UChicagoGRAD becomes essential resource for graduate students

Alumni and students
Alumni and students gather for GradUCon at Harper Court to share work expertise.
Photo by
Jean Lachat
Marielle Sainvilus

Scientific diplomacy wasn’t the first career path that came to mind for Kyle Dolan, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Chicago.

Instead he discovered the field—and possible job opportunities—while working with UChicagoGRAD, which provides key services and support for graduate and postdoctoral students. Dolan participated in one-on-one career counseling sessions, uncovering a variety of career options and discussing which would fit his interests. He now works at the British Consulate-General in Chicago as head of science and innovation.

“UChicagoGRAD is a one-stop shop for many types of career development assistance, and is very easy and convenient for graduate and professional students to access,” Dolan said.

Now in its second year, UChicagoGRAD offers students grant and fellowship advising, a service which helps students and postdocs identify funding opportunities, edit fellowship statements and participate in intensive write-ins. Career preparation, job fairs and deep-dive career boot camps encourage students and postdocs to consider and prepare for careers in academia, industry, nonprofits and government.

“UChicagoGRAD’s programs and services emerged from extensive conversations with graduate students and postdocs to find out how the University could support them while here and prepare them for their professional lives ahead,” said Brooke Noonan, executive director for experience at UChicagoGRAD. “The result is a unique and robust set of services that complements the work of the divisions and schools to help graduate students and postdocs navigate their academic and professional careers.”

In the 2015-16 academic year, UChicagoGRAD had more than 7,400 contacts with students, providing more than 3,000 advising hours for careers, fellowships and communication support. In the past academic year, UChicagoGRAD continued to see interest grow, including at two career conferences that served more than 800 graduate students and postdocs and engaged more than 200 alumni and employers.

New support for graduate students

Earlier this year UChicagoGRAD appointed Celina Chatman Nelson as director of graduate development and diversity, focusing on the academic, scholarly and career development of graduate students and postdocs from historically underrepresented backgrounds. She so far has built momentum among graduate students with an advisory board, interns who held a research symposium, and a newly created suite of programs and resources targeted to the distinct needs of graduate students and postdocs.

UChicagoGRAD also provides programs for students with children through its Family Resource Center, life coaching through the newly developed Sounding Board program, training to teach in the College and beyond through the Chicago Center for Teaching, and GRADTalk, which helps students hone their communication and interview skills.

GRADUCon, held in the spring, provided an opportunity for graduate students and postdocs to explore diverse career paths. This year’s event included panels such as “Careers in Think Tanks, What is Data Science?” and “Teaching at Liberal Arts Colleges” as well as nearly 300 one-on-one “coffee chats” with alumni. The innovative program was highlighted recently by the higher education news site Inside Higher Ed.

“GRADUCon did a fantastic job accommodating both individuals who need to explore the breadth of job prospects as well as those who have a clear idea in mind and really want to dig into a field,” said Ryan Mork, a PhD student in the biophysical sciences.

GRADFair, held in the fall, is an employer recruitment event that is unique because it focuses on multiple disciplines instead of one specific field. Last year, graduate students and postdocs met with a diverse body of employers including Allstate, Google and the U.S. State Department.

“We want to be responsive to what employers are looking for so that we can integrate relevant skill-building into our UChicagoGRAD programs and give our students and postdocs an edge on the job market,” Noonan said.

For Abigail Fine, a doctoral student in music history and theory, UChicagoGRAD was essential in her job search, particularly GRADTalk, a suite of services that includes communication workshops and individual advising on public speaking, interviewing and networking. Fine landed a tenure-track position at the University of Hawaii to teach music history after an intense interview process.

“The UChicagoGRAD program is an extremely important resource, particularly given how difficult the job market has become in most fields,” Fine said. “Anything we can do to better understand how the market works, how to write a cover letter, what to expect from campus visits—all of this training is essential to our success.”