Students Discuss BEST Program in Podcast

When Science Speaks: Episode 30, Why Cornell's Student-Led BEST Program is so Successful

By Katya Hrichak

Six graduate students were recently given the opportunity to speak about their experiences with Cornell’s Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training (BEST) program in episode 30 of “When Science Speaks”, a podcast series created and hosted by Mark Bayer ’92 of Bayer Strategic Consulting.

The episode, titled “Why Cornell’s Student-Led BEST Program is so Successful”, explored the ways in which BEST prepares participants for careers outside academia through experiential and skill-building programs. Having begun as an NIH-funded career exploration program for doctoral students and postdoctoral scholars in the biomedical and STEM fields, Cornell’s BEST program has recently become part of the Graduate School and expanded to include participants from arts, humanities, and social science disciplines as well.

“I study the water quality impacts of fracking, so that’s something that’s not well-understood in the general public, and it’s very scary to a lot of people because it’s so technical,” said Marika Nell, doctoral candidate in civil and environmental engineering. “BEST has really given me a different set of perspectives on the problems that I’m trying to solve and a different set of tools for interacting with people who might have contaminated water or communicating with the broader public so they can understand the issues at hand.”

Other students remarked on the usefulness of BEST’s programming, noting in particular the opportunities to learn more about communicating research to more general audiences.

“[Communication-centric] events aren’t always easy to access, and to have them all in one place is super useful,” said Andy Sanchez, a doctoral student in chemical and biomolecular engineering.

By allowing participants to design and organize their own programs, BEST participants are given additional opportunities to develop skills in communicating, creating new networks, and the practical experience of event planning, all while gaining a deeper understanding of potential career fields that they personally might be interested in.

“I think I always knew that I wasn’t interested in academia necessarily, but it was hard for me to pin down what exactly I did want,” said Janani Hariharan, a doctoral student in soil and crop sciences. “I’m really enjoying this exploratory phase of getting to talk to people doing different things, [and] attend events where panels of people get to present about their work … You get ideas for new career paths that you can possibly pursue one day.”

According to BEST Executive Director Susi Varvayanis, becoming involved in BEST also means participants are immediately part of a large network of current and former Cornell BEST participants embarking on various career paths, which facilitates connections for job searches.

The full podcast can be found on the Bayer Strategic Consulting website, and more information on the BEST program can be found on their website.

BEST participants featured in podcast
Left to right: Janani Hariharan, Gael Nicolas, Joseph Long, Andy Sanchez, Marika Nell, and Celine Cammarata.

Katya Hrichak is a communications assistant in the Graduate School.