It’s no secret that graduate students are increasingly considering nonacademic careers or at least dual career search paths. The trouble enters when students are unsure about how to launch this search and how to identify their allies and resources that can support them through this transition. We can talk about the role of the graduate school and career services in assisting graduate students in charting this unknown space, but I’ll focus on faculty for this post.

Faculty members may be supportive of a student’s desire to transition to nonacademic careers, yet lack the information or resources to assist the student in charting this new path. Faculty my be ill-equipped to be of much help to their students, but perhaps we’re asking too much of faculty members in this regard. By “we” here I mean graduate student mentees, graduate schools, and the countless commentators on the topic of nonacademic careers for PhDs.

Faculty wear many hats in their relationships with their graduate students, including mentor on the ins & outs of the academy, editor, reference and career advisor. These topics can reach into both professional and personal areas, and faculty are often accused of overreaching in their advice and blurring the lines between advisor and parent figure when advising their PhD students.

But the role of the faculty member is not limited to supporting and mentoring graduate students. Faculty are also researchers, collaborators, authors, teachers, and servants within their field and the academic community at large. The expertise of the faculty member is based in their research and their knowledge of the academic process. Rather than look to faculty to fill a gap outside of their area of expertise, we might consider ways to leverage faculty relationships with students to provide graduate students with keys to success beyond the tenure track. Also, graduate schools could provide faculty and departments with the resources to be effective mentors. These resources may include training with strategies on advising students, connection to on campus or other resources that can support their search and skills building, or a toolkit with a list of resources and recommended steps to take.

What do you see as the role of faculty in preparing PhD students for nonacademic careers?

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