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During a seven-week period this spring, fifteen graduate students participated in team internships hosted by PRA Health Sciences and Enzerna Biosciences, Inc.

The internships, offered through The Graduate School’s CareerWell program, help graduate students become more employable and prepare them for the future of work.

CareerWell at The Graduate School
CareerWell at The Graduate School

Jason Cramer, The Graduate School’s director of experiential professional development, said CareerWell is meant to help participants build relevant, real-world experience through multidisciplinary team projects jointly designed by Cramer and CareerWell corporate partners.

“This is something they can do to build work experience while completing their degree requirements with the idea that it’s going to make them more competitive as they attempt to enter the labor market,” Cramer said.

Suzanne Barbour, dean of The Graduate School, said the student presentations to corporate partners emphasized the team-based approach to consulting work.

“So much of graduate education is working on ‘my’ project. It’s clear that you embraced this as ‘ours.’ … What we just saw was incredibly thorough and polished.”

Cramer explained that the CareerWell experience aims to prepare graduate students to pursue careers with partnering companies.

“There are some excellent learning experiences among the team members along the way,” Cramer said. “They strengthen existing skills and build new ones in areas such as leadership, marketing, project management, qualitative and quantitative data analysis, business communication, and more—all in a corporate context.”

PRA Health Sciences

Working on behalf of PRA Health Sciences, a global health care intelligence partner, students from disciplines ranging from public health to English and comparative literature facilitated a landscape analysis to determine bid proposal preferences among biotech and large-size pharmaceutical companies in the United States. In seven weeks, CareerWell teams surveyed and interviewed a variety of stakeholders at both biotech and large-size pharmaceutical companies and analyzed trends and preferences for bid proposals from contract research organizations (CROs).

PRA Health Sciences Director of Proposal Writing Gwen Tahmaseb said an important, and often absent, goal of graduate education is to meet evolving industry needs by preparing students with relevant knowledge and career skills.

“CareerWell takes that concept a step further by working directly with local industry to create clear, meaningful connections that benefit UNC-Chapel Hill graduate students and area corporations,” Tahmaseb said.

During the students’ online presentation, the PRA Health Sciences team shared their interview and survey process, study design, timeline, and identified trends, followed by time for conversation and discussion.

Alex Simmons, a master’s degree student in health administration, said he gained skills in speaking with clinical research partners for the PRA Health Sciences project.

“I felt like I was able to use my own understanding of issues, passion, and project management skills and apply it to this space,” Simmons said. “It’s been so enriching.”

Michaela Copp, a biomedical engineering PhD student who participated in the research, said she gained valuable experience that exposed her to a new field.

“I feel like I know so much more about the bid proposal process, and I would have not gotten that experience without these interviews,” Copp said.

Enzerna Biosciences

For Enzerna Biosciences, a graduate student team provided marketing recommendations for the rare disease industry, including how to best recruit patients with rare diseases for clinical trials. The student team also explored the regulatory landscape and how it has changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Yogitha Chareddy, the team lead for the Enzerna Biosciences project, is a second-year PhD student studying the genetics and molecular biology curriculum. Her interdisciplinary team built upon fall 2020 research. Specifically, Chareddy’s CareerWell team focused on myotonic dystrophy and Huntington’s disease, both rare, progressive diseases that affect muscles and the brain.

“I was really excited to be part of the fall team and to continue the process in the spring,” Chareddy said. 

Joseph C. Ruiz, the president of Enzerna Biosciences, said CareerWell’s educational and real-world opportunities can help achieve company goals.“By thoughtfully designing projects for student collaborations that encourage innovative research, the students gain valuable experience creating solutions to address roadblocks and Enzerna has access to new approaches to facilitate development of our candidate therapeutics,” Ruiz said.

He said the student team provided a fresh perspective to solving issues.

“The recommendations suggested by the student teams transformed our strategies for engaging the key stakeholders for our therapeutics—patients, their families and clinicians. For example, we followed the recommendations of the students to establish a social media presence and to engage with patient advocacy groups which will be essential as we advance to our first clinical trials.”

Jason Cramer, PhD, MEd, is the director of experiential professional development at The Graduate School and is also CareerWell’s founder. CareerWell is supported by Enzerna Biosciences, where Joseph C. Ruiz, PhD, is president. Gwen Tahmaseb, PhD, worked with CareerWell students for the first time during the spring 2021 semester. Suzanne Barbour, PhD, is also a professor in the UNC School of Medicine Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics. CareerWell launched in September 2020.

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