Programs showcase grad student skills to employers

Paul Mayne//Western News

Chris Circelli, Graduate Experiential Learning Developer (Careers & Experience) with Western’s Student Experience, said two new initiatives are helping graduate students showcase their skills to industry. 

A pair of new programs look to play matchmaker between Western graduate students and employers who may offer an alternative career path outside traditional academia. Both HirewesternPhD and the Graduate Student Internship Program (GSIP) are working to improve employment prospects after graduation while showcasing to industry the graduate student skills.

“We need to do a better job of helping grad students understand that there are more opportunities than being so focused on academia,” said Chris Circelli, Graduate Experiential Learning Developer (Careers & Experience) with Student Experience. “We’re not saying they shouldn’t strive for that, if that’s their goal, but we’re just opening people up to the idea that other companies and organizations value their skill set.”

The hirewesternu PhD campaign promotes what PhD students bring to the table, including their non-discipline specific skills fostered through both their academic and professional development programs, such as Own Your Future.

Implemented by the School of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, the program allows PhD students to access online assessment tools, workshops, and customizable schedules to assist in their success in graduate school and future careers.

The GSIP lets masters and doctoral students create internships that are project-based or designed around specific pre-existing duties. The work does not need to tie directly to the student’s academic research or field.

According to the Conference Board of Canada, fewer than 20 per cent of Canadian PhDs become full-time university professors.

“For a lot of grad students, the person they’re going to for career advice are their thesis supervisors – and that person may only have had one job,” Circelli said. “It’s opening these students up to the idea of something outside of that. Sometimes, there is a disconnect.”

Graduate students and industry often have trouble connecting. Programs such as these allow students to showcase their skills in workplace settings.

Employers post positions through the GSIP portal, where students can sign up for four-, eight- or 12-month internships both public sector or non-profit.

Western’s Careers & Experience offers various types of support that can help graduate students when applying for internships, including resume writing, interview skills, career counseling and career research.

By fall, Circelli expects 13 graduate students to be out on internships.

With the provincial government tying funding to experiential-learning opportunities and employability of graduates, programs like these are key.

“Helping students become employed is increasingly becoming more important funding wise for Western. How we create these sort of opportunities is going to directly relate to how programs are funded,” Circelli said. “Sometimes that is a tough sell to supervisors who want the students to work for them. But it’s important for the program going forward that students become employed.

“They can spend a term on an internship, make a little money, improve employability prospects and their network of people they know and help Western prove their skills are being used. We have to help each other.”

While the one-year provincial funding for the pair of programs has since ended, Circelli said the programs will continue through internal funding while the university looks for potential external funding.

“It is not that companies don’t want to hire Masters or PhD students, it’s just something new they haven’t dealt with before,” he said.

“Western has a history of undergrad internships. Doing this for graduate students is kind of new and you need to let employers know. They know the quality of work is going to be there. For them, it’s just a personal fit thing. It is nice to show the value of what our students can bring.”