The Graduate Student Senate overwhelmingly passed a resolution Monday urging the administration and Board of Trustees to create the position of a full-time graduate career counselor who can serve the needs of the graduate student population.
The resolution, which passed with 42 representatives in favor, two abstentions and two opposed, came in response to a growing concern among graduate students that the university is not doing enough to respond to changing dynamics in the job market for those with graduate degrees.
“Because of the increased number of Ph.D. students and professional doctorate students and the decreased number of academic jobs, a lot of people are looking to use their degrees in non-traditional ways — particularly in business — but not necessarily knowing how to translate their skills over,” said GPSS President Yael Adef.
Adef said that though professional schools, such as the Marshall School of Business and the Gould School of Law, often have their own internal career services, there is a need for a centralized career service for the doctoral programs. She said, moreover, that fluctuations in the job market have made people much more interdisciplinary, making it difficult to solely utilize the career services of any one school and increasing the demand for a general counselor to serve across disciplines.
Damian Wang, a doctorate student studying genetic, molecular and cellular biology, who was one of the key figures involved in the passage of the resolution, said the idea to bring a career counselor to the university came while he was interning at the USC Career Center.
“After interning there for the past two years, I noticed that they didn’t really have services for graduate students,” Wang said. “That’s purely because they don’t have the personnel to do so.”
Though there are nine internship and career counselor positions to assist the undergraduate student population, the university does not have any career counselors dedicated solely to graduate students, despite the fact that graduate and professional students outnumber undergraduates by about 3,000 students and that USC is one of only two schools in the US News and World Report Top 25 schools not to have one.
Adef said graduate students who do try to utilize the Career Center services often find that it is not equipped to handle their specific needs.
“Graduate students end up going to the Career Center because they don’t have services for their department and get told the same thing that undergraduates get told, such as ‘Your resume needs to be one page long,’” Adef said. “This is fine if you’re 21 and looking for your first job, but graduate students have publications, they have CVs — their needs are very different from an undergraduate student.”
Outgoing Vice President of Student Affairs Michael L. Jackson said this disparity in career services stems from the conflicting interests that research universities have with respect to their graduate students.
“This is a conundrum for all research universities,” Jackson said. “We recruit [graduate students] because we want them to earn Ph.Ds, to do well in the field, maybe become professors — and so our faculty are trained to replicate themselves.”
Jackson said the university is still figuring out what it can and should do to aid graduate students in their searches for opportunities outside the world of academia, but cited programs already in place at USC, such as the Beyond the Ph.D Career Conference.
John Polansky, co-chair of a graduate student task force created by the graduate school, said surveys of the graduate student population suggest that one of the leading contributors to graduate student stress was worry about job placement. He said the creation of a graduate counselor would go a long way in alleviating some of that stress.
“Graduate students in particular have a hard time talking to their advisors and their professor about getting out of the field, and there is a lot of pressure to go into academia,” Polansky said. “There isn’t a strong resource available to graduate students to discuss the options and explore other avenues, and having a centralized resource such as this would be great.”
Wang said the next step for graduate students is to engage the higher administration to make sure that the issue is addressed.
“Something like this is very revolutionary in terms of the way we think of higher education and what it stands for,” Wang said. “Whether it’s supposed to remain in academia or whether it can branch out into industry and other fields.”