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!

They’ll bring in alumni and speakers to offer a suite of professional development events, straight from folks who know what grad students are up against, and how to develop and implement a career plan that takes that into account.

But my all-time favorite thing about how they’ve designed this program is to be discipline inclusive. They will bring together leaders from all programs to the table. At the end of each academic year, they’ll hold an annual retreat of all PhD program directors to surface and implement university-wide best practices for “exposing students to professional paths relevant to their training.” Students need to learn about a range of alt-ac options. During the retreat, they will

  • share and discuss what is working for them in their field, and
  • listen to additional measures they could adapt to their programs.

All I can say to that is a hugely enthusiastic YES! This is great!

I hear from clients, colleagues, and online anecdotes about faculty that continue to scoff at alt-ac paths. I have no doubt those attitudes are still out there, but I remain skeptical that it’s the prevailing view. The vast majority of faculty do care about helping their students succeed “even if” it’s in an alt-ac path. However, what is missing is they often lack the practical know-how necessary to plan that out.

It’s not a matter of not caring or not understanding the need, but, as Leonard Cassuto says in his excellent book The Graduate School Mess: What Cause It and How We Can Fix It, “Professors live inside the box we want students to break out of.”

By bringing together all the PhD program leadership – whether STEM, STEAM, social sciences, practitioner or tenure-track-faculty-focused – this career planning work must be shared by all.

  • Students need to get informed and do their homework about their career prospects.
  • Career coaches need to provide more training in employment outlooks, ABZ career plans, and career possibilities.
  • Graduate College Academic Advisors undoubtedly have insights to share.
  • Campus Career Services offices need to start building more bridges between employers and grad students.
  • Faculty and grad programs must do more than pay lip service to alt-ac career prep.

Johns Hopkins is doing great work in moving this along. I can’t wait to see how this work unfolds!

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