For grad students, business basics can boost career

The Graduate School is preparing students to take their ideas from the classroom to the workforce and the world.

Student gives presentation in front of class

Discovering a new way to use technology to address a need is one thing. Taking it to market and bringing it to the masses, however, requires an entirely different set of skills.

As UNC-Chapel Hill’s graduate students work to discover the next big innovations in technology, medicine and beyond, the Graduate Certificate in Business Fundamentals is equipping them with the skills they need to take their ideas from the lab to the world.

Leah Townsend, director of the Graduate School’s professional programs, said the program provides a competitive advantage to all students, regardless of discipline or career aspirations.

“There is definitely a perception of value in the job market for these skills,” she said. “I don’t think of them as just business skills. Really, at their heart, they’re professionalizing skills that you will need to develop no matter what you go on to pursue, and they make you more marketable in a competitive environment.”

This semester, 43 students from humanities programs to the natural sciences are pursuing the certificate, which includes core classes in writing, presenting, leadership, project management and financial accounting.

For students looking to forge a path in private industry, the program also offers electives on how to launch a startup, build a professional brand and become a successful consultant.

One of those students is Sean James, who plans to work at an agricultural biotech company in Research Triangle Park after earning his doctorate in biology.

“I’ve never taken courses like this before. It’s always been biology or chemistry,” he said. “I feel confident in my science knowledge, but in academia, you’re not really taught industry-geared skills like how to present to shareholders or manage a big team. I just needed something to give me an advantage to be a key player in business.”

James said the program-sponsored networking events have also helped him plug into local industry and meet professionals who challenge and inspire him.

Graduate School Dean Steven Matson said the certificate represents the school’s commitment to providing students with professional development opportunities that prepare them for success in any career path.

“We’ve developed a very robust professional development program for our students that’s interdisciplinary, that I think complements what goes on in the departments themselves and that really prepares [students] for the next level,” Matson said.

To get to that level, Townsend said, UNC-Chapel Hill is a great place to start.

“I think geographically, culturally and resource-wise, we’re uniquely positioned to do outstanding research in any discipline and to have these breakthrough inventions,” she said. “There’s just so much going on here, and we have the resources to support the development of graduate students, no matter what questions they want to answer or where they want to go.”