GradUCon 2013 provides graduate students with day of information, networking

They came, they learned, and they networked. 

On Jan. 25, about 240 graduate students and 50 alumni filtered through Ida Noyes Hall for GradUCon, the University of Chicago’s premiere graduate student career and professionalization conference. Now in its fourth year, this full day of information sharing and networking is a vital resource for students who are seeking successful academic lives.

“It’s important that graduate students have a real sense that professionalization should be part of their academic work—not divorced from it,” said Adam-Jason Aronstein (MAPH’10), assistant director for Master’s Program Engagement in Graduate Student Affairs. “Also that they’re not alone in finding it difficult to square the exigencies of the job market with the demands of their academic work. A conference like this hopefully provides students with reasons to feel realistically optimistic about the diversity of career options open to them.”

In light of the challenges, GradUCon expanded its offerings this year to provide students with even more opportunities to connect with alumni and get much-needed advice. A morning resume workshop and breakfast, held for the first time, turned out to be one of the most popular of the day’s events with about 75 students in attendance; there were nine panel discussions instead of six; and the event featured two speakers this year instead of one.

Darren Reisberg, the inaugural executive director of the University of Chicago Institute of Politics, was the keynote speaker. Reisberg spoke about the importance of developing mentoring relationships and taking risks throughout one’s career.  Eric Isaacs, executive director of Argonne National Laboratory, spoke during the closing reception about the need to be both a “hedgehog” and a “fox”— that is, both versatile and engaged in a range of questions and projects, and also having specialized expertise.

“I shared that story with friends after the event and will certainly be using it as an example for the future,” said Ron Lai, a first-year PhD student in the Physical Sciences Division. “A PhD or MA is not enough. These professional or ‘soft’ skills can definitely make candidates stand out.”

The panel discussion topics ranged from negotiating a benefits package, to skills for nonprofit work, publishing in the humanities and social sciences, leveraging a post-doc in the sciences and getting in the door at liberal arts colleges.

“At the benefits panel, I learned that everything is negotiable, and that people are in the best position to negotiate when a job offer is initially made,” said Chandani Patel, a fifth-year PhD candidate in Comparative Literature. “Although salary and benefits are often harder to negotiate, things like flexible hours for parents, time off, sign-on bonuses, course load, leave, housing, childcare subsidies, and moving costs are often negotiable.”

The organizers behind GradUCon say the event may grow into a two-day affair, but for now, students say they came away from the conference more confident about their job search.

Kerith Asma, a student in the MAPH program, said the event refreshed her optimism for her future job search. “I felt reassured by the upbeat slogans posted down the hallways, and by the idea that in fact there are many jobs out there which I’m not only qualified for, but which I would thoroughly enjoy doing.”