opportunities available in STEM.

To further the mission of DFB, our team is currently working on planning events to help engage with our alumni throughout the year. These sessions will include various professional development opportunities, summer research opportunities, one-on-one mentoring, helping students with their personal statements, and meet-the-scientist sessions. The year-long programming enables us to extend our commitment to fostering the development of our DFB students throughout the entire year and further expose our alumni to STEM career options. As I mentioned previously, an important component of DFB’s mission is to teach students about possible career options in science other than medicine or engineering. Therefore, this programming will serve to highlight important career options such as academic or industry research, scientific consulting, patent work, journal or grant editor, and many more! Even among students who go to graduate school, career paths are becoming much less linear, and it is important to us that we make all these options as accessible as possible to our students.

Being a first-time instructor this year, I am super excited for this year’s course. Even though we will be online again, I am excited to engage with our course participants and involve the students with at-home hands-on research! DFB is thriving because of the support we have received form our partners over the years, including funds from an ASCB COMPASS Outreach Grant. DFB is exactly the type of program I wished I had when growing up in Pakistan, and I hope that our DFB course participants really enjoy this year’s course and learn about all the opportunities available to them.

About the Author:

Coming from Pakistan, where a career in science primarily consists of being a physician, Fatima Javed had no idea how broad the field actually was. It was here in the United States that she was exposed to the potential of what a scientist can achieve through research. Currently, Fatima is a fifth-year PhD candidate at the University of Michigan, working to understand how our immune cells go toward a site of injury or infection. As a proud Pakistani American, Fatima understands the limitations and hiccups eager minds can face in the field. That is why she is working with DFB to help eliminate barriers for a career in STEM for these young minds. Contact her on Twitter at @DFB_UM; @javedfatima2; Instagram at @dfb_UM or Facebook: @developingfuturebiologists