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Co-op and Career Centres and Faculty Collaborating to Support Graduate Students’ Career Success

From: ESC: English Studies in Canada
Volume 39, Issue 4, December 2013
pp. 13-16 | 10.1353/esc.2013.0050

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

University co-op and career centres occupy a unique position as they seek to further the university’s institutional goals, meet the needs of employers, and develop graduates who are successful in achieving their individual career goals. As the labour market evolves and academic positions become increasingly competitive, co-op and career centres have started to play a stronger role in supporting graduate students’ career development. PhD graduates often struggle in transitioning to nonacademic careers for a number of reasons: 1) the competencies (skills, knowledge, attributes, and experience) recognized for academic and nonacademic careers are distinct, 2) the academic culture has not typically valued careers outside of academia, and 3) there is a lack of meaningful data on PhD graduate career outcomes. University career practitioners are well positioned to partner with academic units to support graduate students in achieving their career goals, which, in turn, supports graduate students’ overall engagement and satisfaction with their university experience.

Co-op and career centre staff have strong relationships with employers through their co-operative education programs, professional memberships, and personal industry networks. They have an understanding of what employers value, and they are experienced at coaching individuals in articulating and developing their competencies. This makes them well equipped to support graduate students in identifying and securing opportunities that will support their successful transition into the workforce. Humanities PhD graduates have broad skills sets and interests and they find work in a variety of sectors including:

  • •   The non-profit sector for roles involving: grant writing, research, fund-raising, and program development and evaluation.

  • •   Higher education administration for roles involving: coaching on writing and learning, research, communications, program development, coordination, and evaluation.

  • •   Private corporations and government for roles involving: marketing, communications, research, decision-making or policy writing or analysis, training and education, and project management.

Work in these industries can offer opportunities for humanities PhD graduates to bridge their skills sets from an academic context to industry, gain new skills, and allow them to contribute to a cause, area, or community that interests them.

PhD graduates have a high level of specialized training and the potential to be very attractive to employers; however, they need to demonstrate the relevance of their skill sets outside of an academic context. All employers are interested in finding skilled employees who are a good fit for their organization, and this requires that the candidate has some related experience and can clearly articulate his/her value. In the recruitment process, employers are looking for evidence that graduates have undertaken steps to tailor their experience and skills to the role for which they are applying. This can be accomplished by pursuing part-time and contract projects or full-time work terms prior to graduation. Graduate students can engage in integrated career planning pursuing career opportunities in both the academic and non-academic track simultaneously. For example, at the University of Victoria, a humanities PhD co-op student completed a four-month full-time summer work term as a researcher and proposal writer in the final year of his degree. He was committed to pursuing an academic career but acknowledged that there weren’t currently many opportunities open in his field. He had a young family to consider and was interested in exploring opportunities in higher education administration as well. This experience allowed him to gain experience and skills sets that would make him more versatile in a changing labour market upon graduation.

Work-integrated experiential learning opportunities like co-operative education programs allow graduate students to develop their network, build their resumés, and explore further career options. When experiential learning program outcomes are tied to discipline-specific competencies, they support graduate students in reflecting on the value of their degree more broadly. Work-integrated programs, like co-operative education, bridge academia and industry through their emphasis on learning (core competencies and discipline-specific competencies) and relationship building between department faculty member representatives, co-op and career staff, and employers. Within the humanities, the graduate student co-op program stands out as an example of integrated approaches to supporting graduate students’ career development.

More commonly, co-op and career centres partner with other service units to support graduate students through professional...

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