Why engage employers early in graduate student training (opinion)

Fewer doctoral graduates, especially in the life sciences, explore academic trajectories more than in the past and look rather outside higher education. However, the desire to leave academia is often accompanied by a real struggle to gain a foothold in the non-university sector. As a recent doctorate. a graduate in molecular genetics, I know this struggle firsthand. While there are more and more opportunities outside academia that graduate degree holders could fill, graduates often struggle to find them.

This difficulty is in part due to the inability of many universities to significantly modify their study programs offer professional development programs that enable graduate students to acquire industry-relevant skills and successfully market themselves for non-academic positions. But this is not only the problem of higher education institutions; Employers have also been slow to adapt their hiring practices to accommodate this wave of highly skilled doctorates with little work experience. Part of the problem is the lack of employer engagement during graduate student training.

Professors and department administrators encourage students to focus solely on lectures, research, and writing publications. These academic milestones are, of course, important components of a graduate degree, but not particularly relevant if a student wishes to leave university upon graduation. Meanwhile, Ph.D. students realize the need to broaden their experiences and skills, but they do not contact and connect with workers and company organizations until the end of their diploma.

While career centers are invaluable in providing resources to facilitate this transition, their help may be insufficient, too late. They typically bring industry leaders into the orbit of their universities for career panels or large-scale networking events in which students only attend near graduation. In addition, such events rarely offer employers the opportunity to truly interact with interns.

I was lucky to find ways at the start of my doctorate. to engage with non-academic professionals, which has helped me make connections, develop skills relevant to industry settings and ultimately land a job outside of academia. Building this network and related experience, however, required taking on additional responsibilities and commitments outside of my coursework and research. I had the privilege of being in an institution well stocked with options for various extracurricular activities and I was in a position where I did not have demanding personal responsibilities, such as taking care of my family. This flexibility has given me the time and energy to pursue additional volunteer opportunities which have helped my professional marketing.

Unfortunately, this is not always the case with other students in graduate programs. But my situation should not be unusual, and I strongly support university administrators in finding ways to encourage and integrate employer engagement opportunities into the graduate experience. I have seen firsthand the mutual benefits that occur when business leaders collaborate with academics in the career development of advanced interns.

For two years, I participated in the management of a job simulation program in which teams of graduate trainees took on pharmaceutical challenges under the guidance of a seasoned expert. Many interns were worried about their ability to fully master the workflows and concepts of the industry, but in the end, they achieved that their PhD. equipped them with the skills to manage business-related tasks. The experience also opened their eyes to how to position themselves for successful corporate employment.

For their part, industrial advisers were skeptical of the progress a researcher could make on subjects unrelated to their thesis. In the end, however, they were all impressed with the caliber of critical thinking and ingenuity of the interns and their ability to grasp complex business challenges and come up with viable solutions. The advisors not only guided interns through the intricacies of the pharmaceutical world, but also provided feedback on the professional knowledge needed to thrive in a business, such as email etiquette. Experience has clearly shown interns and professionals the benefits of working together.

Developing employer engagement by supporting such experiential learning initiatives is one way for faculties to enhance the career development of graduate students and increase their career preparation. Job simulations, work-integrated learning, internships or co-op programs, and site visits are great ways for interns to prepare for the job market, identify transferable skills and increase self-confidence in the career path. And these are timely programs for graduate departments to include employers and allow them to help shape the curriculum.

More employer sponsorship and program support would significantly contribute to such programs and the students who participate in them. Expanding employers’ involvement in integrated professional development at all stages of graduate student training can greatly improve the hiring potential of graduate degree holders. Business leaders are familiar with the business environment and can provide input into program design and skills qualifications, as well as general career advice.

Meanwhile, companies also benefit from access to a pool of highly skilled talent that they can play a role in training early on, giving potential recruits the relevant knowledge and practices they need to succeed in the job market. within their organizations. Managers can see first-hand the value of graduate degree holders and the contributions they can make to a business, even if interns initially lack direct work experience in the industry.

Businesses are missing out on untapped potential; academics lack educational resources. I encourage administrators and faculty members to include employer-supported professional development activities in the graduate experience. They should reach out to executives interested in getting involved in developing the skills of graduate students and seek ways to include them in experiential learning initiatives and training opportunities other than the doctorate. offer programs. Industry partners can provide mentorship to students during their studies, share feedback on developing skills and curricula that will help graduates in their job search, and offer resources for internships and programs. practice.

I would also encourage companies to recognize the transferable skills acquired during a doctorate. and offer more entry-level doctorates. positions that use the advanced knowledge that a graduate student possesses while providing additional industry-specific on-the-job training. Universities provide a pool of highly skilled candidates who have learned to work hard, think creatively, and take on great challenges, and industries should use these skilled minds to their advantage.


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Richard V. Johnson