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Workshop Explores Career Options Outside Academia for Science Students

December 10, 2012

Launching a career is a daunting challenge, one that all graduate students confront as they complete their degree requirements and look forward to life after Yale.

Faced with options that include academia (either in faculty or non-teaching positions), government research, not-for-profit administration, private industry, consulting, and earning a professional degree, students can sometimes feel overwhelmed.Graduate Career Services (GCS) has created a series, “Turn that PhD into a J-O-B,” to provide direction and guidance for those who want to learn more about the wide range of careers available to PhDs.

Last year, Graduate Career Fellow Mary Anne Lewis (French) piloted the series using materials that Victoria Blodgett, assistant dean and director of GCS, and other GCS Fellows had created for workshops that focused on a specific career-related task like resume writing. Mary Anne turned these separate materials into a coherent curriculum.

The first version of “PhD into J-O-B” was open to anyone who wanted to attend, and it had “limited success,” according to Blodgett. “The second time, we offered it especially to Humanities students, and we got very positive feedback. It was led by Mary Anne and another GCS Fellow, Wan Tang (Spanish). The take-away was that we needed to craft the course so that students felt as if we were addressing their specific concerns.”

This year, the course will be offered three times. In the fall, it ran as a four-day seminar for science students interested in considering options other than the traditional academic track. In January, it will be offered for Social Science students, led by Tasha Dobbin-Bennett (NELC) and Kevin Callender (Psychology), and in March for those in the Humanities, led by Mary Anne and Bryant Kirkland (Classics). The course leaders receive training from Blodgett and are encouraged to adapt the curriculum to meet the specific needs of those who attend the series.

Limited to twenty-five participants, the “PhD into J-O-B” course for science students met for four 90-minute workshops in October, led by GCS Fellow Nina Brahme (Cell Biology) and Blodgett. Each participant was given a copy of What Color is Your Parachute, by Richard Bolles, and So What Are You Going to Do with That? Finding Careers Outside Academia, by Susan Basalla and Maggie Debelius, along with readings from Peter Fiske’s Putting Your Science Career to Work. They participated in interactive lecture/discussions on topics covered in the books. They learned to highlight their individual strengths, develop resume and cover-letter writing skills, and master networking techniques.

During week one, workshop participants discussed what helps them thrive professionally and personally and deepened their understanding of the kinds of positions, organizations, environments, and colleagues that might allow them to flourish. They were asked to list their skills, personality traits, and relevant experiences; to consider whether they prefer to work alone or in groups, what they want to do, where they want to live, and then to rate the importance of these factors. They investigated the kinds of workplaces that might offer them the opportunities they sought and listed the people they knew who might help them reach their goals.

Other sessions focused on creating and sharing strong resumes and curriculum vitae, setting realistic goals, and crafting an “elevator speech” – a one-minute presentation they could give to a potential employer. They researched organizations, positions, institutions, and companies that they found appealing and shared their findings within the group. They analyzed job descriptions to learn to read between the lines and brainstormed networking opportunities available to them both on and off campus, including the very strong Yale alumni database.

I had a great time at the program,” says Sneha Ramesh Man (Cell Biology). “My job search journey has been pretty terrifying, mostly because for the first time, there is no obvious next step. I thought this program was great as an introspective exercise. The things we talked about and did in class emphasized aspects of science that I would like to keep doing and thus clarified what exactly I'm looking for in a job. Additionally all the resources provided will be very useful in figuring out what options available for a PhD-holder in my field.”

According to anonymous evaluations completed at the end of the course, one participant found the interactive exercises “Very helpful, especially for understanding new things about myself.” Another said, “The ‘elevator speech’ was very useful, as it gave pointers on what to focus.” Everyone in the program said they’d benefited from it and would recommend it to friends. One added, “I know more about what tools I can use in my career search,” and another said the program “showed me areas I need to work/concentrate on.”

It was satisfying to hear that the students really appreciated a structured introduction to exploration and career development, all things that I was fortunate enough to get during my training as a GCS fellow,” Nina says. “I understand that many young scientists need guidance regarding their career paths, and I was very happy to be a part of this excellent teaching opportunity.”

Following the series, GCS presented a “Public Scientific CV Review” program in early November for students considering a scientific career in the pharmaceutical industry. Heads of research divisions and human resource representatives from Alexion and Bristol-Myers Squibb critiqued previously submitted curriculum vitae in front of an audience.