Post-conference report: Keynote Summaries

The conference opened with a joint keynote given by Bill Lindstaedt and Liz Silva. While Lindstaedt talked, telling us a story about a postdoc’s career search process, Liz drew, making the story come to life with colors and images.

As Bill narrated this person’s search, a number of important lessons became clear:

  1. Finding a job is a process that requires time. Don’t expect to find something DSC_2453right away, but if you keep at it, you will be successful.
  2. The process of figuring out what career you would like to pursue requires a lot of personal reflection and synthesis of materials. It’s important to go out and find information about career paths, but it’s even more important to figure out whether the career is something you could see yourself doing.
  3. Don’t trust single sources of information, such as your friend’s experience in a job. Talk to multiple people, and find different sources to get your information from. You are not the people you talk to, and there are many possible jobs out there that you could enjoy.
  4. It’s worth finding transitional experience while you have the opportunity to, for example while you’re enrolled at school. If you’re interested in consulting, find a consulting group on campus. If you want to become an entrepreneur, enroll in classes at the Business School. Try your career idea out before committing to it and applying for jobs in that field.

On the second day, L. Maren Wood gave the keynote. A professional advisor to PhDs seeking non-academic jobs, she connected with the audience immediately and got laughs even when presenting statistics on employment rates. She also provided us with good advice about the job search:

  1. Sending out resumes in response to internet job postings only has a 4% chance of success. If you meet with someone from the company face-to-face, your chance of getting the job increases to 47%, and job leads from people you know increase your chances further, to 80%. Couple this with the statistic that 70% of jobs are never advertised, and you can see just how important it is to get to know people in your field of interest.
  2. Talk about what you do instead of what you know – highlight your transferable skills. Your PhD has given you skills you can use in many careers, so present them in your job hunt.
  3. Continue to find opportunities to network, whether it be in person or online. She suggested the upcoming Beyond the Professoriate Virtual Conference.

DSC_2485The conference was closed by a keynote from Associate Dean Rosemary Joyce, who gave us the valuable gift of new perspective and shared graduate career development plans of the administration. She spoke about the statistics from 40 years of tracking Berkeley PhDs across all fields: 44% go into tenure-track careers, 42% go into non-academic jobs, and 14% go into academic non-tenure-track jobs. These numbers are consistent across the years, meaning that the current situation is nothing new. Moreover, Berkeley has a high percentage of PhDs who go on to work in the government, fully 4.1% from humanities backgrounds, and 3.5% from STEM. Those who choose non-academic jobs continue to influence society and the communities we live and work in, and it’s time we acknowledged that. These careers are not “alternative”, but multiple and equal. Joyce suggested that the discourse needs to move away from the “overproduction” of PhDs and toward the “underutilization” of PhDs, and the narrative both within institutions and nationally is slowly beginning to change. Grassroots initiatives such as Beyond Academia are a part of this, she said, but the impetus also needs to come from the administration.

To that end, UC Berkeley will be opening a new Graduate Career Development Center IMG_6282this coming fall. There will be a staff member and an office in Sproul Hall, as well as a website collecting career resources. Every entering graduate student will be encouraged to begin their career development as they begin their education, by registering on ResearchGate,, filling out an IDP, and getting an ORCID. By supporting career development early on, the administration is hopeful that the tenor of the discussion can be changed.