Understanding the unique professional development needs of master's students
The Center for Graduate Career Success began with the mission to prepare doctoral students, postdocs, and PhDs, for the non-academic job market. Today, we partner with 35+ institutions to scale career and professional development for doctoral students.
As we’ve become more visible on university campuses, master’s students have reached out to us seeking resources for their unique professional development needs.
We were intrigued. What support did master’s students need that they weren’t receiving from us or from their institution?
Over the past year, we’ve conducted surveys, discussion groups, workshops, evaluations, and interviews to understand the professional development needs of master’s students.
What we learned is that master’s students are driven to pursue their education and training to advance in chosen career fields. In these accelerated programs (1 to 2 years), they are overwhelmed by the need to complete their degrees, gain experience, and job search.
Master’s students are also worried about their financial futures. On average, they borrow close to $70,000 to finance their degree. They worry that this investment won’t pay off. They want to maximize their investment in their education to land a good job, but they lack confidence in their abilities to communicate the value of their advanced degrees to employers.
Master’s students also lack foundational knowledge about how to job search. In a survey we conducted, half of master’s students were not networking and they weren’t active on LinkedIn. Yet, 85% of jobs in North America are filled through networking and referrals.
This white paper summarizes the research we’ve conducted to understand the professional development needs of master’s students. Based on this research, we’ve developed a framework and designed curriculum to help master’s students maximize their investment in their education.
Our research shows that students acquire knowledge about careers and job searching through a variety of sources and in a nonlinear process. As a result, they often miss foundational concepts and struggle to apply knowledge to their job search in a logical way. Knowledge gaps lead to haphazard job searching, which leads to frustration and failure.
Doctoral and master’s students approach their education and job search with different goals and objectives. As such, the challenges facing doctoral and master’s students are unique and require different resources and support.
We apply this research to the development of training platforms and curriculum that allow students to explore careers and prepare for a job search with purpose and strategy. Our structured curriculum minimizes a student’s sense of overwhelm and maximizes job search success.
With 3114 students (undergraduate and graduate) for every 1 professional development staff member, under-resourced career offices may overlook the specific needs of graduate students due to budget constraints. Universities require digital, scalable, solutions to help prepare a growing and diverse graduate student population for career success and to provide equal access to career services across departments, divisions, and schools.
By partnering with the Center, universities are able to provide high-quality, structured, educational tool to support the unique needs of master’s and doctoral students. Designed to complement existing on-campus resources, the Center’s curriculum allows institutions to maximize career center staff time and accommodate the busy-lives of graduate students.
Our journey started in 2014 when our founder, Dr. L. Maren Wood, hosted the very first online career conference for graduate students and PhDs. From 2014 to 2017, she conducted research on career pathways for the Chronicle of Higher Education and the American Historical Association. Graduate students began reaching out to Dr. Wood asking for career advice on how they, too, could make the leap from academia to industry.
Under the brand Beyond the Professoriate, Dr. Wood and her team of PhD researchers and educators began building programming and resources to support PhDs who were in career crisis. In 2019, BtP launched an e-learning platform to partner with universities to help programs prepare doctoral students for job searching in and beyond the professoriate.
Not only were doctoral students using our e-learning platform, so too were master’s students. But what we learned through surveys and interviews was that master’s students had different obstacles and challenges from doctoral students. One curriculum and one platform was insufficient to meet the needs of both groups of students.
In 2021, the Center conducted research into the needs of master’s students and began designing curriculum. Launching in 2022, Beyond Graduate School will be the only online career platform dedicated to the needs of master’s students, allowing institutions to better support, mentor, and advise students on how to leverage their education in today’s fast-paced and changing economy.