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The Influence of an Externship on BME Predoctoral Students’ Career Development

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Connecting BME education to the "real world"

Tagged Division

Biomedical Engineering

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Paper Authors


Julia N. Savoy University of Wisconsin-Madison Orcid 16x16

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Julia N. Savoy, M.S., is an Assistant Researcher in the Wisconsin Center for Education Research, University of Wisconsin-Madison. One aspect of her research examines the effects of professional development participation on the career pathways of doctoral students, postdoctoral scholars, and early-career faculty.

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Mia K. Markey The University of Texas at Austin

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Dr. Mia K. Markey is a Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Engineering Foundation Endowed Faculty Fellow in Engineering at The University of Texas at Austin as well as Adjunct Professor of Imaging Physics at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Dr. Markey is a 1994 graduate of the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy. She has a B.S. in computational biology (1998). Dr. Markey earned her Ph.D. in biomedical engineering (2002), along with a certificate in bioinformatics, from Duke University. Dr. Markey has been recognized for excellence in research and teaching with awards from organizations such as the American Medical Informatics Association, the American Society for Engineering Education, the American Cancer Society, and the Society for Women’s Health Research. She is a Fellow of both the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE), and is a Senior Member of both the IEEE and the SPIE.

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Henry Grady Rylander III P.E. The University of Texas at Austin

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Dr. Rylander is a professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Texas at Austin, and the Harry H. Power Professor in Engineering and a William J. Murray, Jr. Fellow in Engineering. Dr. Rylander is a co-director, with Dr. Mia K. Markey, of the Department of Biomedical Engineering’s Imaging Science and Informatics Portfolio program, a comprehensive imaging science training program for doctoral students funded by a Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award training grant from the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB), an institute with the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Dr. Rylander’s research is focused on imaging in ophthalmology. He has conducted clinical trials on a polarization-sensitive OCT system to measure the changes that occur in the retinal nerve fiber layer in glaucoma. Other projects include a drug delivery device for the eye and measuring blood flow in the eye. He is collaborating with researchers at UTMB to identify biomarkers of Alzheimer's Disease in the eye.

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Introduction: Providing predoctoral students with information about various career pathways and the skills to pursue them has become a national imperative. One way to promote such understanding is through research experiences outside of their home university, a model widely applied to undergraduate education. However, there is little empirical information about these opportunities in predoctoral biomedical engineering education.

We developed an externship component of a training grant embedded in a biomedical engineering department. In this paper, we examine the career development of fellows who participated in externships, and assess the value of a learning contract in enhancing externship impact.

Materials and Methods: We conducted 14 interviews in Summer 2016 and administered a survey in Fall 2016 (8/20, 40% response rate); eligible samples included all fellows who completed an externship since the program began in 2009. Interview and survey questions assessed career interests and goals, self-efficacy beliefs, and scientific productivity. We analyzed interview transcripts using structural coding and survey data using descriptive analyses.

Results and Discussion: Most participants changed their primary career goals, and most became less interested in faculty careers. Respondents agreed they would stay in research careers after graduation (mean 3.36, SD 1.20, 1-5 scale), but agreed more strongly they would do so outside of academia (mean 4.36, SD 1.20). Interviewees said the externship influenced their career decision-making, confirming current interests for some and opening paths to unexplored sectors for others. They noted that exposure to new environments and expanded professional networks supported their development.

Fellows were very confident in their ability to conduct research. Their self-efficacy beliefs were strongest in conceptualizing a study (mean 8.26, SD 1.68, 0-10 scale), organizing a study (mean 8.22, SD 1.00), and reporting a study (mean 8.19, SD 1.98). Interviewees said the externship’s project, when well-planned, afforded the experience of executing a study with significant independence. In doing so, they learned to self-direct their work, further their research, and work toward project deliverables. Fellows participated regularly in scientific communication, preparing first author manuscripts (average 1.63), abstracts (average 4.50), and presentations (average 3.50).

Participants pointed toward specific ways to enhance the externship. Fellows emphasized the significant time commitment necessary to plan ahead, addressing organizational logistics and research conceptualization. A well-designed project plan with clear objectives and alignment with their research promoted reflection on their career trajectories. Participants reported less impact if they did not have a plan in place. Equally important was the early involvement of the fellows’ faculty advisor in supporting externship participation, suggesting externship sites, and forging professional connections.

Conclusions: These results suggest that externships support fellows’ career development, but that impact can be enhanced through greater, structured planning. We developed a learning contract to guide planning, evaluate performance, and promote reflection. The final paper will include content analyses of learning contracts from two fellow cohorts (n = 9), and the results of a web-based to measure the influence of the learning contract in promoting career development outcomes.

Savoy, J. N., & Markey, M. K., & Rylander, H. G. (2018, June), The Influence of an Externship on BME Predoctoral Students’ Career Development Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--31113

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