New advisor helps students to explore career options


Michael Alvarez opened the new career center this semester and offers individualized career counseling.

There’s a cozy leather couch in the School of Medicine’s career center where students can settle in and talk about their future. It’s just one small step by Michael Alvarez, the director of the brand-new center, to help students make a comfortable transition from school and research to postgraduate careers.

Many students aiming for top-flight research or medical careers receive all the help they need from their academic advisers. Still, some may wish to consider other options outside of academia and medical practice. Alvarez was hired to address this need, and at the start of the semester he began to offer guidance to students interested in finding work as corporate consultants, investment bankers and entrepreneurs looking to bringing their own ideas to market.

“The biosciences are kind of like aerospace engineering in the ‘70s,” Alvarez explained. “They’re really going to be the bread and butter of the global economy, and we have a responsibility as a university to equip our students with all the tools they need.”

Specialized career centers abound in other disciplines—the Stanford engineering and business schools each have them. But perhaps because the medical career path is well trodden, they’re not nearly as common at medical institutions. With the new office, the School of Medicine stands apart from other top medical schools that don’t have such centers.

The center is independent from the medical school’s academic track, and Alvarez sees that as an important plus. Students weighing non-academic futures might be reluctant to turn to their advisers, but can freely broach the subject from Alvarez’s couch. He describes his office as “a nice decompression chamber,” because he has nothing to do with evaluating their performance as students.

Indeed, graduate and especially postdoctoral students, who typically conduct broader job searches than medical students, were the driving force behind the new career center, said John Boothroyd, PhD, senior associate dean for research. “There wasn’t an argument from us,” he said, calling the service offered by Alvarez “a huge boon to our entire trainee program here at the School of Medicine.”

As a postdoctoral chemist, Sara Fernandez, PhD, can attest firsthand to the benefits of consulting Alvarez. He helped her zero in on the skills she most enjoyed using and suggested taking a few additional classes—in biotech business fundamentals—to beef up her resume. Fernandez went on to line up two interviews with management consulting firms.

Before coming to Stanford, Alvarez was a management consultant for Andersen Consulting in Boston, directed a career center at the UC-San Francisco and then consulted with Science magazine to strengthen its online career resources for the West Coast. At each point, Alvarez said, he saw job seekers who were unaware of the full range of options available to them and employers who were searching for creative, ambitious applicants.

“Companies realize there’s a great value inherent in the skills students have developed here, but they’re diamonds in the rough,” Alvarez said.

The new office helps graduate and postdoctoral students, medical students, residents and alumni bring out the shine in their resumes. It will be fully operational next academic year, but it already offers a centralized source for job listings and one-on-one appointments with Alvarez for career counseling. Appointments are usually available with about two weeks’ notice. He has counseled about 70 students since starting work on Aug. 1.

The center also hosts information sessions with prospective employers, and in the last few months it has featured representatives from Agilent Technologies, Applied Biosystems and FoxHollow Technologies.

While Alvarez is working with Stanford’s undergraduate career development center to offer workshops on writing resumes and negotiating job offers, his center aims to develop a School of Medicine-specific “job kit” and its own mock interview sessions. He is already planning job fairs where students can shop their skills to upwards of 30 employers at once. Next spring, Alvarez will add scientists from nonprofits like the Institute for OneWorld Health and the Global Health Initiatives to the mix.

Students in need of career advice or job-search help can call the center at 725-7687. The office e-mail is The couch—and the rest of Alvarez’s office—is in room 4235A in the Center for Clinical Sciences Research.