Universities host PhD alumni career panels to showcase the careers and transition stories of PhD’s who work outside the academy.  While these panels can be a great resource, there is more that can be done to make them effective for graduate student job seekers.

Here is an excerpt from my article published in Vitae of The Chronicle of Higher Education this June.

It’s clear what the panels are supposed to accomplish: They’re meant to dismantle the taboos surrounding nonacademic careers, and to provide a forum for graduate students to ask questions they might not broach with a faculty advisor. The one I just attended followed what’s become the customary format—a 90-minute event in which panelists were allotted five to seven minutes each to introduce ourselves, describe our disciplinary backgrounds, and talk briefly about our current occupations before the floor is opened for a Q&A session.

Most panelists try to squeeze in a quick anecdote about our transition process, usually something to the tone of “keep an open mind,” “explore your options,” “get work experience even if you have to intern for free,” or “here are the do’s and don’t’s of networking.” But there’s no chance to go into detail about the time, money, and sweat equity we spent building our professional networks, figuring out our transferrable skills, and gaining experience to demonstrate our capacity to work outside the professoriate.

So I’m concerned that these quick, little transition narratives may send the wrong message. They may make it seem as if securing a nonacademic job after graduate school is a simple undertaking—that somehow the job market will welcome you with open arms without you doing much of your own work to translate what you’ve done into what you want to do.

Students leave these panels relieved to have heard from Ph.D.’s who’ve made the transition. In my post-panel discussions with them, they often express relief and assurance that nonacademic careers are an option. But what good is an option if you don’t know how to access it?

You can check out the full article here.

What’s been your best experience at a career panel? Any suggestions on how to make them better? Tell us below.

Facebook Comments