Graduates adjust to market

As the recession places strain on the nation’s job market, the Graduate School and its academic departments are rolling out new strategies to help Yale’s graduate students win more professorships and postdoctoral appointments.

Tactics and job placement strategies vary by department, as do job placement rates, but Graduate Career Services is set to launch a second career workshop series for academic job market applicants. Graduate Dean Jon Butler said the difficult employment landscape graduates face this year merited the second round of workshops; they are usually reserved for the fall term of each academic year.

On Wednesday, Graduate School Dean Jon Butler and Director of Graduate Career Services Victoria Blodgett met with the directors of graduate studies to discuss the problems students face when looking for jobs.

“If I could wave a magic wand,” Blodgett said, “I would love every department to have a well-developed program of academic job search support. But because of the varying sizes of the fields, it can be very difficult.”

Levels of department-wide involvement in preparing candidates varies greatly, administrators said, as do the placement results. Butler said there is a high correlation between good preparation and a successful job search.

“Serendipity and spontaneity don’t usually play too well,” he said.

Blodgett said her office tends to provide general resources, and counts on departments to provide help specific to that field.

Of the University’s largest graduate programs, economics is among those with the most extensive job preparation. Kareen Rozen, economics professor and co-director of job placement for the department, said job candidates practice research presentations and mock interviews in front of their peers.

Due to the recession, the department hired a speaking coach for the first time in several years, Rozen said. The department also advised students to be more cautious with offers this year, because many other universities have opted to slash or eliminate new hires in the face of budget cuts.

“We tried to train them in high altitude,” Rozen said, calling the practice presentations an “academic version of American Idol,” in that Rozen and another professor offered critiques of student presentations.

That work seems to have paid off, Rozen said. All eighteen job candidates receiving their doctorate this year have accepted a position at a top university or other institution, Rozen said, such as the Wharton School, the University of Chicago’s economics department and the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Rozen said she thinks the Yale economics department offers more resources to its students than its counterparts at other universities. But departments at peer schools — such as at Harvard and the University of Chicago – do similarly extensive preparation, professors with those institutions said.

Yale’s political science department hosts a job talk seminar, coordinates practice presentations and advises students individually, Director of Graduate Studies Kenneth Scheve said. Professor Peter Swenson, who serves as the professional development officer and oversees job market coaching, is now considering what additional services the department can provide to candidates next year.

Placement for graduate students in the English department has been mixed this year, professor and placement director Katie Trumpener said. The department offers advising sessions and mock interviews to job candidates, and Trumpener said she thinks the trouble lies with the broader economy.

“I don’t think its a want of information or mentoring that is the problem,” Trumpener wrote in an e-mail. “The situation is just objectively fairly bad.”

The academic job market is less bleak in the sciences compared with other academic departments, two professors in the sciences said, and therefore necessitates little in the way of a concerted effort to prepare candidates. Physics Director of Graduate Studies Mark Solomon said that, within his department, students receive help from their advisor and research committee, and give a practice thesis seminar to the lab at which they work.

Solomon said he has yet to hear of any graduate student in his department who has not received a postdoctoral position.

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