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Job market leads many students to grad school

By Amrutha Sivakumar, Daily Staff Reporter
Published February 17, 2013

As the senior-year blues hits, the question comes tumbling right behind: What next? While many may consider graduate school, an advanced degree may not be for everyone.

Louise Jackson, career coordinator for the Alumni Association, classifies Michigan undergraduates into three categories: students taking a gap-year between undergraduate and graduate degrees, students with secured job prior to graduation and those who plan to go to graduate school.

However, those with secured positions tend to be in the minority, Jackson said. When asked whether or not master’s programs are commonly needed by students pursuing professional undergraduate degrees such as a Bachelor of Business Administration degree, Jackson said it depends on the individual.

“It is definitely possible to graduate from a professional undergraduate degree like a BBA and go into a very well-paying position without needing an MBA,” Jackson said. “A lot of that depends on whether or not you happen to be at the right place at the right time. “

She added that master’s programs are a great way to make a “career transition” from one industry to another.

Rackham student Leslie Rott said graduate programs are “heterogeneous,” with people of all different ages and various level of experience in the job market. Her reasons for not taking a gap year after her bachelor’s degree to pursue a graduate-level education was the right choice for her; she saw merit in doing otherwise.

“Graduate school is a very long process, so I think it makes sense to take some time off. But it just depends on where you are in your life,” Rott said.

Rott said it’s also common that Ph.D. students who realize that they are not fit for doctorates choose to take the masters-degree track instead.

“I think that, regardless of what you want to end up doing, when you spend six to 10 years in a Ph.D. program you have a level of expertise and you have proven that you can be committed to something,” Rott added. “I think that can be useful regardless of what field you want to go into.”

At the same time, Rott believes that master’s students have greater job flexibility due to the nature of their curriculum and the focus of their education. Master’s programs are often accompanied with internships and field placements, while Ph.D. students are taught to market skills focused toward academics.

“In a master’s program you have more freedom because you can work for a job anywhere,” Rott said. “With a Ph.D. there is a level of expectation of the sort of caliber job you are going to get right away."

62 percent of graduating Ph.D. students from 2008 to 2012 went into university faculty and administrative positions or went on to complete a post-doctoral fellowship, according to the Rackham website.

Twenty-three percent of graduating Ph.D. students during this time period went into industry or non-profit positions. Jackson said this number will likely increase over the years.

“There is a real need to create career programming for those Ph.D. students who are going into industry positions,” Jackson said.

As graduate programs prove to be a transition between formalized education and jobs, in-school work experience proves to be crucial for students enrolled in graduate programs.

Jackson, as a part of her master’s program, was placed in an internship at the University Medical School. Such internships help solidify career goals, she said.

“While you’re getting the theoretical aspect of the education in the classroom, you are also balancing that with the practical experience you’re getting the in the field,” Jackson noted. “I think that is the strength of the program and that was what helped me figure out my career target.”

For doctoral candidates at the University, work experience often comes in the form of being graduate student instructors or graduate student research assistants.

Rott’s current experience as a GSI made her realize that such work-study positions not only help “spread the knowledge gained in grad school” but also realize whether or not University teaching is a feasible career option.

“I think you learn how to get up in front of people and be comfortable talking, which is something that you have in potentially any job,” Rott said. “You know the resources that universities have to offer.”

Follow Amrutha Sivakumar on Twitter at @xamrutha.


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