Conference brings conversation on graduate careers to Madison

By Meghan Chua

UW–Madison will continue to lead the national conversation on graduate careers this month when it hosts the Graduate Career Consortium’s annual conference.

The conference, held June 26-29, brings together more than 200 deans, directors, program managers, and career advisors from the U.S. and Canada to share best practices for graduate student and postdoctoral scholar professional development.

The Graduate Career Consortium's 2018 conference logo
The national Graduate Career Consortium offers deans, directors, program managers, and career advisors a space to share best practices in supporting graduate student and postdoctoral scholar professional development. The UW-Madison Graduate School Office of Professional Development will host the organization’s 2018 conference.

Graduate students and postdoctoral scholars have different needs than undergraduate students. However, the centralized career services on campuses around the country remain highly undergraduate-focused, leaving specialized units on campuses to meet those needs.

In recent years, the number of tenure-track faculty positions available to PhD holders in some disciplines has been outpaced by the number of degrees awarded across the nation, placing even more focus on the aspects of professional development that span both academic and non-academic fields.

UW–Madison has been a leader in graduate careers through providing more opportunities to graduate students as gaps in career training become evident. The Graduate School Office of Professional Development developed a tool, called DiscoverPD, that helps graduate students assess their skills and connect to on-campus opportunities for career development.

“We’re able to look across campus and identify where there are gaps in professional development for graduate students, then fill those gaps with new programming,” said Eileen Callahan, director of professional development at the Graduate School and chair of the GCC conference. One such program, a project management workshop for graduate students offered last year, filled up so quickly the office organized a second session.

Career services for postdocs have also grown. Three years ago, there was hardly any career development programming for postdocs on campus, said Andrew Cusick, career development officer at the UW–Madison Office of Postdoctoral Studies. Last year, the Office of Postdoctoral Studies offered 12 workshops, including site visits at area tech companies and visits from industry professionals who talked about their careers.

At the Graduate Career Consortium conference, professionals in graduate careers have a chance to share ideas for programs and learn from the successes of other institutions. Cusick said the group serves a niche need for better services for graduate students and postdocs.

“The GCC provides support to people who are passionate about helping other graduate students, many of whom were graduate students themselves,” Cusick said. “The conference is a chance for us to see what they’re doing, what works, and what doesn’t.”

The conference schedule includes a workshop for new graduate career professionals; a keynote address by Barry Schwartz, author of “Why We Work”; and focused sessions on topics in both academic and non-academic career development. Mindi Thompson, an associate professor of counseling psychology at UW–Madison, will give a plenary talk about social class in relation to education, work, and career development.

The 2018 Graduate Career Consortium conference is hosted by the UW–Madison Graduate School Office of Professional Development, with support from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund and other sponsors.