UC Berkeley press release


Is there life after earning a PhD? UC Berkeley class teaches doctoral candidates how to get a good job

by Gretchen Kell

Berkeley -- A PhD from the University of California at Berkeley is prestigious, but an associate professor here says many students have few clues about how to plan their postdoctoral lives -- and he's created a class this fall to give them a head start.

Michael Ranney's course, "Getting Your Doctorate and Getting a Good Job," will teach PhD candidates skills ranging from writing a vita to negotiating a salary to avoiding mishaps during a lunch interview.

According to Ranney, a faculty member in the Graduate School of Education and an expert on scientific reasoning and problem solving, students at and above the third year of graduate school often don't think about landing a job until virtually the last minute. Some also don't have mentors and are not aware of the variety of jobs available to them -- or how to apply for them.

And, 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. Some of his tips include:

o Don't only contemplate a job in academia, where positions can be hard to find. Consider jobs in industry, government, research institutions and non-profit organizations.

o Find out where the jobs are through publications, bulletin boards, networking, conferences and other sources.

o Seek out mentors in your field and ask for career advice.

o Make sure your professors know you and your strengths. You may need them for recommendation letters or to alert you to job opportunities.

o Submit articles to scholarly journals for publication. Consider co-authoring an article with one of your professors.

"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.

The general sequence of topics includes finding out where the jobs are, getting your vita together, getting your job application ready, writing the cover letter, requesting recommendations, what to do when you get a job offer, giving a job talk, interviewing dos and don'ts, negotiating with your potential employers, tying up loose ends and moving, and setting up at a new place.

As part of his class, Ranney will share his own personal tales about applying for jobs. He also will bring in faculty and non-faculty guest speakers and take students on field trips. The class likely will sit in on someone's job talk -- a presentation that a job applicant gives to a prospective employer -- or evaluate videotaped talks.

"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, when Ranney last taught it. "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

Social graces, money management and family matters also have a place on Ranney's syllabus. The topic "Interviewing Dos and Don'ts" will include 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" will stress the importance of getting your dissertation done and provide 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.

"When people get a good job," said Ranney, "they often go crazy with money and buy a new Miata. I know full professors who are essentially penniless because they couldn't restrain their desires when the money came in."

Getting students thinking about their futures early paid off in Ranney's initial class. Of the 12 students he taught in 1994, six, including Schank, soon received their PhDs and have reported back to him. All six had found jobs that made them happy.


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