Panel advises Ph.D. students on how to use their degrees
The USC Career Center and the Office of Postdoctoral Affairs held the first annual career conference for Ph.D. students Wednesday. The event, Beyond the Ph.D., aimed to discuss how Ph.D. students might use their degrees in the job market, regardless of whether they seek professions in teaching, industry or government.
Despite their academic expertise, individuals with advanced degrees often have trouble finding a suitable career, said Richard Reis, the executive director of the Alliance for Innovative Manufacturing at Stanford University.
He said working in academia as a professor or assistant professor, for example, is usually considered the optimal choice. Reis said teaching positions are limited, however, and the field is becoming increasingly competitive.
Reis also said employers outside of academia see Ph.D. holders as too academically focused and tend to favor job experience over extensive research on a specific topic.
A panel of Ph.D. recipients and experts in science, technology, engineering and mathematics explained why more education does not always translate into better career opportunities.
âYouâre really autonomous as a Ph.D.,â said Peter Baumeister, senior manager of medical information at Amgen. âThe problem is that in industry you really have to work with teams.â
During the panel, Eric Schulze, a staff fellow at the Food and Drug Administration, described how employers view Ph.D. students.
âPost-doctoral studies are sometimes seen as a waste of time and expertise,â Schulze said. âEmployers take that into account.â
Current USC students at the event had mixed opinions about their professional futures.
âIâm getting ready to graduate, so right now Iâm thinking about a career,â said Tsutomu Shimizu, a doctoral student studying mechanical engineering. âBut industryâs not for me, because usually theyâre expecting industrial experience.â
Chris Berry, a Ph.D. student studying electrical engineering, has observed that job availability is largely based on a studentâs field of study.
âI worked for five years before beginning my Ph.D.,â Berry said. âIn industry, I feel like there are a lot more positions for scientists than there are for people studying the humanities.â
Reis, who produces the online newsletter Tomorrowâs Professor, lectured on potential solutions to these problems. He said students should focus on âbreadth on top of depthâ to prepare for careers in academia, government and industry to gain a hiring advantage in a field where teaching positions are becoming increasingly difficult to secure.
âThereâs been pressure put on, especially in the arts and humanities, to explore alternatives to tenure-track positions,â Reis said.
This pressure is especially concerning when graduate studentsâ workloads are taken into account. According to a UC Berkeley study, 95 percent of Ph.D. students have felt overwhelmed at some point in their graduate career, and 67 percent reported feeling hopeless or depressed.
For a student constantly conducting research, meeting with professors and attempting to write a thesis, worrying about a career makes life as a graduate student all the more daunting, said Shu Cai, a doctoral student studying computer science.
âI plan to go into industry, with academia as a second choice,â Cai said. âBut the job market is not good right now, and Iâm not expecting it to be any better after graduation.â