Katherine Alfredo and Ellison Carter
Now more than ever, students graduating with newly minted doctoral degrees face an uncertain future as the traditional PhD-postdoc-professor career pathway will not even be an option for many doctoral program graduates. While for some this may come as a relief, the question still remains, “How do I figure out what I’m going to do after I complete my PhD?” A panel discussion highlighting less-than-ordinary career pathways included a Senior Exhibit Developer from the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, the Director of Water Stewardship for PepsiCo’s global food and beverage businesses, a Recruitment Specialist from the US Forest Service, and an electrical engineer turned patent attorney. The women on the panel shed light on the daily responsibilities someone in their position might be given, specific skills they felt they already possessed when they embarked on their career path as a result of earning a PhD, and skills they gained as a result of choosing a less traditional path. The moderators of this discussion, Katherine Alfredo and Ellison Carter from the University of Texas at Austin, also encouraged the panelists to discuss the extent to which having a PhD in a technical field has been an asset to their position. The career paths these women shared were not direct, but the progression towards their current professional positions stemmed, in each instance, from their strong, technical background in science or engineering.
This session was very well-attended by an audience of approximately 40-50 individuals, the majority of whom were young, female, engineering graduate students. There were some undergraduate students in attendance as well. The audience was very responsive and engaged in the discussion, and it is clear that this topic is one of growing importance among graduate students in science and engineering. The moderators of this session received positive feedback about the selection of panelists for the session, and it cannot be emphasized enough that, for a panel topic such as this, the panelist selection is critical to the success of the session.