A Message from Dean Matson

The Question Is 'Jobs?' and the Answer Is 'Jobs!'

We have all read an article, heard a story or listened to a news report about the student with a doctoral degree who is working as a barista at a local coffee shop or driving a taxi. What does the job market look like for our doctoral degree candidates? What are the prospects for master's degree candidates? And what is The Graduate School doing to help our students advance their careers?

Actually, the job prospects for graduate students are pretty good. It has been estimated that the number of jobs requiring a master's degree will increase by 18 percent and the number of jobs requiring a doctoral degree will increase by 17 percent between now and 2018. All of these jobs will not be in what we generally think of as the “academic sector” and The Graduate School is working hard to educate and prepare our students for the career landscape of the 21st century.

Jobs requiring master's degrees are increasing, and many wonder if the master's degree will soon be the new bachelor's degree in our information economy.

Nationwide, more than 75 percent of all graduate students are in master's degree programs — the number is 50 percent at UNC-Chapel Hill. Jobs requiring master's degrees are increasing, and many wonder if the master's degree will soon be the new bachelor's degree in our information economy. UNC-Chapel Hill is developing new master's degree programs called professional science master's degrees; these programs are designed to provide the science/technology workforce required in an area such as the Research Triangle, where much of the economy is driven by biotechnology and related industries requiring a highly educated workforce.

As a major research university, UNC-Chapel Hill is committed to doctoral education and 50 percent of our graduate students are enrolled in doctoral programs. While the job outlook is good for these students, it is also clear that a majority of these jobs will not be traditional tenure-track faculty positions. This is not news! According to 2008 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most doctoral degree holders work in occupations outside the academy — generally in professional, scientific and technical services or in government. Most of these industries and occupations are projected to grow over the next 10 years. Obviously, job placement depends on discipline with a high fraction of engineers and a much smaller fraction of humanities Ph.D.s working outside the academy. Nonetheless, the fact is clear: Many of our students desire jobs outside academe. A study from the University of California at San Francisco published in fall 2011 made clear that graduate students in the biomedical sciences at that university consider many different career paths, both research and non-research. Importantly, career path choices change during the first three years of graduate school.

The Graduate School at UNC-Chapel Hill has recently revamped its professional development program to prepare our students for the future. We have developed a core competency framework designed to guide a student's professional development throughout his or her graduate education and no matter the desired career plan. The framework is designed as a matrix with four core competencies: communication, academic development, leadership and professionalism, and career development. Each competency is defined in terms of goals or elements, and specific actions are suggested depending on whether the student is at the early, middle or late stage in his or her graduate career. These actions are then linked to specific professional development events. As students move through their careers, they can both plan and track their progress in terms of mastering competencies that will be important to success in their desired careers.

In addition, in view of the changing employment landscape for our doctoral students, particularly those in the humanities and social sciences, The Graduate School joined a group of universities from across the country that subscribes to The Versatile PhD. This interactive website helps humanities and social science Ph.D.s and other graduate students identify and prepare for careers outside academe.

Two years ago, The Graduate School developed the Tar Heel Footprints alumni map by asking alumni to literally put their “footprint” on the map. At its inception we had two goals in mind. The first was to provide a striking visual of where our graduate alumni are located throughout the world. With more than 2,000 Tar Heels on this map, it is clear the graduate alumni are having a global impact. The second goal was to develop a database of alumni with a job title and some additional biographical information. These data can help us learn more about the various careers our graduates assume. And we have learned much. Nearly two-thirds of alumni who have added their “Tar Heel Footprint” pursue careers using their graduate degrees outside the traditional boundaries of the academy. This is right in keeping with the national norms. We continue to receive new “footprints,” and we hope to use the information we are realizing to improve our professional development programing. This will ensure our students are well prepared for the careers they will assume in the future.

I invite Carolina graduate alumni to add their “Tar Heel Footprints” to the map. You will help promote the value of a Carolina graduate education and provide us with important information to strengthen programs for future students.

Steven W. Matson
Dean, The Graduate School
Professor of Biology
UNC-Chapel Hill