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As trainees progress from undergraduate through graduate and postdoctoral education, they take on an increasing responsibility for their own education.  This is part of the natural progression to becoming an independent scientist, and also necessary as training becomes more specialized to individual needs and interests.  The Department of Microbiology & Immunology will guide trainees to a first rate scientific education.  Doctoral and postdoctoral training provide the intellectual skills to pursue many different possible careers.  However, our faculty are generally expert in only one of those potential career paths, i.e. becoming a faculty member.  There are many easily available resources to help trainees pursue different potential careers, and we encourage trainees to explore a range of options.

Useful resources for career exploration and professional development follow.  If you are aware of additional resources that could be of benefit to share with our community, please contact our Student Services Specialist, Jamie Desoto, so we can update this list.

In most cases, these resources are available to both graduate students and postdoctoral scientists.  If an activity is of interest to you and you are not sure if you can participate, ask the organizers!  Generally speaking, everyone benefits from increased participation.  Postdocs can participate in UNC courses without receiving academic credit (audit) by paying a $20 fee (contact Jamie Desoto for assistance).



Individual Development Plans

Writers of Recommendation Letters

Career Assessment & Counseling

Professional Networking

Professional Development at UNC

Specialized Science Training Tracks

NIH T32 Training Grants

Professional Development Outside of UNC

Science Educator Training

Careers of UNC Life Sciences Alumni



We strongly encourage all MCRO students to create and maintain an Individual Development Plan (IDP), using a resource such as  The Medical Scientist Training Program requires M.D./Ph.D. students to have an IDP.  UNC Chapel Hill requires postdoctoral scientists to have an IDP.  Thinking about your career goals and regularly discussing them with your advisor can help you intentionally engage in activities that will lay the foundation for future career success.

All MCRO students are required to discuss their career plans and interests with their thesis committee at every meeting.

The Graduate School ( offers a framework for thinking about how to develop broadly applicable core competencies in communication, academic development, leadership/professionalism, and career development across early, mid, and late stages of graduate school.  A useful matrix of Core Competencies for Graduate Students is here: Core Competencies for Graduate Students

The Office of Postdoctoral Affairs offers information on core competencies to be developed by postdocs (, including discipline-specific conceptual knowledge, research skills, communication, professionalism, leadership & management, and responsible conduct of research.



Eventually you will need at least three letters of recommendation for fellowship and job applications.  The best letters come from people who know you well enough to take the time to write a compelling individual letter.  You can lay the foundation for good letters of recommendation now by building strong relationships with specific faculty members.  Your research advisor is the easiest and most important source.  Your other letters should come from independent sources outside your lab.  Students have natural access to thesis committee members, whereas postdocs will need to make an effort to reach out to faculty.   Avoid the temptation to get a letter from a famous scientist who does not know you well – the superficial quality of such a letter will be obvious to the reader.  If a potential reference says they are happy to sign a letter but are too busy to write it themselves, then get someone else!  Ghostwritten letters have a high probability of being discovered, which will disqualify your candidacy.

Start by building a strong relationship with your research advisor.  In the rare cases when trainees change labs, two avoidable causes are mismatched personalities between trainee and advisor (which hopefully can be figured out before the trainee joins the lab) and mismatched expectations about work conditions (e.g. hours, vacation time, responsiveness to requests, etc.).  There is substantial variation in practices between labs, so explicit conversations between trainees and advisors about mutual expectations can minimize problems.  Some labs use written documents to avoid any misunderstandings.  The Department of Microbiology & Immunology encourages faculty to use documents as they think appropriate for their lab.  Generic examples that could serve as the foundation or inspiration for lab-specific documents include one provided to BBSP students and rotation advisors (BBSP Expectations), as well as sample compacts between research advisors and graduate students (AAMC Student Compact) or postdocs (AAMC Postdoc Compact) provided by the Association of American Medical Colleges.



TIBBS ( offers one-on-one career coaching for graduate students with Beka Layton (rlayton AT or Patrick Brandt (pdb AT

University Career Services ( offers free information about exploring careers, networking and social media, job searches, interviewing, cover letters/CVs, etc.  They also offer personal appointments for graduate students with career counselors.

The UNC Office of Postdoctoral Affairs ( offers a number of tools for postdoctoral scientists to assess potential careers that match with individual strengths and interests.  They also offer individual meetings with career counselors.



LinkedIn is widely regarded as an appropriate social media platform for professional purposes.  We strongly encourage all trainees to create and regularly update a LinkedIn account as a way to establish and expand your professional network.

