April 13, 2021
Given the change of course that has happened in the world, we wanted to provide expert opinions on what aspiring graduates can do to start off their careers in an uncertain economic climate. We wanted to know what skills will be more important, where the economy is doing relatively well, and if there will be any lasting effects on the job market.
Companies are looking for candidates that can handle the new responsibilities of the job market. Recent graduates actually have an advantage because they are comfortable using newer technologies and have been communicating virtually their whole lives. They can take what they've learned and apply it immediately.
We spoke to professors and experts from several universities and companies to get their opinions on where the job market for recent graduates is heading, as well as how young graduates entering the industry can be adequately prepared. Here are their thoughts.
University of Pennsylvania
Arkansas State University
Montclair State University
New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology
Department of Classics
Chiara Palladino: The coronavirus pandemic has dramatically accelerated some trends that were already in place: it will become increasingly difficult to pursue traditional academic careers in Classics, for example by accessing graduate schools and, even more, getting to stable professorial jobs. However, it also represents an important opportunity, for Classics departments and graduates, to go beyond traditional academic careers: the beauty of majoring in Classics is precisely that it does not dictate a single career path. It's time to explore the possibilities: our Classics graduates at Furman have successfully pursued careers in Medicine, Law, Cultural Resource Management, Business, and even the Army.
Chiara Palladino: More than acquiring a specific piece of paper, it's important to be able to articulate the value of a major in Classical languages and culture. Classics is not just about being able to read Homer or Cicero: it's a deep dive into information technology. A Classicist has a unique understanding of how information changed through history, being transmitted, manipulated, and preserved in many different ways, up to today's digital revolution. The study of "dead languages", which complements this knowledge, is a method of manipulating and analyzing information at an incredibly deep level of detail. Students, but also departments, should be willing to explore how these methods can be developed in diverse scenarios. For example, courses that apply computational approaches to Classical languages are a great way to develop marketable skills: you can study the Odyssey and learn coding at the same time, developing a cutting-edge skillset in an exciting and meaningful way
Chiara Palladino: A Classical education can a powerful tool, when meaningfully combined with other subjects. For example, one can combine two majors in Mathematics and Classics, and learn how to apply mathematical logic to the syntactical analysis of Ancient Greek. Students should pursue learning opportunities that challenge them to apply diverse approaches to complex problems, and this will make their approach stand out in an ever-changing job market that requires extremely flexible skills.
Moreover, Classics will make you stand out in the crowd, if you know how to use it. The reason why students pick Classics in the first place is because ancient cultures are endlessly fascinating, with myth, history, and art that have so many ramifications in today's life. A Classics student should learn how to communicate those stories: maybe Classics won't give you easy access to a predetermined professional path, but being a highly educated storyteller will make you memorable in networking situations, and it will make you stand out among a pool of almost identical competitors.
Abraham Wyner: Huge demand or data skills and data management (probably more than analysis).
Abraham Wyner: They should be able to do basic statistical analyses on their own without running for help (summarize data, cross tabulations, basic visualizations and regression of one variable). Of course, they need to use Excel and have some programming skills so they can learn the particular tool on the job easily (if they have never programmed this is hard).
Abraham Wyner: I believe salaries in data analysis have skyrocketed. It's one of the highest-paying jobs now.
Arkansas State University
Department of Mathematics and Statistics
Dr. Ferebee Tunno Ph.D.: It will probably be a plus going forward for people looking for a job in academics to have experience with apps like Zoom or Webex. This way, they know how to participate in remote meetings and classes if and when needed (e.g., if a heavy snow precludes people from being on-campus for a day or two).
The pandemic has also exposed online courses as a pale substitute for face-to-face learning. This is not to say that online courses can't be created and conducted well, and of course we all understand why we had to temporarily go remote in 2020, but once the pandemic begins to recede, I predict that the demand for online courses will decline.
Dr. Ferebee Tunno Ph.D.: For people looking for a job in statistics (my field), it is essential to have knowledge of powerful software packages like R or SAS.
Dr. Ferebee Tunno Ph.D.: Becoming an actuary is very practical and the pay is good. Plus, you don't need a Ph.D. to become one.
Becoming a statistics professor (like myself) is also a very rewarding job. We have the dual satisfaction of helping students to become clear-thinkers as well as introducing them to the creative world of research.
