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UB to explore career paths for PhDs

By SUE WUETCHER

Published October 24, 2017

“We know that people with PhDs tend to have very high job satisfaction … But we do not have a good understanding of what those career trajectories actually look like.”
Graham Hammill, vice provost for educational affairs and dean
UB Graduate School

While a job in academia may be the most obvious career path for those pursuing doctoral degrees, it’s certainly not the only one. And to better understand and support the various career opportunities open to those earning PhDs, UB will survey its PhD students and alumni about their career aspirations and employment as part of a national Council of Graduate Schools’ (CGS) project.

A consortium led by UB and including the SUNY university centers at Albany, Binghamton and Stony Brook is among the 29 institutions selected as partners in the CGS’ PhD Career Pathways project funded by the National Science Foundation and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Other partners include a consortium of institutions from the University of California system, as well as the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; the University of Wisconsin, Madison; and Brown University.

These partner institutions will administer surveys to their current doctoral students and alumni to gather data that will allow the universities to analyze PhD career preferences and outcomes at the program level, and help faculty and university leaders strengthen mentoring, career services and professional development opportunities.

The universities also will be able to use the data to provide information on the career paths of PhD alumni to current and prospective students to help them make more informed choices regarding PhD programs.

“The Graduate School at UB is pleased to be selected to participate in this nationwide initiative,” says Graham Hammill, vice provost for educational affairs and dean of the Graduate School. “For many years, educators have wanted a better understanding of the career trajectories of doctoral students.

“We know that people with PhDs tend to have very high job satisfaction — both those who go on to hold academic positions, as well as those who have careers outside of the academy. But we do not have a good understanding of what those career trajectories actually look like,” he explains.

“The results of this survey will give us a much clearer picture, and in the long run will give us a solid foundation for improving the overall quality of doctoral education nationwide, and at UB.”

The project, adds SUNY Chancellor Kristina M. Johnson, will help the system “better understand the career goals of our PhD students, the types of opportunities they find upon graduation and beyond, and the skill sets that they believe are particularly important to finishing their doctorate, gaining their first position and advancing in their career.”

“For my own experience, my PhD and postdoc education set me on an amazing path across academic research, university department and administrative leadership, senior experience at a federal agency and starting my own business,” as well as her current position as SUNY’s 13th chancellor, Johnson says. “It has been an incredible experience so far, and one that I know was positively influenced by my graduate preparation.”

The surveys were developed by the Council of Graduate Schools in consultation with senior university leaders, funding agencies, disciplinary societies, researchers, and PhD students and alumni.

UB will distribute the survey to current PhD students this fall and to PhD alumni in spring 2018.

The CGS expects to publish the first wave of data in fall 2018.