Report: Grad Schools Slip on Job Help

Valley News

June 3, 2012

By Chris Fleisher

An April report co-authored by Cathy Wendler, principal director of research at Educational Testing Service, concluded that many graduate schools need to do a better job of connecting with students early, broadening their array of career options, putting them in touch with alumni and helping them develop the skills to stand out in a crowded field of equally qualified competitors.

The number of jobs requiring a master's degree is expected to increase 22 percent over the next eight years, and the number requiring a doctorate or professional degree will grow by 20 percent, according to the report, Pathways Through Graduate Schools and Into Careers.

This represents a change from the past when pursuing a master's or doctorate typically meant the person would be working in academia, Wendler said. That reality has changed, she said, and graduate schools need to change with it.

“There is still a belief (among graduate schools) that we're training future faculty. And, as the report said, that's not true,” Wendler said. “If you ask people on the street why would you get a doctorate, they'd say, ‘Well, to go be a professor.’ Most people who get their doctorate really struggle with, ‘Do I want to teach or do I want to go into industry?’ ”

Looking for Jobs

Kim Fink will soon be one of those Ph.D.s who is opting for industry. The 26-year-old Westford, Mass., native recently defended her doctoral thesis at Dartmouth's Thayer School of Engineering and has accepted a job with a defense contractor in Boston.

Besides internships, Fink has spent almost no time out in the work force in the past eight years, going straight from undergraduate study at the University of Massachusetts into pursing her doctoral degree.

Similar to Tuck, many master's and doctoral students at Thayer have no intention of going into academia, she said, which heightens the importance of having a good career services staff available to them.

“I definitely think it's important,” Fink said. “Because it's a professional program, it is an integral part.”

Fink turned to Thayer's career services office to help her prepare to interview with employers.

After answering some sample questions, she met with career services staff to get feedback. She discovered that her answers tended to “trail off” and that she needed to be more definite in her responses.

“You can't get that from a book,” she said. “It helps to sit down with someone, one-on-one, and get the feedback.”

The individualized approach -- as opposed to massive skill-building workshops -- has begun to gain traction among career counseling offices...

...Too often, she said, students pigeonhole themselves into a career choice early on, without thinking about why they want the job or whether their skills are better suited elsewhere. Before they start taking classes and choosing internships that lead them down that path, it is better to force them to evaluate whether they really want that job, she said.

Alumni networks can be helpful in this regard, according to Wendler's report.

“Successful alumni can provide inspiration, guidance, and advice to graduate students, as well as information about successful careers in nonacademic sectors,” she wrote in the report.

Both Thayer and Tuck emphasize building alumni networks, either through social media, organized events or serving as a gateway for potential job possibilities.

“We probably receive two or three emails a week from alums who are looking to hire engineers for their company,” said Holly Wilkinson, director of career services at Thayer. “Students need to not be a resume in a pile of resumes.”

Thayer has a network of 1,100 alums through the professional networking site LinkedIn, and also uses technology to overcome geographic challenges of attracting major employers to the rural campus in Hanover.

Thayer has organized a “virtual career fair,” in which students interview with companies by using Skype, the Internet phone service in which callers talk “face-to-face” via a webcam.

“We're encouraging students to do Skype interviews,” Wilkinson said. “Technology has made it accessible.”

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