5 Ways that Faculty Can Aide Non-Academic Job Transition

Monday, 05 December 2011 15:47

I am writing again after a back-injury kept me away from my desk for over 2 weeks. During my recovery period, I had a lot of time to do some reflection on the past few years. As part of that process, my thoughts naturally turned to my time in graduate school and to the decisions that I made about leaving. I have no regrets, except I do wish that I had been able to evoke more change to the PhD process while I was there. Even now, over a year out, I still find myself composing talking points about ways to change the PhD system to make it easier for graduates to transition into non-academic jobs when they done with their degrees (because, once again, an academic job is a fading reality for the vast majority of PhDs these days).

Usually, I address both graduate students and faculty, but this time, I want to engage solely with the faculty members who supervise and teach graduate students. For the system to change, both students and faculty need to work together. Here are 5 simple ways that graduate faculty can help their MA and PhD students transition into the larger world of non-academic work:

1. Set up a LinkedIn profile. Networking is one of the most valuable tools for anyone looking for a new career. LinkedIn is free, easy to use and manage. After spending a decade or more in higher education earning their degrees, many PhDs do not have an extensive list of networking contacts. If faculty join – and connect with as many academic and non-academic professionals that they know – they can then provide valuable potential contacts for informational interviews, job offers, and career support.

2. Follow-up with the new MA/PhD grad at 6 months from degree completion. Reconnecting with a past graduate student only requires a quick email. Not only will the grad be reminded of the support that faculty might provide them (i.e. networking, letters of recommendation), it will provide faculty with a clearer picture of where their grads are ending up post-degree.

3. Announce graduate non-academic successes. I’ve said this before, but changing the discourse of what constitutes career success for PhDs is essential. In departmental meetings, faculty need to take the time to share with their colleagues the new jobs/career developments of their past students. If all the talk remains focused on only the academic placements of grads, then a closed environment will remain (which is damaging to graduate students, most who face a substantial period of unemployment at the end of their degrees).

4. Talk to current graduate students about their future plans. While this bit of advice might seem like a no-brainer, I have met many new PhDs who were completely unprepared to leave academia. Their supervisors never had a sustained conversation with them about what to expect upon completion of their degree. Many grad students are anxious about what awaits them after their defense, so faculty need to take the lead in starting the conversation of “what’s next.” Just by being open to talking about non-academic jobs will help ease some of the grad student’s anxiety – and if their supervisor is on a networking site like LinkedIn, they can at least start the process of networking for themselves.

5. Be familiar with the Career Services offered by the university. Obviously, faculty cannot be career counsellors themselves, but they should know exactly where to send their graduate students to find the advice and career support that they might need. If faculty are uncomfortable or feel unequipped to discuss non-academic careers with their students, then knowing the name of the career counsellor who specializes in working with MA and PhD students is the next responsible option. Faculty should openly encourage their students to make use of whatever career resources (seminars, networking events, etc.) the university has to offer.

I appreciate that graduate faculty are often overworked and overly stressed themselves, but I do believe that, just as they have a responsibility to support their graduate students in developing academic skills, they must also be conscientious of the dismal state of the current academic job market and help their MAs/PhDs transition into a non-academic job as required. Each of the 5 pieces of advice I offer above require little investment in terms of time and energy – and the potential rewards to students are substantial. If you have tenure and work with graduate students, you are in a privileged position – it is your professional responsibility to aide the next generation of MA/PhDs in finding their own paths to success.

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