The Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences

Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences builds on commitment to graduate student professional development

Over the past two years, the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences, with the assistance of members of Penn State’s Industrial/Organizational Psychology program, has built and implemented a developmental system for graduate students in the Intercollege Graduate Degree Programs (IGDPs) in the life sciences.

Organizations around the world use similar developmental systems to identify, select, and develop top talent. The focus of the Huck Institutes’ developmental system is to identify and develop interpersonal skills that are essential to professional success across a variety of life sciences-focused career paths.

While an individual’s scientific competence is of the utmost importance to future career success, their ability to leverage their interpersonal skills to lead and work with others is a key differentiator separating high quality candidates from other applicants. Essentially, technical competency gets an individual into the interview room while it is one’s interpersonal skills that get them the job.Rick Jacobs

"When we talk to recruiters and the leaders from organizations coming on campus to hire our students, we repeatedly hear that critical factors including communication skills, effective decision making, and leading others are what they seek in their new employees.” (Rick Jacobs, professor of psychology)

The primary goal when developing this system was to determine what traits separate new potential job candidates from their peers in academic jobs and various other careers in the life sciences.

To this end, a series of surveys and interviews were conducted with academic faculty, business executives, Huck Institutes program alumni, professional recruiters, and current students. Several interpersonal skills were repeatedly highlighted as the most important factors that differentiate job candidates. Among the factors identified were analyzing and interpreting information, creating and conceptualizing ideas, supporting and cooperating with others, adapting and coping with pressure, making decisions and initiating action, and achieving goals and objectives.Jeff Lovelace

"The research literature and the practice of employment decision makers consistently point to these factors as critical in identifying top talent.” (Jeff Lovelace, PhD student in I/O Psychology and developer of the Huck Institutes’ developmental system)

The Huck Institutes’ developmental system unfolds over three distinct phases during which participants create a development portfolio they can utilize into the future.

Phase one involves information collection requiring students to fill out a short survey and submit documents (i.e., a CV and professional goals list).

Phase two is the interactive assessment, a one-hour face-to-face meeting involving three short exercises which provide assessors the opportunity to evaluate each participant on their interpersonal skills.

Phase three involves a one-on-one feedback session where each participant receives a written report containing personalized results and commentary on their performance based on all the data collected during the developmental process.

This feedback focuses on identifying individual strengths and weaknesses leading to greater self-awareness for future job interviews. These strengths and weakness are then tied to other developmental opportunities at Penn State which students can take advantage of, to improve themselves, before going out on the job market.Troy Ott

"We are committed to developing the ‘whole’ scientist and giving them the tools they need to become leaders in their chosen disciplines. This program represents a tangible expression of that commitment.” (Troy Ott, professor of reproductive physiology and associate director of the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences)

Given the positive response from graduate students who have participated in this program, the Huck Institutes is excited to continue its commitment to student development and support the developmental program. If you are interested in participating in this career enhancing opportunity, please visit or email today!