We also encourage all trainees to join the UNC Microbiology & Immunology LinkedIn Group ( as a way to keep up with department news and items of interest, now and long after you leave UNC.  Membership in the group (currently ~700) is limited to people with a direct connection to our department, so membership requests must be approved by the group owner/manager.

Membership in professional societies is another useful way to build your professional network.  Your support for professional societies that publish journals is also relevant to the current conflicts over unaffordable commercial journals.  Annual membership dues for students/postdocs in 2020 are relatively inexpensive: American Society for Microbiology ( is $35/$40, American Society for Virology ( is $15/$30, American Association of Immunologists ( is $64/$85, and American Association for the Advancement of Science ( is $65/$65.

Regardless of your career path, you will benefit as a scientist by attending scientific conferences to share your results, learn about the latest knowledge in your field, meet potential collaborators or postdoctoral mentors, etc.  This is a routine activity for Microbiology & Immunology trainees.  MCRO students can help extend their lab’s resources by applying for one-time travel awards from our department (contact Student Services Specialist Michelle Hightower, michelle_hightower AT or transportation grants ( from the UNC Graduate School.  Both will require proof that you are giving a talk or poster presentation.



The Training Initiatives in Biological & Biomedical Sciences (TIBBS) ( program offers a wide variety of professional development opportunities geared to life scientists.  Activities generally open to students and postdocs.

TIBBS career cohort interest groups ( explore careers in business and consulting, science policy and advocacy, science writing and communication, science education, academic and research intensive careers, and medical science liaisons.  Open to students and postdocs.

TIBBS programs ( offer career planning workshops, career skills workshops (research, leadership, teaching, industry, science policy, science communication), and career exploration symposia.  Open to students and postdocs.

TIBBS offers funding for 160-hour ImPACT Internships (, which can be in a field of your choice.  The trainee has to identify the internship, with help from TIBBS.  You can also arrange an internship on your own.  MCRO students have done internships in research at local biotechnology companies, teaching at local colleges and universities, science policy, science communication, technology transfer, clinical trials management, life sciences consulting, etc.  Currently only open to students.

The Graduate School has a new competency-based program called CareerWell ( intended to provide holistic preparation for a future in which the work environment faces substantial uncertainties.  Activities generally open to students and postdocs.

The UNC Graduate School ( offers professional development opportunities that are more broadly applicable than TIBBS.  Activities generally open to students and postdocs.

The Graduate School offers a series of business courses ( (mostly 1.5 credits) taken by many MCRO students:

GRAD710 Professional Communication – Writing

GRAD711 Professional Communication – Presenting

GRAD712 Leadership for the Workplace

GRAD713 Applied Project Management

GRAD714 Introduction to Financial Accounting

GRAD715 Building Your Leadership Practice

GRAD725 Build Your Professional Brand

GRAD726 Special Topics in Business Fundamentals

GRAD735 Regulatory Toxicology

GRAD750 Innovation to Impact

GRAD751 Advanced Consulting Fundamentals

GRAD755 Technology Commercialization

GRAD770 Introduction to Digital Transformation

and a Certificate in Business Fundamentals (  Contact the Student Services Specialist (michelle_hightower AT to develop a registration strategy that minimizes tuition costs for your advisor.

The Graduate School offers a busy calendar of workshops and other events ( covering a wide variety of professional development topics.  Upcoming events are displayed; click on Past Events to get a sense of typical offerings.  You can contact Brian Rybarczyk (brybar AT to sign up for a listserv to be notified of upcoming events.  Open to students and postdocs.

A variety of career services for postdocs offered by the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs ( are summarized here.

The Office of Postdoctoral Affairs offers seminars, panels, and workshops ( on career and professional development.  Use the back button on the calendar to get a sense of the type of events offered in the past.  To subscribe to the OPA listserv and receive notification of upcoming events, send an email message to opa AT with “subscribe to listserv” in the subject line.  The listserv is only available to current UNC postdocs.

OPA maintains an extensive listing of career resources for postdocs ( including networking opportunities, professional development activities, and job listings.



There are many opportunities for MCRO students to obtain additional specialized training in scientific areas of particular interest.  A complete list is at  Some specific programs of particular interest are listed here:

Graduate Training Program in Translational Medicine (  More MCRO students have participated in the translational medicine program than from any other Ph.D. program.