Department of Mathematics and Statistics
Nicole Dambrun: I absolutely believe the pandemic will have a lasting impact on graduates. I believe that the pandemic will have a lasting impact on all of us! Many people have lost their jobs or migrated into different positions since the pandemic started, and it's hard to predict which sectors will emerge strongest when we return to normal, if we return to normal. It would make sense that telecommunication companies, public health organizations and companies championing social justice would come out of the pandemic in need of additional employees. I also hope renewable energy is a field that will grow after this. Graduates may end up heading down a career path they didn't imagine, or working remotely for a company not in their area. In my Calculus classes, I teach mostly Business majors and these students have a degree that I believe can adapt to different industries and positions.
Nicole Dambrun: Many students aren't enthuthiastic about taking classes online, which is understandable, but I think having online classes on your resume demonstrates that you've been able to learn and communicate in an online setting, which will be an important skill for any job that involves working remotely full or part time.
Joseph Coyle Ph.D.: It is hard to say to be honest. In some sense the students graduating in the spring of 2021 have had to be more resourceful than normal during their time. I think they are better prepared for that experience. In terms of employment or graduate school, the story is probably less positive. My sense is that there are a lot of unknowns companies and graduates schools are facing. Having said that, if there is an enduring impact, it will be one that is more positive. We have all been forced to think about what we do in a different way and, in my opinion, that generally leads to a positive outcome.
Joseph Coyle Ph.D.: I think one of the most important skills is being able to communicate, either written or oral communication. It is my impression that now, more than ever, we rely as much on our interaction with others as we do the individual skills or content knowledge. It is one thing, for example, to be able to construct a mathematical model of a phenomenon, but to be able to describe it in a meaningful and impactful way to a room full of people is even better.
Of course, I think it goes without saying that being tech-savvy or even just open to learning new technologies, is also important.
Joseph Coyle Ph.D.: That's a tough one to be honest. I believe that most undergrad programs, for example, have much of the same courses. What would stand out to me are the out of the classroom experiences such as internships, participating in undergraduate research projects, volunteering, and things like that.
Department of Mathematical Sciences
Dr. Todd Wittman Ph.D.: The pandemic has exposed critical weaknesses in our supply chains and organizational structures for distributing protective equipment, tests, and vaccines. Mathematicians with a background in Operations Research (OR) may be in demand to help restructure and analyze our organizations. There may also be increased demand in Applied Mathematics that studies the fields of public health and disease transmission, so that we can better prepare for the next pandemic.
Before the pandemic, there was an increasing trend in mathematics to emphasize "Big Data" and Data Science. With so many jobs moving online, I think that trend may be accelerated. We have become aware during this pandemic of the downside of having large amounts of data, for example, misinformation in social media. Mathematicians with a background in Data Mining may need to step up to help design algorithms to filter and disseminate information while still respecting free speech.
I am unsure about how this pandemic will ultimately affect my own career field in higher education. As an educator, I scrambled to move my courses online in Spring 2020. But in the process I also learned a lot about alternate ways to deliver information to students. It has also exposed students and parents to the advantages and disadvantages of online learning. There may be increased demand for online educators and tutors at all levels K-12 and beyond. At the graduate level, with the restrictions on international travel it has become difficult for international students to attend graduate school. This might mean there is increased demand for domestic students at graduate schools, at least in the short term until international travel stabilizes. But on the other hand, most universities and colleges have seen a decrease in enrollment during the pandemic and it is not clear if that enrollment will return to pre-pandemic levels. This might result in a decreased demand for faculty in higher education. The future of education, particularly higher education, is very much in flux at the moment.
Dr. Todd Wittman Ph.D.: I would strongly recommend any mathematics major to get a good background in statistics and computer programming, even if that is not going to be their primary field of study. You can still concentrate on the topics that interest you, but it is important to diversify your skill set.
Getting involved in a research project tells a prospective employer that you have done work beyond the classroom. It shows that you can tackle a difficult problem that does not have an answer in the back of the textbook. At most colleges and universities, faculty are eager to work with bright undergraduate students on projects. Students are often intimidated by their faculty, but it does not hurt to ask. It might result in an interesting research experience, internship, or even a lead on a job after graduation.
Dr. Todd Wittman Ph.D.: There are certainly hubs for data analysis at big tech companies in California and Washington and at government organizations in Virginia and D.C. But the pandemic has opened up possibilities for a wider array of geographic locations. In many fields, employers have now realized that their employees can work remotely and still get just as much work done as if they were in an office. A job applicant with a glowing resume might be able to make the argument for working from home anywhere in the world.
