by Gretchen Kell
A PhD from Berkeley is prestigious, but it is not the end of the road. That's why Associate Professor Michael Ranney has created a class to help students here plan their postdoctoral lives.
Ranney's course, "Getting Your Doctorate and Getting a Good Job," teaches PhD candidates skills ranging from writing a vita to negotiating a salary to avoiding mishaps during a lunch interview.
Ranney, a faculty member in the Graduate School of Education and an expert on scientific reasoning and problem solving, says students at and above the third year of graduate school often don't think about landing a job until the last minute.
Just the thought of leaving campus, which has been home to these students for many years, can be daunting, said Ranney. "There can be a psychological barrier to leaving," he said.
Ranney said it's important to take steps early -- by the third year of graduate work -- to prepare for a future off campus. He tells them to contemplate jobs outside academia and to not only seek out mentors in their field but to make sure their professors know them and their strengths.
"You need to get your professors thinking about you, about jobs for you. You may need to be less of a wall flower in class, to ask more questions," said Ranney. "You want your professors to be able to write you great letters of recommendation to the best places."
Ranney's course -- open to students from all academic disciplines -- parallels the steps needed to acquire a job. But it also focuses on the needs of students who are not yet ready to receive their doctorates.
Social graces, money management and family matters also have a place on Ranney's syllabus. The topic "Interviewing Dos and Don'ts" includes a discussion of some of the pitfalls of a lunch interview -- caffeine, alcoholic beverages, tomato sauce, multiple forks and open zippers.
Class discussion on "Tying Up Loose Ends and Moving" stresses the importance of getting your dissertation done. It also provides advice on whether to buy or rent a house, which items to throw away when you move, whether to use U-Haul or a moving van company, and how to live within your means.
Getting students thinking about their futures early paid off in Ranney's initial class. Of the 12 students he taught in 1994, six soon received their PhDs and have reported finding jobs they enjoy.
"I was struggling with whether to get a job in academia, in research or in industry," said Patti Schank, who took the class in fall 1994.
"Having people come in to class to talk about working in these various areas was inspiring. Students need to keep their minds open about jobs."
Schank, who earned her PhD from the education school's Education in Mathematics, Science and Technology division, now works as a researcher at SRI International in Menlo Park.