June 15, 2019
June 15, 2019
October 19, 2019
Traditional engineering doctoral programs prepare students for academic work; however, several national reports have highlighted that graduates pursue a wide range of career paths [1, 2]. In Canada and the United States, fewer than 20% of engineering PhDs are employed in tenure-track positions, and in comparison to PhDs from other fields, engineering PhDs are more likely to be employed outside the academy [1, 3]. Doctoral programs provide a transferable skillset that is valuable for many careers, for example, communication, project management, and innovative thinking . Despite this, many PhDs struggle to transition from school to the workforce. This has prompted a number of calls to broaden graduate curriculum to include career development and professional skills training for diverse career options [5, 6]. This paper presents an example of a high intensity, professional preparation initiative, The OPTIONS Program (Opportunities for PhDs: Transitions, Industry Options, Networking and Skills) at the University of Toronto, for PhDs and post-doctoral fellows. In particular, it discusses the program’s development, evaluation, findings, and recommendations.
The OPTIONS Program is a non-credit, cohort program for 30 PhDs and post-doctoral fellows. Facilitated by faculty and professional development educators, the program consists of weekly two-hour sessions that take place over eleven weeks. The sessions cover three learning outcomes: 1) reflect on strengths, desires, interests, and personal qualities to formulate an individual development plan; 2) communicate skills and experiences using job search strategies to highlight expertise and personal value; and 3) apply networking tools and labour market resources to identify and clarify career aspirations. In addition to the in-session portion, participants have access to an individual development plan, one-on-one meeting with a professor and career coach, and personalized feedback on their job application material. To foster peer-to-peer support, participants are placed into teams that provide feedback on job application material, and a forum to discuss content and ideas from sessions. Program evaluations show that The OPTIONS Program foster participants who are more confident and optimistic about their future. The most frequently identified program strengths include: learning practical skills for the job search (e.g., resumé writing, interview skills), having structured time for career exploration, joining a community of like-minded individuals, and an opportunity for self-reflection. Participants favoured activities that involved feedback and have a practical, immediate benefit such as resumé writing, informational interviews, and one-on-ones with a professor and career coach.
Our findings suggests that The OPTIONS Program provides participants with the time and place to self-reflect, develop a career exploration plan, and refine their job search skills. Faculty and professional development educators should look for ways to incorporate training that allows students to reflect on and translate their skills and experiences to make well-informed career decisions, and effectively position themselves to pursue non-academic careers.
References:  J. Edge and D. Munro, Inside and Outside the Academy: Valuing and Preparing PhDs for Careers. Ottawa, The Conference Board of Canada, 2015. pp. 22, 54-66.  National Science Foundation, “Survey of Doctorate Recipients,” National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, 2015. [Online]. Available: https://www.nsf.gov/statistics/srvydoctoratework/ - tabs-1 [Accessed: Oct 9, 2018].  M. Fiegener, “Number of Doctorates Awarded Continue to Grow in 2009: Indicators of Employment Outcomes Mixed,” National Science Foundation, NSF 11-305, Nov 2010. [Online]. Available: https://www.nsf.gov/statistics/infbrief/nsf11305/ [Accessed: Oct 9, 2018].  M. Sinche, R. L. Layton, P. D. Brandt, A. B. O’Connell, J. D. Hall, A. M. Freeman, J. R. Harrell, J. G. Cook, and P. J. Brennwald, “An evidence-based evaluation of transferrable skills and job satisfaction for science PhDs,” Plos One, vol. 12, no. 9, pp. 1-16, Sept. 2017.  D. Denecke, K. Feaster, and K. Stone, Professional Development: Shaping Effective Programs for STEM Graduate Students, Washington, DC: Council of Graduate Schools, 2017.  National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, Graduate STEM Education in the 21st Century, Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2018.
Didiano, T. J., & Wilkinson, L., & Turner, J., & Franklin, M., & Anderson, J. H., & Bussmann, M., & Reeve, D., & Audet, J. (2019, June), I Have a Ph.D.! Now What? A Program to Prepare Engineering Ph.D.'s and Postdoctoral Fellows for Diverse Career Options Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32910
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