Lesson plans for InterSECT

“How do we use InterSECT at our university?” is a common question I get from educators and grad student and postdoc group leaders. Using the InterSECT job sims in the classroom setting, with interactive peer group, has been one of most useful ways for users to interact with InterSECT.  We are happy to share sample lesson plans we’ve used at Washington University in St. Louis (WU), University of California San Francisco (UCSF), and most recently at University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC). We hope they can serve as inspiration or a model, and feel free to adapt it.

The professional-led flipped classroom – the WU Graduate School collaborated with the WU Office of Technology Management (OTM) to highlight internship positions in intellectual property and marketing. Participants who signed up for the 90 minute session completed the job sim before attending the in-person portion. Then in-class, the participants split into two groups to discuss the different job sims, completed the self-reflection, and conducted a group informational interview. After the session, grad students and postdocs commented that they the session gave them a better idea of what tech transfer entails, and they could determine whether they wanted to apply for the different internships (or not). The OTM staff members also commented they they enjoyed the rich conversation. The WU Postdoc Society co-sponsored the event. Here was one of the marketing emails:

Ever wondered what it’s like to work at the OTM? Try out an OTM-related job without leaving the bench! Join us for the InterSECT job simulation series! Here you can try out a task in a job, get feedback on your work, and talk with professionals in the career field. Think of them as advanced informational interviews.

Our first session will be with the Office of Technology Management (OTM), and the tasks featured are:
– Market Analysis (Business-Related), led by OTM Trainee and former Marketing Intern
– Freedom to Operate Analysis (Intellectual Property), led by a Patent Agent at the OTM

The WU Biotechnology and Life Sciences Advising (BALSA) group also collaborated on a flipped classroom experience to invite two medical science liaisons (MSLs) to lead an InterSECT session. The flipped classroom format was similar as described for the OTM session. One difference it that since the focus was only the MSL job sim area, the groups split up to discuss the different tasks (conducting research into clinical professionals’ interests and creating networking emails). Two memorable comments from the conversation were, I had no idea that MSLs did so much networking. I don’t think that’s the job for me -and- I wish I did this before completing the MSL certificate. It’s so helpful.

The info session – At UCSF, we invited grad students and postdocs who were interested in exploring the InterSECT job sim library to meet for a general info session. After learning about the job sim process and benefits to completing the experience, they were encouraged to work in groups on different career areas and share their informational interviews with each other. The participants were also encouraged to set SMART goals and complete the experience in a month. Peer groups ranged from 2 to 7 individuals. Some of the groups gelled more than others, and it was organic. One of the comments from the group experience was that they were excited to work with peers and it was comforting to find a community to explore with.

The in-class experience – At URMC, the grad students and postdocs completed the job sim together in-class with more time (3 hours) to discuss in groups and present findings to each other. Here was the lesson plan:

By the end of this session, you will be able to:

  • Describe key tasks and terms for a selected career field
  • Explain the benefits of doing a job simulation
  • Determine if you would like to further pursue a career field
  • Identify next steps to explore a selected career field

Before class:

Explore the 5 career areas on intersectjobsims.com and identify the area you would like to work on during the in-person session.

In class:

2:00-2:30 pm, Introduce the job simulation process. Select teams.
2:30-3:45 pm, Complete the job simulation. Create posters and summaries.
3:45-4:00 pm, Break. Complete the self-reflection sheet individually.
4:00-4:45 pm, Group presentations.
4:45-5:00 pm, Discuss career options and next steps.

We’ve had a lot of fun trying different classroom formats. Have you tried a group workshop or experimented with small peer groups? We’d love to hear from you. Share it with us by contacting thi.nguyen@wustl.edu.

I did a job sim. What next?

A graduate student recently asked me, “What do I do next?” She planned to do more informational interviews, but wanted to know how to make the most out of this entire InterSECT experience. (It was wonderful to hear that she planned to do informational interviews, because students and postdocs tell me that it’s the most useful part of the InterSECT experience).

In terms of next steps, here are suggestions depending on your goals.

If you want to get context for the job simulation, I strongly encourage you to talk with a professional in that career field about the job simulation tasks. The job simulations are discreet tasks that may represent one particular type of organization or firm. For example, are business analyses and presentations the same for pharma companies versus start-ups? Do writers pitch articles differently if they work in a non-profit organization versus if they freelance? An informational interview can help students and postdocs learn about the actual workplace and how team dynamics might affect a role.

If after doing the job simulation (and the informational interview), your goal is to discover a different career path, yes, please try other simulations! To help you narrow down the types of careers or skills you enjoy, pay attention to the types of data you like to work on or the websites you like to read (e.g., business-related, finance, or regulatory or user experience).