Bioinformatics & Computational Biology Certificate (

Big Data to Knowledge (BD2K) Certificate (



Microbiology & Immunology faculty members lead multiple NIH T32 grants, which can provide one or two years of support for students and/or postdocs, depending on the specific grant.  Each program typically involves additional training activities relevant to the particular discipline.  Contact the appropriate faculty member for more information about their program and how to apply:

Basic Immune Mechanisms (Roland Tisch)

Molecular Biology of Viral Disease (Mark Heise)

Infectious Disease Pathogenesis Research Training (David Margolis)

Gasteroenterology Research Training (Balfour Sartor)

Immunotherapy Training (Jon Serody)

Infectious Disease Epidemiology (Steve Meshnick)

Training in Toxicology (Illona Jaspers)

Trauma Research (Bruce Cairns)



There are many resources to gain more knowledge or become certified in skills relevant to future career plan.  A good place to start looking are professional societies related to your field, which often offer workshops and other training programs, both in person and online.

UNC has a site license to thousands of free courses through LinkedIn Learning (

AAAS Career Development online courses (  Must be AAAS member.

Duke University offers a free six-week online Regulatory Affairs Training Program (

edX ( offers thousands of online courses, certifications, and degrees at varying cost (some are free).



Many trainees in our department are interested in teaching.  Teaching effectiveness is an important aspect of professional development for both teaching-intensive and research-intensive career paths.  There are many resources available at UNC to learn how to become a better educator:

TIBBS offers a career cohort for Future Science Educators (UNC FuSE) ( to develop job application materials, career exposure, and to build skills/experience relevant to teaching-intensive careers.  Open to students and postdocs.

TIBBS ( offers a eight-session Summer Teaching Series in alternate summers consisting of pedagogical training for best practices in teaching, including topics such as: Interactive Team Learning, Learning Assessment, Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning (POGIL), Teaching Statement, Portfolio, and Application Material Development, Classroom Management, Syllabus Design, Challenges of First Time Teachers, and Active Learning.

TIBBS offers funding for 160-hour ImPACT Internships (, which can be in teaching.  The trainee has to identify the internship, with help from TIBBS.  MCRO students have taught full courses at Durham Technical Community College, Meredith College, and William Peace University.  Currently only open to students.

The professional development section of the Graduate School offers workshops and events relevant to teaching (  All upcoming events are displayed.  A search of Past Events using the keyword “Teaching” shows typical offerings: an eight week summer online course on “An Introduction to Evidence-based Undergraduate STEM Teaching”, a four hour Course Development Institute for Teaching Assistants, an eight hour workshop of Effective College Teaching, one and a half hour workshop on Writing Effective Teaching Statements, one and a half hour workshop on Equity, Diversity, and Inclusive Teaching in the Community College Setting, a one hour workshop on Energizing the Classroom: Active Learning and Evidence-based Teaching, etc.  You can contact Brian Rybarczyk (brybar AT to sign up for a listserv to be notified of upcoming events.  Open to students and postdocs.

The Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching, and Learning (CIRTL) ( is part of a national network of research universities to develop teaching skills in future faculty members.  There are three levels of accomplishment/certification (Associate, Practitioner, Scholar) that can be earned through participation in various events, workshops, teaching experiences, reflective statements, etc. Open to students and postdocs.

There is a graduate level Certificate of College Science Teaching (  They recruit a cohort every other year.  The program takes about 2.5 years to complete and includes coursework, a team-taught and jointly designed grad-student led course, and an immersive teaching experience.

BBSP First Year Groups use volunteer Student Peer Mentors.  This is a way to get mentoring experience, which is an important aspect of teaching.  Contact Director of BBSP David McDonald (David.McDonald AT if interested.  Open to students only.

IMSD provides tutors for individual students needing extra help with class work.  This is a way to get non-classroom teaching experience.  Contact IMSD Director Ashalla Freeman (ashalla AT if you would like to volunteer. Open to students and postdocs.

An overview of Center for Faculty Excellence teaching resources for students and postdocs is at

The Center for Faculty Excellence has a Graduate Student Fellowship Program (, which has space for a few students each year to work at CFE and learn about leadership, mentoring, research, and teaching and learning.

IDST890 The American Professoriate is a course co-taught by Chancellor Guskiewicz that discusses current issues in higher education.  Students are nominated by their departments and then invited to register.  Students only.

GRAD810/811 Teaching Skills for International Teaching Assistants cover English language skills and understanding American culture.  Postdocs can audit if space is available.



BBSP has records of career placement ( for more than 1,300 graduates of UNC Ph.D. programs in the life sciences.  You can see the job sectors and career types of students from specific Ph.D. programs and time periods.

OPA is starting to collect career outcomes data ( on UNC postdocs as part of the Coalition for Next Generation Life Sciences.  So far the data include ~100 former UNC postdocs.