Helping Students Turn Degrees Into Jobs

Michael covers science news related to scientific employment and training at Science Careers.

U.S. universities and employers currently do a poor job of helping scientific jobseekers connect with companies that are hiring, said researchers from the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) at a Washington, D.C., briefing last week. The briefing accompanied the release of a report, Pathways Through Graduate School and Into Careers, that surveyed graduate students, universities, and employers about each group's understandings and assumptions of the process of entering the workforce.

"We do a very good job in America in preparing people for the kinds of jobs that do exist and will exist in the future, but we do a pretty bad job at actually illuminating pathways from that great preparation to get into the careers that follow," said Debra W. Stewart, CGS president. "On the one hand, we have companies telling us, 'Where are these people? We need them, we need to hire them.' And on the other hand, we find students telling us, 'I can't find jobs.' Now, ultimately, most of these students do find jobs, but we make the match very difficult."

The survey in the Pathways report found that students typically receive most of their career advice from faculty advisers, who in turn are more likely to recommend academic careers than careers in industry, entrepreneurship, the nonprofit sector, or government. The survey also found that employers outside of academia commonly lament the lack of "soft skills" among new hires, including difficulties in communication, working with people outside one's field, teamwork, and project management, said Patrick Osmer, chair of the CGS board of directors and dean of the graduate school at Ohio State University in Columbus. Universities should do a better job instilling those soft skills into their students before they graduate, he said, and employers should make students aware of job opportunities beyond university walls.

Nan Wells, a self-employed government relations consultant who attended the briefing, said that such efforts could indeed help jobseekers and employers connect more easily, but she's concerned about another issue, too: Even if job-seeking scientists and employers find each other, will their salaries be high enough to let them pay off student loans?

"People think, 'We can educate to this point and they'll take care of the loans somehow,' " she said. "We need the faculty engaged in [questions such as], 'OK, what are we teaching them? How is this going to translate into a living?' "

Posted in Education