Part one of this conversation painted a pretty bleak picture of STEM student’s perceived career prospects, and in turn, their health. It is no secret that there are some fantastic careers out there for postgraduate students within industry, so how do we ensure messaging doesn’t fall on deaf ears? First, acknowledge that leaving academia is a difficult decision, and understand the sacrifices your candidate will make in doing so. Only then, can you begin to talk about your offer.
“Make your message personal and be honest” isn’t new advice, but is crucial to follow when talking to this audience. This isn’t a group of people who have picked a degree based on their favourite A-level subject or one that provides the broadest career prospects, these individuals are heavily invested in their chosen discipline. The decision to leave is often one-way and is really personal.
I asked Amina McDiarmid (current PhD student at KCL’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience) for her advice for recruiters and hiring managers:
- For many, being a scientist is a big part of their identity and so being offered the prospect of a career beyond academia should be accompanied by some sympathy that they might be compromising what feels like a big part of themselves
- To encourage students to look beyond academia, recruiters need to be aware of what a life-changing decision this can be and be part of the person's journey away from their hopes and dreams to a career elsewhere. They need to get into the shoes of someone who has worked for the majority of their lives on an education which will equip them to fulfil the dream they have of being a scientist, just to have that dream become more and more unreachable
- The anxiety students feel about their career prospects stem from the fact that they are anxious they may not have a career in academia specifically and not just about not being able to get a job. And once they leave, it is hard to come back. Therefore, to recruit, there will need to be significant support for those who will have to come to terms with the fact that they are leaving in a way that could be permanent for a job that will allow them to continue using the skills they have developed.
- Doctoral students come in all shapes and sizes, and the challenge for recruiters will also be in understanding what kind of roles are actually suitable or interesting to doctoral students. Science PhDs don't come with a host of common baseline skills (exception to this is only the dedication and commitment to the cause they show by studying for so long)
Most importantly, recruiters shouldn't approach doctoral students as just a pool of clever people who need jobs. It is vital that employers and recruiters take the time to ensure students and post-docs are placed in jobs that are right for them as an individual. Otherwise, we continue to reinforce the negative perception of life #BeyondAcademia.
Good luck with your STEM recruiting!
Doctoral studies don't seem to be prompting large numbers of students to rethink their commitment to research. Nearly 80% said that the likelihood that they will pursue a research career has grown or remained unchanged since they launched their PhD programme — up from 67% in the 2015 survey. With an already tough academic job market getting tougher, many hopefuls will need guidance. But that's not always easy to come by. Only 15% of respondents said that they found useful career resources at their institution, down from 18% in the 2015 survey.