Career Preparation for Doctoral Students

15 Jul Career Preparation for Doctoral Students

This week, I read 2 interesting articles on PhDs and employment that reflect the general concern with the difficulty that PhDs experience in their transition into industry. The first articlePhD candidates should consider other career options by Kristine Kelly, Director of career development at Claremont Graduate University talks about the importance of PhD students exploring career options outside of a tenure track position. She strongly recommends that even if the goal is a tenure track position, it is a good idea to explore what other options are out there.

The second article Helping PhDs prepare for diverse careers by Sian L. Beilock professor of psychology and vice provost for academic initiatives at the University of Chicago who leads UChicagoGRAD, the university’s initiative to support the success of graduate students and postdocs. Among the things she recommends is that institutions have “to help Ph.D. students advocate for their skills.” She goes on to enumerate a number of ways in which PhD training provides graduates with a number of skills.

There is currently an important dialogue taking place in academia. The conversation covers 2 parts of the same issue.
– The under-utilization of Masters and PhD holders
– The rising numbers of adjunct/ sessional/ part-time faculty in postsecondary institutions.
Both of these issues point to practices that lead to a lot of waste of our collective investment in a group of highly skilled and qualified individuals. I like the call for institutions to help PhDs advocate for their skills but I believe institutions need to do more than that. In my opinion, there are a number of ways that institutions can begin to respond to the current trends:
i. Doctoral programs should be actively involved in helping their students identify how their training relates to their specific industry. Just as every doctoral program has a course that helps with the thesis preparation, there should be a similar course that explores career options. It should not be something that is passed on to career centres because it needs an in-depth understanding of specific programs and the industry concerned. Institutions owe it to both their students and society to provide a dual career preparation for their PhD graduates. Would it for example be possible for PhD programs in the social sciences to weave into the fabric of the programs, a requirement for candidates during their course work to at least take a course that requires some policy development with actual agencies/ research in a non-academic research organization to expose candidates to industry and also to allow a clear articulation of how programs relate to industry.

ii. There needs to be a re-examination of the adjunct/sessional /part-time options available to PhD holders. It is an option that people hold on to because it is seen as the only route to a tenured position despite the fact that very few get that opportunity. Related to this is the fact that once PhD holders step outside academia to start a career, it is almost impossible to come back. Is it possible for institutions to consider the fact that industry experience may bring some fresh and diverse thinking into the postsecondary environment.

The good sign is that there is recognition in academia that there is a problem, what is needed now are changes in attitudes and actions that will help masters and Phd holders prepare to succeed both inside and outside academe.

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