Show Me the Data on the Job Market

Today I met up with a client who is wrapping up their postdoc in a few months and unsure where to turn next. I made an offhand remark during our conversation that while “alt-ac” (or alternative academic) career is the prevailing term, that many oppose this term. And with good reason, too. When over 70% of the jobs are, well, alt-ac, then it’s actually tenure-track or permanent faculty positions that have become the “alternative” career path. If you have to label us working outside of tenure-track faculty, some argue for using career diversity instead.

And I thought that the conversation would just continue on that same path, but she said “Wait, what?! I knew that there weren’t that many tenure-track jobs, but you’re saying chances are less than 30% that I’ll get one? I had no idea!” Sad, but true. But then here’s what she said: “What are your sources?”

Well, folks. That’s a good question that I’m tackling here today.

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Top 3 Must-Have Workplace Behaviors

In career coaching, we talk alot about KSAs: knowledge, skills, and abilities. These are the traits that a job requires in order for you to do that function adequately. They’re absolutely essential to federal job applications, but you’ll see them on pretty much any job posting anywhere. And they are important, but I also consider a couple of other attributes when I’m coaching my clients. Let’s talk about workplace behaviors and habits.

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Research Professional Development Support

When you’re in the process of researching a potential employer, one of the key things you need to look for is their level of support for professional development.

As an academic, you are really into learning. You will need to keep learning throughout your career to stay engaged. You need a career that will challenge and grow with you. And so you need to get to the bottom of how the organization or team handles professional development.

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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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