Graduate Student Career Development and Fostering Graduate Student-Alumni Connections
News Article By Dan Curran, PhD Graduate Student and Sustainability Officer of the River Campus Graduate Student Association
A major incentive for students to pursue post-secondary education is career development. While departments do a good job of preparing students to pursue a career directly in their field of study, the reality of the current academic landscape is that most students who want to stay in academia will not be able to. Finding jobs in industry or following a non-linear career path is dependent on having a diversified network and a suite of soft-skills. These realities are applicable to graduate students in all fields of study, so it is the University’s responsibility to provide graduate students the opportunity to develop them. From my and others’ experiences, there is a seeming lack of commitment on an institutional level from the River Campus towards graduate student career development when compared to that of undergraduate student career development.
It is easy to understand the challenges that the Career Center faces that would cause this disparity; having to serve a much larger student body at different points of their education over a spread of different fields can be overwhelming and priorities have to be made. As someone trying to figure out their future career path, it is frustratingly obvious that graduate students are only a new addition to the priority list, but I give a lot of credit to the Greene Center for noticing the needs of UR’s graduate students and taking positive steps in addressing them. The Greene Center recently created a new position, currently held by Kari Brick, specifically to oversee programming graduate student education and professional development. A product of the Career Center’s new focus on graduate students is an increase of events tailored for them, such as the graduate student-alumni networking event last February (see below) in conjunction SMD’s Center for Professional Development and the URBEST Program. Alumni from AS&E and the School of Medicine and Dentistry generously donated their time to connect with over thirty graduate students. It was awesome to connect with recent graduates and learn about the different career paths they took in a casual environment. For myself, having local events like these where I can learn about what opportunities exist around Rochester while also working on network skills at a low-stakes event was an invaluable experience. Similar events like these are planned, one with a focus on industry in the fall of 2018 and another alumni event in spring 2019. I encourage all graduate students who want to explore different career paths to attend.
As The Greene Center continues to learn more about their UR graduate student population, I am hoping they will be providing more unique career resources, such as those available to my peers across the street.,  Browsing the two websites illuminates, on a surface level, the disparity in support. To be blunt, graduate resources on AS&E Career center’s webpage have been hollow: programs for honing non-technical skills are rarely advertised, information on career development is extremely basic, the list of graduate alumni is limited, and links often redirect to pages meant for undergraduate students that are not supportive for the needs of graduate students. The best advice from their website is alarming and telling of this problem; “Health Science and Biomedical PhD students exploring employment outside of academia can also join the URBEST Program.” For a small portion of AS&E graduate students, there are opportunities outside of the River Campus while the rest must fend for themselves. With the previous lack of interest from the Career Center towards graduate students, it is hard to believe that meeting with a career advisor would be worthwhile, as I would imagine they are more suited to help undergraduates.
It is encouraging to see the Career Center begin to take the right steps to support graduate students to the same degree they do undergraduates. My hope is that they will continue to better understand their graduate student population and improve the quality of graduate support by working with graduate students and faculty to provide services tailored to the needs of different departments, create programs to hone non-technical skills, and foster cross-disciplinary opportunities. At the same time, graduate students need to be more involved with career education, providing a foundation for the Career Center to improve its programming. By graduate students going to these events, it demonstrates there is a desire for career support that needs to be met. Graduate student attendance and engagement will send a powerful message to leadership that there is a strong need for institutional commitment – time and money – to graduate career development. Submitting constructive feedback through student governments, such as the Graduate Student Association or Graduate Student Society, and professional development organizations, such as The Green Career Center, The Center for Professional Development or URBEST, will further improve and develop resources available to all graduate students, on both sides of the street.
Tracey Baas |