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Graduate Studies offers 'pathways' to careers in academia and beyond


By Julia Ann Easley

Photo: Lia Winfield, a doctoral candidate in history, attends a GradPathways workshop.

Lia Winfield, a doctoral candidate in history, assesses her career path during a GradPathways workshop. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

Doctoral candidate Lia Winfield has transformed her academic curriculum vitae into a more traditional job resume, created a LinkedIn profile and conducted several informational job interviews.  

The history student is putting into practice what she has been learning through a comprehensive professional development program launched this fall for graduate students and postdoctoral scholars.

Offered through Graduate Studies, GradPathways provides individual advising, and workshops and other group activities to help students progress through graduate school and prepare for careers in academia and beyond.

"We need intelligent, well trained individuals contributing in all areas of society," said Jefferey Gibeling, dean of Graduate Studies.

"People with advanced degrees are capable of pursuing a myriad of career paths," he said. "But graduate students don't always see themselves taking the skill set they've acquired at UC Davis and using it in a different way."

A national commission's report on graduate school and careers estimates that by 2020, 2.6 million new or replacement jobs will require graduate or professional degrees.

Commission challenges universities

The commission, of which Gibeling was a member, challenged universities and especially graduate faculties to help students explore career opportunities outside of academia and then prepare them for success in those arenas.

UC Davis has more than 4,500 graduate students in 92 programs and about 760 postdoctoral scholars. Gibeling said about 40 percent of the doctoral students and postdoctoral scholars will pursue careers in academia and the rest work with government, industry, the military and nongovernmental organizations around the world. 

The campus task force on the future of graduate education at UC Davis recommended to the provost in its May report that UC Davis plan to adopt the ideas of the commission’s report, released by the Council of Graduate Schools and Educational Testing Service.

While GradPathways incorporated many existing professional development opportunities, Graduate Studies built the program by first identifying eight core competencies students should have — from presentation skills to mentoring — and then developing a greatly expanded and structured curriculum.

The eight core competencies to help students succeed in graduate school and beyond are:

  • Success and socialization in your graduate program.
  • Writing and publishing.
  • Presentation skills.
  • Teaching and mentoring.
  • Leadership management.
  • Scholarly integrity and professionalism.
  • Career exploration, job searching and networking.
  • Wellness and life balance.

Programs are offered in four tiers: introductory, in-depth, individual advising, and community building and activities.

Campus partners

To deliver the programming, Graduate Studies draws on the expertise of campus partners — from the Internship and Career Center to the University Writing Program and from the Graduate School of Management to the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning.

There is not yet an estimate for the numbers of students who attended the 29 workshops offered this fall. But Teresa Dillinger, who coordinates GradPathways for Graduate Studies, and graduate student and postdoctoral career services for the Internship and Career Center, said students have responded enthusiastically.

“I think it’s really going to strengthen the opportunities and attract students when they see we have a premier development program for them,” Dillinger said.

Winfield, who in October submitted her draft dissertation on the integration of women into the Army, is exploring possible careers outside academia

“It’s going to be challenging at first,” she said. “It’s an unfamiliar world but also really exciting.”

Winfield has attended a workshop on job search strategies; another that guided her through an assessment of her personality, interests and values; and one designed to help students inventory their job skills and explore careers that will best use them.

Winfield is interested in varied opportunities: working with the military as a historian, a business that does research for government, the Wounded Warrior Project, a human resources team or a community college as a history instructor.

For students pursuing the more traditional academic path, GradPathways provides an impressive array of help.

'A really great resource'

Scarlett Widgeon, who is working on a doctorate in materials science and engineering, has attended workshops to help her prepare for a faculty position, including sessions on writing grant proposals and creating a teaching philosophy and portfolio.

“This is a really great resource for graduate students,” she said, recommending that students tap into the program early in their studies.

Following advice to gain mentoring experience, she recently joined AggieMentors, a program in which graduate students work one-on-one with high school students to guide them through an environmental research project.

GradPathways' resources to help students meet the challenges of graduate studies include sessions ranging from help acclimatizing to the culture of their academic field to dissertation writing and from stress reduction to time management.    

More information is available online or by contacting Dillinger, (530) 752-7566 or tldillinger@ucdavis.edu.

Earlier coverage

“Study: Prepare grad students for work beyond academia,” UC Davis news release (May 9, 2012)

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