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.

Most of the discussion I see is discipline or scholarly-association specific. Alt-ac career roundtables for anthropologists at the SAAs, resources for American Studies scholars, and so on. Again, kudos to those who are doing this! It’s badly needed. But aren’t there also basic best practices and principles for job hunting and career strategies that would transcend disciplinary boundaries? If we could identify some standard playlist, that could be housed centrally, within a grad college and then students in all subjects could have equity of access to the same consistent services, assistance, and advice.

I remember going to the career center on my campus as a Ph.D. student and coming away empty-handed. I felt like they just didn’t know how to handle someone like me. I already knew how to write, edit, and tailor my resume and cover letter. I knew far more than them what industries and types of jobs might be appropriate for someone with an advanced degree in the humanities. It just wasn’t a thought that the Master’s or PhD student was an audience with need. Or maybe it was just like our central research office -where grad students were not within their scope and so they literally couldn’t offer any assistance to grad students seeking grants. Not that I’m bitter or anything!

This is one area where maybe we could borrow from the curricula of community and vocational colleges. Most embed and/or require some level of career exploration into their certificates, programs, and degrees. And some grad schools are starting to do this. But wholesale, grad schools need to recognize their responsibility to abandon the model of providing discipline-only specialized curriculum. Either they must also begin to *at a minimum* offer graduate-level courses in career development or swap out some of the discipline-specific courses at the Master’s level and beyond and replace those with required career planning courses.

These could be team-taught by cross-functional experts from HR, career centers, faculty in business or organizational development, and alt-ac professionals across campus, all offering cohesive guidance and services such as

  • self-assessments
  • identifying and marketing transferable skills
  • researching employment outlook
  • job searches for highly-skilled positions, knowledge-based jobs, and industries related to your field
  • networking
  • resume writing
  • 1:1 or cohort mentoring

One “issue” I see with such a model is that when it comes to implementing the approaches, there’s always going to be nuances and adjustments to putting it into practice within your discipline and field…but I don’t actually think this is that big of a deal. Us academics are smart. Given some basic tips and instruction, we can easily tweak our job searches and make our application materials, and interview responses discipline and employer-appropriate.

Is your grad school doing this already? Know any good models? @ me on Twitter or email me and let me know.

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