center for graduate career success

What We Know to Be True

These are our guiding principles — 5 things we know to be true from our work. And principles we return to often as a reminder of what’s important and why we do what we do

5 things we know to be true

1. Focus on the student — everything else follows

Our research shows that the majority of graduate students, irrespective of discipline or degree level, are unable to identify their skills, value to employers, or long-term career goals. They lack the foundational framework necessary to secure jobs where they can be paid for their advanced education and training.


Through surveys, webinars, workshops, and interviews, students relate to us the challenges they encounter securing employment after graduation. They internalize their struggle to land a job as a reflection on themselves and their education and assume that they are unemployable.


When they learn how to job search and communicate effectively with employers, graduate students successfully secure jobs that align with their values, skills, and interests.


Proposed changes to graduate education that only focus on time to degree or changes to the curriculum, but do not teach students proper job searching techniques, will continue to set students up for underemployment and unemployment.



2. Students lack confidence in their careers and futures. We need to support them with more than tactics.

Multiple studies, including research conducted by the Center, shows that graduate students and PhDs suffer from anxiety and depression at 6x the rate of the general population.


One contributing factor is that students lack confidence in their careers and financial futures.


The majority of doctoral students – irrespective of academic discipline – want to be faculty, but there are too few tenure track jobs for all the talented people. PhDs also worry that nonacademic careers will not be intellectually engaging or rewarding. This results in too many PhDs remaining in low-pay contingent positions in academia.


Master’s students typically finance their own education, and many struggle to repay student loans. Our research shows that half of master’s students worry about their financial futures. Students and alumni of master’s programs worry that, rather than opening up opportunities, their degree will negatively impact their financial futures.


By helping students communicate to and connect with employers, institutions empower their students to build impactful careers that lead to financial security and social mobility.



3. The degree is never the thing.

Academia is a world organized by credentials and subject matter expertise. It’s also one of the few remaining industries where people have jobs for life.


Graduate students often struggle to make the transition from academia to industry. They focus on their degrees and credentials as the most important part of their education and training.


But employers value skills and look for evidence that the job candidate has applied their skills with success to solve problems. A degree may communicate a certain mastery of knowledge, but it doesn’t communicate the application of that knowledge or skills.


Even for students where there are direct pathways into industry, the degree will not be enough. Employers will be evaluating candidates who all have the same technical knowledge. It’s the interpersonal skills and qualities that will make a candidate stand out.


This mismatch of values – credentials vs. skills – is an obstacle that students need to overcome to be successful in their job search.


A degree does not define a career path. A degree does not lead to jobs. A degree is the deliverable. It’s what the student achieved when they were successfully building and applying their skills.



4. Structured curriculum is key

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 a job search in a logical way. Knowledge gaps lead to haphazard job searching, which leads to frustration and failure.


Structured curriculum helps guide students through career exploration and job searching with purpose and strategy. It helps them manage overwhelm, and focus on building foundational knowledge before moving on to next steps.
Active, guided, learning, where students complete assignments and worksheets, can help them apply what they are learning to their own job search.


It’s not enough to get a job. Graduate students need to learn the framework for successful career transitions because they will need that knowledge throughout their careers in order to gain career security.



5. The solution needs to be digital and scalable

There are nearly 2 million graduate students currently pursuing their education at US institutions. This is a diverse group of adult learners who have busy lives and competing demands.


For an institution to provide specialized career support for all of its doctoral and master’s students would be cost prohibitive if it were even possible.


Changing curriculum requirements or the structure of graduate programs requires buy-in from numerous stakeholders across a university campus. It would require hiring staff and training faculty to implement professional development as part of graduate education and training.
Students can’t wait. They need access to professional development training now to maximize their investment in their education and training.


They need to know they have bright futures and many career options.


They need to learn how to job search so that they can be successful now and in the future.


That’s why we came up with this solution … and partner with institutions to help solve this problem.


By subscribing to the Centers’ platforms, the cost for delivering professional development to thousands of graduate students is shared across institutions, making it cost-effective.
Students gain immediate access to research-informed curriculum that is designed to address the specific challenges of master’s and doctoral students.


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