My desktop includes a bookmark to my college’s counseling center and several other placeholders. Virtual bookmarks allow me to have difficult conversations with students about physical illness, depression, and dissatisfaction with higher education.
When a first-year Ph.D. tells me she’s ready to quit because she doesn’t know anyone in her department, I clicked on my bookmark linking her to counseling and psychology services at Stony Brook University, where the help options go from meditation visits to virtual dates. Or I could share a link to Paris Gray’s “Four Tips to Ward Off Imposter Syndrome” from Nature.
And when the sixth-grade Ph.D. humanities students appear in my Zoom platform appointments and tell me nobody possesses already focused on their specific career challenges, I share my screen and browse ImaginePhD’s job-family assessments and resources.
But the tool I’ve used most frequently over the past academic year has been a virtual program that those of us at Stony Brook’s Career Center developed. It’s based on concepts from my now dog-eared book by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, design your lifeand exercises of Design your life workbook.
Yes, this graduate student career coach is still turning pages and taking pen/pencil notes! But don’t confuse tactile learning with nostalgia. Career professionals aren’t stuck in 1984, or even 2018. We are innovators and leaders of the future of work with growing relevance to higher education.
The mix of virtual bookmarks and texts on my workstation speaks to the connections between career services and Stony Brook’s mission:
- Conduct research to the highest international standards that advances knowledge and has immediate or long-term practical significance;
- lead the economic growth, technology and culture of neighboring communities and region; and
- celebrate diversity while positioning the university in the global community.
The pursuit of innovation by career professionals aligns with the core goals of a university: student success and the larger goal of improving the condition of humanity. Even the most secular institutions seek to uplift and improve. After all, no university has a shield with a Latin motto of nullum profectum (no progress).
Career education is part of a larger scaffolding that supports progressive action through experimentation and research, i.e. higher education. SBU’s Career Center has spent more than a decade building bridges between student development principles, experiential education practices, higher education, and students who aim to execute big ideas. Sitting at the intersection of educational theory, student ambitions, and workforce demands for graduates with refined critical thinking requires dexterity and a taste for agile management. Our efforts are relevant and constantly evolving.
Our career center’s pivot to a life design program is the most recent piece in a series of faculty collaborations. Our usual practices of inviting professors to meet employers – facilitating discussions between innovation creators (professors) and innovation adopters (companies) – and later preparing SBU-trained talent (students) have made the center a credible partner in the university. assignment.
Data from a variety of sources indicated a demand for career services that more directly address the needs of graduate students. Our career management system, Handshake, has shown an increasing number of senior level students attending our events. Employer surveys also revealed some deficits in the communication skills of graduating students. Finally, students themselves identified their top career development and planning needs through a campus-wide survey.
And since the Career Center at Stony Brook is part of the Student Affairs Division, we are specifically tasked with “seeking…the biggest challenges” facing students. For the doctorate. student, pursuing professional options outside the academy is a significant challenge; for the master’s candidate, the challenge is to manage a three-semester transition from student to professional.
Our success in connecting graduate students to meaningful internships and jobs has been well received by the faculty. In turn, scholars have begun to rethink a traditional divide between the value of career services and the educational mission of SBU. Gaining faculty support marked a shift from a previously career-independent approach where graduate students waded through career options without such support.
A new virtual course, Career and Life Design for Graduate Students, is a by-product of the Career Center’s place as the link between a partner professor in the College of Engineering and Science, student demand and employer needs. . It is also the building block of a larger initiative to support female graduates in STEM degree programs, funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation. The Career Center has made a special effort to recruit women into STEM through a series of virtual meetups to promote career design.
The course has attracted 20 graduate students since its launch in the fall of 2021. They include first-year master’s students in social work, sophomores in gender studies, and an advanced doctorate in physics. in optics. Despite widely differing academic interests, the students collectively responded well to tasks such as designing career alternatives, informational interviews with professionals, and reshaping assumptions about where to acquire their advanced skills.
This virtual course guides students through a series of modules based on the work of Burnett and Evans, complemented by specific tasks such as developing a LinkedIn account, or, for students graduating in the humanities of the course, learning to develop professional contacts outside their field of study but representative of their values.
Each synchronous session features open-ended questions from the instructor to generate conversation and elicit different student perspectives. The practice of dividing the 75-minute class period between direct instruction and classroom activities has encouraged students to complete topics related to the modules each week. With the video cameras off, the students identified and later reported on their personal values. Dedicated off-camera time also gave international graduate students the freedom to write deliberate responses without worrying about verbal presentation. More than half of the students enrolled in the course hold an F-1 visa.
For the fall semester, we measured the effectiveness of course modules and teaching practices in pre- and post-assessments. Students reported gains in several areas of career readiness, particularly in developing professional networks, understanding the relationships between individual skills and professional career options, and articulating their skills with potential employers.
Early data also imply that the course reduces barriers for SBU’s diverse population of graduate students who may lack the social capital of informal professional relationships. Almost half of the students in the course are first-generation students. But after a semester, these students leave my virtual office with professional contacts and an evolving sense of how to systematically pursue careers directly related or not directly related to their university programs.
As of this writing, students are just days away from course evaluation for the semester this spring. Did some minor changes I made to the course improve its effectiveness from fall to spring? I will see what the students say and make the necessary adjustments. Like other researchers, we career center professionals constantly adapt based on assessment and evaluation results.