May 11, 2010

Grad students seeing more support from CAPS amidst employment woes

Graduate students have lately found out that academic jobs have thinned out with the recession. Lucky for them, Career Advising and Planning Services (CAPS) has of late been offering more career workshops and programs to prepare graduate students for entering the workplace and aid them in the financial struggles that some face on the way.

CAPS and the Office of Graduate Student Affairs will begin administering graduate exit surveys this year that will help assess grad students’ preparedness for the job market.

These types of surveys are now in place in the College, but with graduate students, “this type of data collection has been hard to collect because of the decentralized nature of the graduate division,” said Heather Sevener, CAPS’ s associate director of Graduate Services.

A professional workshop series was created this year to help students acquire skills like networking. The workshops teach students “how to work the room” and “how to give an elevator version or quick and effective spiel of a proposal,” said Brooke Noonan, director of Graduate Student Affairs.

In addition, CAPS held GradUCon, a graduate student development conference Thursday that provided sessions on topics such as finding academic jobs, post-academic careers, and academic and grant writing hosted by Chicago.

But for some graduate students, financial problems are already an issue before graduation. “Lots of grad students have families which they’re supporting on graduate student stipends,” said Benjamin Schonthal, a Ph.D. candidate in the History of Religions.

To aid graduate students with children, the Office of Graduate Students Affairs increased the services of the Family Resources Center, which helps graduate students manage their family life. “The new initiatives...are really being felt, particularly the resources for grad students with families,” Schonthal said.

While CAPS would not link a difficulty in finding tenure-track positions to the recession, Slavic Languages and Literatures Ph.D. student Kat Hill Reischel did.

“The general consensus out there now, and from what I have seen with our own job searches here at the U of C, is that the difficulty of the situation is compounded by the economic downturn,” Reischel said.

Reischel decided to postpone writing her dissertation, and thus graduation, to do research abroad on a Fulbright scholarship. This is in hopes of strengthening her résumé before trying to pursue an academic career.

“I don’t know if I would have pursued an entire year of archival research if the academic job market were better, but in the long run, I believe that it will be better for me as a professor and academic—so perhaps there is a silver lining,” Reischel said.