Hiring at universities has slowed down in the last few years, and grad students may be getting frustrated at their job prospects.
April McNeil, a career educator at the University of Victoria, gives tips on what grad students can do to make themselves more attractive to both academic and non-academic employers before they officially enter the job market.
So one thing that I really appreciated that I’ve been thinking about lately with some of my colleagues is that we have to acknowledge that we are in a bit of a hiring freeze in terms of some of the big employers of PhD skill sets. So we have to talk about governments employing these skill sets, definitely provincial and federally, we talk about consulting work with a variety of corporations. And we also talk about the non-profit sector.
Right now it’s tough, it’s competitive if you want to pursue a tenure track position and it’s competitive for most positions right now in the economy. One perspective that I’ve heard about this that I’ve really appreciated was the idea that PhD students should see that as an opportunity. The reason it’s an opportunity is we know, no matter what, that there’s going to be some huge retirements soon. Probably think 2016 or something like that. It’s coming no matter what. And the opportunity exists in the fact that all of the managers and all of the people in leadership roles who would usually be busy hiring, recruiting, screening candidates, aren’t.
So they are much more available to talk to you right now than they ever have been before. So they would be willing to do things like informational meetings, or build relationships. So it’s actually the perfect time for you to be expanding your network and starting to talk to people in government. So if that’s maybe an interest of yours, or exploring what’s out there. So that when you do graduate, you have that relationship, you have the inside track, you know what they’re looking for. And you’ve taken the opportunity to slowly develop that, so that when you’re at the door of graduation or maybe you’ve done a few adjunct positions or sessional positions, and you’d think you’d maybe like to try something else, you already have that foundation built for yourself. So I would encourage people to look at the opportunities of that as well, rather than just looking at how many job postings are up on our websites.
The other thing that is an opportunity in that, is that work still needs to get done. So what are they doing to get around the hiring freeze? They have to. So they often have permission to offer consultancy contracts under a certain amount of dollars. So I think that graduate students should start to position themselves as experts in their area or as experts in certain skill sets. And they should reach out to those potential employers – they may be able to get some contracts. They may even be able to count them as publications or things like that and this will start to build their credibility in industry as well.
And the last thing I’ll add is that we know that academia does value industry connections in all areas. There’s a couple of reasons for that, but I think the skill sets that are valued in industry around administrative skill sets or the ability to recruit or work well with colleagues – we are expecting faculty to do more and more of those things. And we’re expecting them to bring in students, we’re expecting them to manage budgets, to start new programs, etc. And so they can demonstrate those skill sets through any other experiences they have. We also know that a lot of funding for universities comes from industry. So there’s neat research grants out there when you’re partnering with the community, and there’s also organizations that are interested in funding research. So it could look really attractive to hire someone into a faculty position who has those connections. And so you should think of that way – as a competitive edge to broaden your skill set.