If your goal is to delve deeper into a career area and build a network, consider creating your own job simulation. For each job simulation, we encourage you to interview 2 or 3 professionals. In addition to learning about the job itself, now you have a co-copyright on a job sim to add to your resume. Several students have created job simulations from internships they already completed as a way to spread knowledge.

Whatever step you decide to take next, remember to reflect on your goal and whether your next step will help get you there. Let us know what works for you!

How’d I do?

Oprah once said that one unifying behavior of her guests all those years hosting her show was that once the cameras were turned off, they asked, “How’d I do?”.

So it turns out that graduate students and celebrities are similar (well, in this way at least). “How’d I do on this job sim” is one of the most common questions we hear as career advisers from graduate students who have completed job sim deliverables. It’s also phrased as “Can I use this exercise as a tool to assess my competency?”

We designed the InterSECT library for career exploration: to help you explore your interest in building skills for each career field. The job simulations are intended to serve as a bridge between an informational interview and an internship or course. If the job sim sparked curiosity (you found yourself in a google black hole, opening dozens of tabs, because you had to know more about the task at hand), we encourage you to pursue additional training or education in that career field.

“But Thi, am I on the right track?” one student asked me after I gave her this response. If you are eager to know how well you did on an exercise, we encourage you to set up informational interviews and ask the professional to discuss the tasks you worked on. Here are some sample questions to ask the professional:

  • How do you know if someone does a good job?
  • What do you look at when you are evaluating an intern’s progress on this type of project?
  • (show the simulation, if they have the time) This was the data set in the job sim. Would you look at a data set in this way? What different resources or methods would you use?
  • How do I develop my skills and get better or faster at this?

How long should each job sim take?

A graduate student recently contacted us with this question. She said she completed the sim in about 3-4 hours, but felt that she could have spent more time to make it better.

I am asked this question (how long should a job sim take) a lot, and I usually give the unsatisfying answer, “it depends”. We designed the job sims to involve separate tasks that can be completed in 1-2 hours each, and each job sim typically comprises 3 tasks, so approximately 3-6 hours in total. However, the time you can spend depends on factors like how much time you have, and your reason for doing the sim (e.g., doing the sim for a class assignment, in preparation for an internship interview, or simply shopping around for a job area to start investing time in). I typically suggest completing the first task in a job sim, so 1-2 hours, and encourage grad students and postdocs to reflect on if they are interested in completing the entire job sim and wanting to learn more. For example, a research associate worked on the business development job sim and wanted to apply the new knowledge to analyze two different companies, so she spent a lot of time creating different slide decks for the deliverables, and said she loved it!

If you find that you want to delve deeper or do more, that’s a great indication that you’re interested in the field. If you find that the exercise didn’t gel for you, or that you lost interest, that’s important to pay attention to, also. A postdoc once told me she was bored after reading through the job sim description, and I said, “Great! Which one are you exploring next.” It’s important to consider which tasks you like and which ones you don’t. Move on and experiment with a different career area.

InterSECT Success Stories

When I’m introducing the idea of job sims to grad students or postdocs, I share stories about different ways grad students or postdocs have used and benefitted from the experience. One of my favorite stories is about a postdoc who completed a job simulation and found it useful, so she developed one for this online collection. To develop the sim, she talked with industry professionals, synthesized the informational interviews and wrote a draft. We worked with her to edit the final version, and published it on the website. She had a product to share, a concrete example to add to her resume, and co-copyright for her contribution. She updated us later that she talked about the experience in an interview to demonstrate how she can quickly gather knowledge in a new field, and explained that she is confident she can pivot in her career from an academic postdoc to an industry position. She got the job. I love this story because it demonstrates how InterSECT job sims can be a place to explore career options, and also a place to gain experience to in preparation for your career transition.

To read more stories from graduate students, a postdoc, and a research associate, check out the Science article about InterSECT: “Like virtual reality for careers: A new online resource helps scientists explore job options.


Thanks for visiting InterSECT Job Sims! We are excited to share this resource and the process to help PhDs reflect on careers that fit. For me, this blog is a place to share tips and guidance for ways that grad students and postdocs can use the job sims.

As someone who completed graduate school, did a postdoc, and navigated dual career searches in both academic and non-academic sectors, I deeply understand the journey of seeking new career paths. Now, as a career advisor and higher ed administrator I share strategies and advise graduate students and postdocs as they make career transitions. I’ve loved creating the InterSECT library with collaborators, and seeing how the community is coming together to create and share job sims.

You’ll hear from other InterSECT developers, PhDs and graduate students from all over the U.S. about their experiences. I hope it will provide some inspiration and concrete advice as you search for the next step.  Please let us know if there is a question you’d like answered or a story you’d like to share. We love hearing from graduate students and postdocs about they ways they’ve used job sims to explore careers and make career decisions.