Dr. Shaon Ghosh: The full extent of the damage and the repercussion of the COVID-19 crisis is yet to unfold. We are still in a public health crisis mode, where saving the lives of people are a priority. But, as the vaccine becomes available and the health crisis begins to resolve, we all expect that there will be a period of economic slow down. Knowledge workers engaged in jobs that can be conducted remotely are probably among the least-affected category of people during this period and will continue to thrive.
Universities will continue to dominate the teaching arena because of their affiliation and pedigree, but the pandemic has shown us that teaching and learning can, up to a level, be done remotely. We might start to see an increase in profit-based online learning companies hiring people part-time who can teach students. Universities themselves are expected to go through a period of reduced (if not complete pause in) hiring to adjust to cuts in the budget. We can expect to see a greater number of people from academia (Ph.D. and postdocs) shifting towards industry, which is consistent with the pre-pandemic trend, but might get exacerbated in the near future.
In the industry, there will continue to be demand for people with technical skills. Physics graduates who are proficient in computing techniques, big data handling, and machine learning and artificial intelligence will be highly valued and will benefit greatly with the general trend, the dynamics of which are largely immune to the pandemic.
Dr. Shaon Ghosh: Speaking for physics graduates specifically, and STEM graduates in general, I believe that the future is going to be a knowledge-based economy driven by data. It is also a sector that has been the least affected by the pandemic. If there is one skill that students should have in their repertoire, it is "technical computing skill". Note that I am intentionally not calling it "computer programming skill", which is a much more general term (encompassing anything from web-page designing to coding a new Linux operating system).
It is important that students should know how to handle and analyze large volumes of data and how to use advanced numerical and statistical techniques to produce quantitative inferences that have subjective and objective value. This is what I am referring to as technical computing skill. I am not saying that other types of programming skills will not be useful. But, if you have one year to prepare, in my opinion, this is a skill where you can invest your time to get the most benefit.
Dr. Shaon Ghosh: The advantage of working in a new, and potentially revolutionary, field is that there will be ample opportunities, but that also brings in a lot of competition. To remain relevant and to thrive in such fields we need to continuously update ourselves to the changing landscape of the field. Updating and adapting to changes in the field one is working in is a no-brainer, but it is especially relevant here because the field is going to rapidly change over the next decade; keeping ourself updated takes a bit of effort. So, the best advice to graduating students starting their career in data science or similar fields is not to stop being a "student".
Another important thing to remember is that most technical fields are highly collaborative, more so in the post-COVID-19 world where people have understood the value and concept of working remotely. Remote participation takes collaboration to a much higher level. We in the scientific research community have gotten used to it long ago, but it is a relatively new concept in many other areas. So, there are a few adjustments that one should be mindful of, especially if you are a recent graduate.
We often tend to operate as individuals at school where we are more concerned about our own grades and our own performances, but the value of you as a professional is very much dependent on how your team members perceive you. Are you the person who folks in your team are going to reach out to when they need some help? If you are, then you are more likely to rise to prominence and to the ranks of leadership.
Nick Gromicko: They need to stop earning "underwater basket weaving" and "aroma therapy" degrees and instead learn the trades: electrical, plumbing, HVAC, masonry, etc. There are simply not enough Americans who know how things work, how to build them, and how to repair them.
Nick Gromicko: InterNACHI has 26,700 members at www.nachi.org/nachi-stats and many of those companies are constantly hiring.
New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology
Technical Communication program
Dr. Elisabeth Kramer-Simpson: Real-world projects and communication experience interfacing with users and customers.
Lab experience/STEM experience because this gives a high level of technical expertise.
Coding and the ability to learn different software and specifically the ability to adapt to what the company uses.
Professional skills like taking initiative and writing/editing skills are also valuable.
Teamwork and collaboration experience.
Dr. Elisabeth Kramer-Simpson: The innovations in technology will make tasks, hopefully, more efficient and accessible to others of diverse backgrounds. Hopefully, though, the focus on efficiency does not leave out focus on human factors and human experience.
Dr. Elisabeth Kramer-Simpson: In the next several years, our graduates may experience a higher level of competition in the job market. In the sub-field of UX, businesses who may have considered hiring for these positions pre-pandemic may need more convincing that these positions are essential for company growth and product development. Students may have to actively "sell" their skill sets, and pursue more job opportunities to find quality offers. Students are very adaptive, and may seek additional skills/minors or graduate school to improve their marketability.