Trends in grad school education, curricula, and thoughts on how to fix what’s broken.

Johns Hopkins Investing in PhD Career Planning

I’m always glad to hear about a win when it comes to career planning and training for grad students. Here is a big one. Johns Hopkins has announced a $1.5 M investment in PhD professional development initiatives. Woohoo! This goes a long way towards acknowledging the importance of alt-ac careers.

Hopkins will start collecting & tracking more data about where their students end up working. This will help facilitate networking connections, and more importantly, help students see the enormous range of possibilities ahead where there were “none” before. That’s huge! Imagine if your department were transparent about where its students landed, and you could see that not only are most of these people not failures in any sense of the word, but are actually thriving at a wide range of careers, and doing great work!

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These ain’t your dad’s student loans

When I was in my Master’s program (1999-2001), I had a full ride, so my tuition and health insurance were covered, and I got $5000/academic year to be a TA. That still didn’t cover rent, utilities, books, and food. So in addition to my TAship, I took on a 30/hour/week retail job, did well-paid summer internships, and accepted help from my parents. I still racked up a bit of credit card debt. Nothing major, thanks to my parents’ help!

The next year (2002), I started a PhD program, where I was paid $9900/year. And I remember my dad telling me something like “I know how hard it is. I was making only $9000/year when I was in grad school.”

In 1971.

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A new core curriculum for grad students

I spend a lot of time thinking about what graduate school should look like these days, and I think know I’m not alone. There’s a lot of chatter and a growing movement that is gaining momentum that graduate school curricula must evolve and adapt, not just for its own good, but to address students’ needs, to adequately prepare them for the careers that lie ahead.

No more ifs, ands, or buts. Graduate school curricula MUST require professional develoment courses.

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An Action Item for your Grad School

It’s taken me only a month (!) but I’m finally catching up on stuff here (my side gig) after the holidays and the resulting backlog at my real job. One of the things I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is how to scale alt-ac guidance.

Based on my own experience and those of my clients, I’m obviously biased towards the value of tailoring career guidance to the individual. But I also am against a pay-to-play approach, in which only those with means can access assistance. (Hence, this whole blog thing I have here! 🙂 )

Who Can Help Grad Students at Scale?

So then, the only way I can see to scale career guidance is to situate it within the grad school context. For graduate schools to bear the burden of providing career guidance – beyond the undergrad “how to write a resume” basics or all-purpose career fairs. Even if the scaling is just offering an advanced version of how to write a resume or hosting career fairs with employers who are looking to fill knowledge-based or highly-skilled positions…that would still at least be a start.

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