February 25, 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.
South Dakota School of Mines and Technology
Department of Materials and Metallurgical EngineeringWebsite
William Cross Ph.D.: The biggest job market trends given the pandemic are working from home, and slightly delayed hiring - in Metallurgical Engineering at SD Mines, it took about 9-12 months for our Spring 2020 graduates to be hired to levels that took less than three months pre-pandemic, although eventually most of our graduates have been placed. The Fall 2020 graduates have seen a similar delay.
I expect some of the work from home will remain into the future, but do not expect the delayed hiring to extend for too much longer. I also expect that in some fields the pandemic has accelerated trends towards greater automation of job functions.
William Cross Ph.D.: The soft skills that all graduates should possess are primarily in communication - speaking/writing clearly, and listening/reading comprehension - and in teamwork skills. Being able to function in a variety of roles on a team is very important to success in many jobs.
William Cross Ph.D.: This of course depends on the time range to which the question refers. Over the last 4-5 years salaries have been rather flat on average going by SD Mines graduates in Metallurgical Engineering, although this is working off a rather high baseline. SD Mines has been recognized as the top engineering schools in the nation for return on investment, and Metallugical Engineering has an above average starting salary for SD Mines at around $65,000/year.
North Dakota State University
Coatings and Polymeric Materials DepartmentWebsite
Andriy Voronov: Since pandemic is not over yet, there may be only a guess on how significant this impact can be. I think answering this question resonates with more general one, namely, "Will our life after COVID-19 be the same as before?" We all want to be positive about that but are just not certain. Moreover, I think in some professional aspects in most fields, changes are unavoidable. Working from home, attending virtual conferences, taking part in Zoom meetings, even virtual get together with colleagues will most probably remain to be a new post-pandemic working routine, by all advantages and disadvantages this may bring to most recent graduates. Speaking about materials science, I hope and do believe that there will be global and impactful factors other than coronavirus pandemic, such as novel materials trends, technological innovations etc., to take into account for graduates.
Andriy Voronov: I think most graduate programs in materials science offer opportunities for interdisciplinary research and educational activities. Their philosophy is to educate and prepare job prospects by providing advanced aspects of work, including extensive collaborations between departments, programs, institutions or with industrial partners. Offering specialized trainings in various areas, graduate programs aim to merge basic and applied research within the certain field. With this said, quit often graduate programs work also with leading industrial scientists who help to provide to the graduates new and practical directions to become competitive at the job market. Answering your question more specifically, graduate programs do target as complementary and comprehensive education as possible. It will be interesting to hear from graduates what courses they took have the biggest impact for them, as well as if they need any additional certifications/licenses and which specifically.
Andriy Voronov: Being materials scientist means being able to do lot of things starting from fundamental research on material properties and characterization up to developing entirely new formulations and modify them to make new products suitable for new applications. One should be prepared to work in research lab, but also in pilot plants, as well as in manufacturing facilities. As for the soft skills, those are critical thinking, problem solving, communication, written and oral, including ability to communicate science to scientists, but also nonscientific audience, also flexibility and adaptability in (always) willing to learn. Although not a soft skill, but rather technical one, do not forget about fundamental knowledge and understanding of materials specifics and properties one works with.
University of Denver
Department of Mechanical & Materials EngineeringWebsite
Dr. Matt Howard Gordon Ph.D.: I think so. At least for a couple years.
Dr. Matt Howard Gordon Ph.D.: I think any technical job is a good job for engineers. You build experience, ideally in an area of interest, making it easier to get your next job.
Dr. Matt Howard Gordon Ph.D.: I stress outside the class experiences - internships, undergraduate research, and/or study abroad. I believe all help with earning potential. And maybe students should consider getting their PE.
University of Houston - Downtown
College of Sciences and TechnologyWebsite
Dr. Maria Benavides Ph.D.: Chemistry graduates can work in a broad spectrum of fields: education, government agencies, research laboratories, and industry (oil, chemical, healthcare, pharmaceutical), and these jobs should still be viable options to Chemistry majors, even during the pandemic. As a result of the pandemic, I anticipate a greater number of opportunities arising in the pharmaceutical industry and the drug discovery field.
Dr. Maria Benavides Ph.D.: Apart from a good foundation in the chemistry discipline, skills that will stand out on resumes include: experience in various analytical techniques, excellent communication skills both verbally and in writing, ability to work collaboratively (team player), and the ability to think critically to find solutions to problems (problem solving). Another valuable skill nowadays would be to be competent in the use of technology for communication purposes (Zoom, etc.).
Dr. Maria Benavides Ph.D.: Texas is a good place for Chemistry graduates, particularly the city of Houston, which houses the largest medical center in the world, and the largest petroleum industry hub in the world. Most of our graduates find employment in the oil industry but also in those companies that provide services to the petroleum industry, such as chemical supply, waste disposal, chemical safety, etc. Our graduates also find employment in the medical research field, in research labs such as the famous UT Anderson Cancer Center.