Following an external review of the Cawley Career Center, the Office of the Provost has decided to separate the activities of career advising for undergraduates from those for graduate students. Cawley will in the future focus on undergraduate services for career counseling. We have appointed an implementation team to tackle the problem of building career counseling services for graduate students.
Masters programs seem to have distinct needs from PhD programs. The issues for career guidance of PhD students are changing as universities change. By definition, PhD programs are designed to educate the next generation of scholars in a field. They will be the ones who will generate new insights, building on the work of the current generation. They will be the ones to expand knowledge domains.
Most PhD programs were established to create the next generation of academics. Indeed, national studies suggest that most PhD students begin their studies with the goal of entering a tenure-line academic career. They aspire to follow in the footsteps of their undergraduate faculty who encouraged them to enter a PhD program. As their studies proceed, they seek out role models among their graduate faculty in order to shape their desired blend of research, teaching, and service. They imagine themselves 10 years hence as living very similar lives as those who mentor them.
In turn, the faculty guiding the studies of PhD students themselves are quite familiar with the nature of academic job markets, with the protocols for vetting job candidates for new assistant professor positions, the culture of job talks, and visits to a candidate campus. They know what departments are strong in their field and, often, what departments have strong supportive cultures and which departments are exhibiting internal conflicts. Good mentors of PhD students convey these features of academic life in many informal meetings and conference introductions over the years of the student’s experience. For many, they are replicating the very same experience they had as a PhD student.
Unfortunately, there is no system in the US that calibrates the supply of completed PhD’s with the demand for their knowledge and skills. In some fields, the likelihood that a PhD student eventually achieves a full professorship with tenure is small and declining. In these fields, the supply of newly minted PhD’s vastly exceeds the demand for new assistant professors. Hence, it is common that, within a few years of observing the job outcomes of more senior PhD students, a good portion of PhD students begin considering nonacademic career options.
Some PhD programs have altered their focus to a more nonacademic direction. The best such programs develop ties with commercial entities or nonprofit institutions that require PhD level staff. The faculty of the program thus take on the same career counseling role but for nonacademic careers. When some of the faculty in the program have real-world experience in such organizations, they can offer valuable advice about what the course of a career might be, how to translate research experiences on campus to the needs of the organization, etc.
At Georgetown, we pride ourselves on careful attention to the formation of our students. For the good of their graduates, faculty where increasing portions of their PhD graduates enter nonacademic careers necessarily assume new obligations for helping their students find their way in the nonacademic job market. Some issues are common across fields (e.g., how to translate a curriculum vitae into a commercial résumé, the anatomy of a private sector job interview). These might be ripe for common services at Georgetown for all interested PhD students. Others are quite specific to the types of nonacademic organizations hiring PhD’s from a particular discipline. These are worth discussion and deliberation among our faculty, asking the serious question of how well we are serving our PhD students, as they enter the nonacademic job market.