‘Own Your Future’ helps doctoral students find new paths

Chris Circelli // Special to Western News

Fanny Leveau, a PhD candidate in French Studies, is taking part in Own Your Future, a four-year, curriculum-based professional development program offered to doctoral students at Western.

A doctoral degree is no longer a ticket leading only to an academic career.

Just look at the statistics: According to the Conference Board of Canada, roughly 60 per cent of the country’s PhDs are working in industry, government and not-for-profit organizations. And trends indicate today’s graduate students are increasingly landing jobs in ‘alt-ac’ – alternative academic – career posts.

With a newly established professional development program, Western is now offering tactical training to prepare doctoral graduates for whatever career path they may choose.

Own Your Future, launched as a pilot initiative last year,is a four-year, curriculum-based professional development program offered to students pursuing a PhD at Western.

In their first year, students are invited to complete a self-assessment that evaluates their competency in six distinct areas that foster a professional skill set: career engagement; communication; intercultural and social fluency; leadership; teaching and learning; and thriving.

Based on the assessment, students can enroll in a combination of learning modules – offered through the School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (SGPS) and campus partners – in order to grow and complement their strengths and skills and prepare for shifting and emerging job markets.

“In graduate education, the need to complement disciplinary academic learning with professional skill development is increasingly acknowledged. Professional development and the preparation of doctoral graduates who will drive the future of our society through traditional and emerging career roles is a priority across North America,” said Linda Miller, SGPS Vice-Provost.

Own Your Future was developed by SGPS following extensive research on professional development and with broad consultation with graduate students, campus partners and potential employers, Miller explained. Its aim is to help graduate customize and tailor-fit their professional development experience. The program and its learning outcomes are unique by design; the experience will be different for each student.

Campus partners that will deliver the modules with SGPS include The Student Success Centre, Learning Skills Services, the Writing Support Centre, Psychological Services, Services for Students with Disabilities, the Wellness Education Centre, Indigenous Services, the Centre for Teaching and Learning, Western International, Ivey Business School, Equity and Human Rights Services, Ombudsperson, Research Western and Western Libraries. Learning modules are offered year-round, on Thursday afternoons.

“Although graduate schools across Canada and the United States are striving to develop professional development programs to support their students, Western’s Own Your Future program is ahead of the curve. It is the first program designed specifically for doctoral students, the first curriculum-based professional development program, the first program designed to complement core foundational skills with skills unique to students’ career interests, and the first program to include a custom-designed self-assessment to help guide students in their skill development,” Miller added.

Own Your Future will also provide students with the vocabulary to articulate their transferable skills and will give Western doctoral graduates a distinct career advantage, she stressed.

The program is exclusive to doctoral students at Western.

SGPS is currently offering Year 1 and Year 2 of the program to first- and second-year doctoral students, respectively. There are 150 first-year students participating in Year 1 of the program, 100 second-year students (those who signed up during the pilot launch) participating in Year 2. The program is open to senior students (Year 3 and above) who are able to attend when spots become available.

“The first year of the Own your Future program provided an excellent space to reflect upon current skills, competencies and values, as well as to define what could be improved upon in order to successfully transition to a highly competitive job market,” said Fanny Leveau, a PhD candidate in French Studies and participant in the program pilot.

“I enjoyed the various topics discussed, such as time management or financial literacy, because they constitute core skills applicable to all areas of our life including academic, professional and personal,” she continued.

“I think it is important for doctoral students to think about our transition to the job market in the future. Participation in a professional development program such as Own Your Future provides us a framework to plan the next steps in our career and to reflect upon opportunities in academia and beyond.The first year of this program provided foundational information about career growth. I am hoping that a continued engagement with the program will help me chose a career path and prepare for it accordingly.”