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Opening Doors for the Ph.D.
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Opening Doors for the Ph.D.


The following digest reviews the article “Opening Doors for the Ph.D.” by Vimal Patel, published in the Chronicle of Higher Education on January 29, 2017. The full article can be viewed at the following web address: http://www.chronicle.com/article/Opening-Doors-for-the-PhD/239031?cid=cp88.

Summary: Maddie Foster


Article Summary:

Mr. Stephen Aron, a history professor and head of the history department at UCLA, saw the data before his eyes that only about half of the students from the program were obtaining tenure-track positions post-graduation. This aligns with many national and university statistics. Ph.D. graduates are struggling to find positions that suit their educational level and interests, and do not know where to ask for advice. Universities are beginning to respond to the frustration of these graduate students in various ways including creating a network of alumni facilitating mentorship and connections, developing positions for career counselors specifically for graduate students, and reviewing the Ph.D. curriculum to support non-academic career goals by embedding career skills into the curriculum.


At UCLA, Mr. Aron has created a seminar showcasing the different careers for history doctoral students. Guest speakers, in the form of history-Ph.D. recipients, highlight their non-traditional career paths and personal view of their professional success outside of academia. Students also complete a research project gaining collaboration, communication, and quantitative literacy skills identified as competencies by the American Historical Association. While Mr. Aron’s course was considered an elective, Mr. Bruce Hayes at the University of Kansas went a step further and created a required course for his French doctoral students. This forces students to see additional career options early on and gain specific industry application knowledge such as converting a CV into a resume and creating on online portfolio initiating their professional branding.


While these instrumental steps have been taken by new-age professors, most traditional faculty still need persuading to create departmental change. Many look at the overall unemployment rate of Ph.D. students, which is extremely low at about 2%, and consider that a prominent reason to keep curriculum as is. However, graduate students and professors encouraging doctoral career exploration, review this unemployment statistic as a low bar for universities to set on success.


Implications for Career Services:

Graduate students are searching for these essential career development skills and are many times unable to find the support they are searching for. Career services professionals can provide this support and guidance by hiring a specific graduate student career counselor or training all of their counselors in working with graduate students during their industry career exploration and application process. Additionally, since many counselors are already trained in helping these students, it may be that career centers need to increase marketing of their services to graduate students by connecting with the graduate student association and graduate division. Career counselors can focus additional programming on helping graduate students with specific tasks such as converting a CV to a resume, or how to search for appropriate doctoral level positions while also providing avenues to connect with employers through targeted mixers or fairs.


Implications for Recruiting Professionals and Employers:

While branding and promoting on a university campus, remember the benefit that these highly specialized students can bring to an organization. Doctoral students have transferable skills that can be utilized in a variety of different areas and positions outside of their specific research base. To interact with these students and see their potential, consider registering for graduate student mixers, fairs, or providing information sessions tailored toward this population. Connecting current employees with a similar educational background with graduate students to provide some guidance and mentorship could continue to build a prominent brand on university campuses. Graduate student internships can also provide students with industry experience to propel their careers and your organization moving forward. 

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