Elizabeth Watkins, Dean of the Graduate Division and Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs, University of California, San Francisco

    We live in challenging times, when government officials, business leaders, and members of the public question the value of higher education. As graduate deans, we know that society is well served by our master’s and PhD graduates who have been trained to think critically, reason analytically, and solve complex problems. But how do we convey this message? I believe the answer lies in data – specifically, data about alumni career outcomes. Information about the sectors in which alumni are employed and the kinds of work they are doing can provide tangible evidence for the importance of graduate education.

    How do you go about collecting this information? As part of its PhD Career Pathways project, CGS has developed an alumni survey that can help you get started. The consortium of schools with NIH BEST (Broadening Experiences in Scientific Training) grants has developed a taxonomy for categorizing the jobs of alumni in the life sciences; this taxonomy can easily be adapted for all disciplines. Reach out to graduate program directors and department heads; they may already be collecting this information for use in program reviews and training grant applications. Team up with your Alumni Relations office; they would be delighted to know more about where alumni are and what they are doing.

    At UCSF, we have found that our alumni are using their graduate training in a wide variety of positions in academia, industry, government, and the non-profit sector. Aggregated data on these outcomes, combined with the “success stories” discussed in previous GradEdge columns, paint a portrait of the meaningful contributions made to the national, state, and local economies by graduate alums. With data in one hand and compelling anecdotes in the other, you will be well-equipped to make the case for graduate education externally to legislators, philanthropists, foundations, and industry partners, and internally to your chancellor, provost, public relations managers, and development officers. Alumni can be great partners in these efforts, as they know best how their career pathways benefitted from the education they received at your institution.

    Data on career outcomes can also be used to advocate for greater attention to graduate students in campus career services offices. One of our responsibilities as leaders in higher education is to ensure that our students are being readied for meaningful employment post-graduation. If we can provide information about employment patterns and particular positions attained by graduate alumni, our colleagues in career counseling can develop graduate-level programming and materials for career exploration and the development of co-curricular skills to help students prepare for next steps after graduation.

    As instructors, mentors, and researchers, graduate students play vital roles in the university ecosystem for the production and dissemination of knowledge. However, the contributions they make to society as alumni provide real-world examples and clear-cut justification that people outside the academy can appreciate. Let your alumni – through their individual stories and collective statistics – help you make the case for graduate education.


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