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Give us the dirt on jobs.
How well-informed PhD candidates are about future job prospects tends to vary by discipline. So says Maresi Nerad, director of the Center for Innovation and Research in Graduate Education at the University of Washington – one of the few centres specifically established to do research on graduate students and their programs.
Dr. Nerad says that in engineering and biosciences, both students and faculty are well aware that many graduates end up in private-sector jobs. Professors often have ties to people in industry and do a good job of putting their students in touch with them. On the other hand, most doctoral students in the core sciences, social sciences and humanities aspire to become professors and aren’t as well informed about non-academic career possibilities. But, all departments are slowly coming to the understanding that they need to expose students to a wider variety of job possibilities and skills. “A PhD is not only for an academic career,” she says.
What could graduate schools, departments and faculty members do better? Dr. Nerad says they could encourage PhD students to think about career goals and explore alternate possibilities early in their PhD training, ideally in second year. They should encourage students to think about how their research findings can be applied to society and who in society could benefit from them. And they should offer students opportunities to present their findings to those outside their field.
Collaborations are also helpful. Graduate schools should work with career centres and other campus groups to deliver professional skills training and career planning workshops, preferably held at the departmental level, she advises. And schools should invite alumni to campus to discuss how they went about finding jobs outside academia.
Dr. Nerad says the attitudes of some faculty members need to change, too, so that PhD students who choose not to become professors are no longer seen as “second-class citizens.”