April McNeil, a career educator at the University of Victoria, describes how graduate students can prepare for a non-academic job search.
I think what makes it really challenging for graduate students to make a decision about within or outside of the academy, is they have had no exposure to what’s available for them outside of the academy. And there is an idea within the academy that that is the most desirable option, and anything outside of it is less desirable. So I think we need to challenge that assumption – there’s some really good research that shows that’s not true: that graduates in certain careers are as satisfied in their careers.
I would just encourage them when they are weighing that decision, to do some research, to see what’s out there, and to really get clear on what their factors for satisfaction are. So what is it in a career that they need to be satisfied? I think we don’t ask ourselves that question, and we don’t examine that. So we just assume we’ll be happy pursuing what we’ve been pursuing without ever knowing what it entails.
It makes sense that they [graduate students] would be looking to their professors, supervisors and faculty members for advice and support. But they should also, if they want to expand their goals a little bit and look outside of academe and start connecting with people who work in industry.
They probably have networks in industry that they haven’t thought about approaching, so I would encourage them to think about that. I would also suggest approaching career educators and co-op coordinators and start talking to them about what’s out there. The benefits of doing something like co-op program or any kind of work experience during your degree is that employers do value your education, but you have to think of their context.
What they also value is experience. And they’re in a context where employees are judged and promoted based on the projects they have accomplished, and the knowledge they have of that business area, or the knowledge and literacy they have related to their specific industry. So if you can show them that you have had some experience in industry, even just a couple of co-op terms, or meaningful projects, then they are much more likely to take a chance on you.