January 31, 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.
Howard University, College of Medicine
Dr. Janine Ziermann: The pandemic disrupted the entire world for almost a year now, which impacts everyone. Graduate students will be impacted due to delayed graduations, and missing opportunities for internships, practical research, or in-person collaborations. However, the pandemic forced graduate students to become hyperflexible in both coursework and research. Students rapidly learned to adapt to new technology, which created useful skills that will benefit them in future academic careers.
Moving towards research focused careers, it highly depends how productive the labs were, where the students did their thesis. While worldwide labs were forced to shut down, some researchers had sufficient data to keep publishing. Others were in institutions where research on a smaller scale was still possible. Unfortunately, most research projects were negatively impacted to some degree, some even stopping completely due to the lack of lab access, specimens being destroyed or university closure for non-essential personnel.
We have students in our program who have continued to publish papers during the pandemic from research data completed prior. We also have graduate students who are planning to defend in 2021 and might have to wait until the Summer rather than Spring because of the pandemic delaying final experiments and dissertation completion. This may impact future applications to PhDs, postdocs, or faculty positions.
Dr. Janine Ziermann: The trend to be hyperflexible was already starting before the pandemic and became even more emphasized during the pandemic. Future workforce, both academic and research, will be required to think on their feet, learn to adapt immediately when unforeseen events occur, and be able to navigate a multitude of programs (teaching, collaboration, analyses, etc.). Being constantly aware of trends in teaching is a plus for all that apply for positions at universities.
Current and future graduate students have already proven to be resilient, a key skill that must continue. Clear communication is more important than ever with the increasing number of international students in graduate programs and international research collaborators necessary to complete vital areas of research for publications, grants, presentations, etc. Overall, graduate students should note what things they liked and disliked during their time in their respective program courses. They can then choose to keep some aspects and modify others when they are hired as faculty members, research post-docs, or research faculty in the next stages of their careers.
Dr. Janine Ziermann: Good teaching evaluations or teaching experiences as a Teaching Assistant (if possible), published research, experience in a variety of methods (teaching and research) or any combination of these skills are always welcome. Grades alone are not a guarantee for success anymore. Fine-tuning specific skills, both in teaching and research, is important for any future position.