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UI Graduate College strives to address students' career needs

BY GRETA MEYLE | DECEMBER 18, 2013 5:00 AM

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University of Iowa Graduate College officials are beginning to discuss new methods for assisting graduate students in obtaining careers after graduation. The officials are strategizing how to implement the initiative facing the possible obstacle of a tuition freeze.

Dean of the Graduate College John Keller said the problem lies in a lack of availability of tenure-track positions in academia, which is partially due to the variety of retirement ages among faculty. Because most graduate students want to be on “tenure tracks” as faculty members, there is a scarcity of openings, Keller said. The Graduate College may have to redefine its approach to education in creating a career center.

“If we’re training people just to go to faculty positions, then we’re overproducing,” Keller said. “But if we’re thinking about preparing them for other kinds of career positions in society and the employment world, then maybe we’re not overproducing, but we need to reorient their skillsets and experiences in graduate school so that they can pursue those jobs.”

Approximately one-third of the college’s doctoral exit surveys every semester have indicated graduate students desire the assistance of a career-services program, which Keller said has been a persisting need for nearly five years.

The need for the program has been hampered by the recent tuition freeze, Keller said. Career services is supported at the UI through mandatory fees that students pay, but because of the recent UI tuition freeze, he said, funding has not been available to create such a program or a position that could work between undergraduate and graduate students. Despite this, he said, the college strives to set aside funds in other ways.

Undertaking this program will involve not only more funding, but also an alteration in the tenure-oriented teaching methods of faculty.

“The question is, Whose responsibility is it to do this?” he said. “And you could go back to the departments and faculty, but in all fairness, they’re not prepared for that, they’re all Ph.D.-trained faculty members, so they know how to [train individuals about their job] but not how to do other things, so we have this conundrum of what to do.”

Vice President of the Graduate Student Senate Tessa Quintero said she believes this initiative would help satisfy the lack of placement options for the doctoral students.

“Many students tell me they don’t feel supported if they are looking for these career services, like how to write a résumé at their professional level versus another and networking opportunities,”  Quintero said. “I think [a career-services center] will more aptly prepare students to face the job market when they’re finished with schooling and give them more informed expectations for different positions and how to obtain those positions.”

UI spokesman Tom Moore said the university has developed knowledge from having career services available at the undergraduate level that can be applied to graduates.

“Not that long ago, a master’s degree or a Ph.D. was a very important achievement, and our graduate students typically were able to find work with ease in their chosen fields,” Moore said. “That has changed over the past few years with the economy and competitive job market, so we want to take the advantages given at the undergraduate level to the graduate level.”

Keller said officials are considering implementing different types of doctorates to help people gain the skills to go into nonacademic career paths.  Though the future is still relatively unclear, Keller said, he has confidence in the necessity of the service.

“Our bottom line is we want students to graduate from our programs in a timely fashion,” Keller said. “But we also want them prepared so they can move on to satisfying careers, too, and that’s not just academics anymore.”


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