LEXINGTON, Ky. (June 20, 2017) – One assistant professor at the University of Kentucky is changing the way his colleagues and peers are viewing doctoral students who go into "non-academic" fields. In a column he authored for Nature, one of the most prestigious science journals in the world, Nathan Vanderford lays out details on an academic course designed to guide students to career options they may not have considered.
As a doctoral student from 2003 to 2008, Vanderford decided to go against the normal research and tenure track, and went into the academic administration, which eventually led to a tenure-track faculty position. In 2014, he created the course that helps doctoral students find their way into the workforce.
In the first class, Vanderford immediately jumps into data from the U.S. National Science Foundation to discuss the job market for doctoral students. A lot of students are shocked by the data, Vanderford says.
"Often this is the first time that students have learned that fewer than 20 percent of U.S. Ph.D.s land tenure-track academic positions and that almost 50 percent of Ph.D.s work outside academia," he said.
Throughout the course, Vanderford assigns multiple assignments that help students explore careers related to their degrees, learn about transferable skills and analyze the expertise they need to get jobs in a particular career. Students also conduct informational interviews with Ph.D. holders in various industries related to areas they want to explore like biotech/pharma, non-profit positions and government positions.
The course also teaches students to create better cover letters and resumes, how to go through the job application process, and how to utilize social media sites such as LinkedIn and others to network and build a better online reputation.
So far, 60 students have participated and many have reported a positive impact, with several obtaining jobs directly as a result of the knowledge and skills they gained during the course.
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