September 21, 2011

Graduate School Reacts to Students’ Grim Job Prospects

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In response to a predicted decline in hiring for tenure-track positions in humanities, the Graduate School is preparing a new set of initiatives to better equip its humanities students for professional success outside of academia.

Administrators emphasized that although many of the changes are directed toward helping humanities students, all graduate students stand to benefit.

While also hoping to improve the number of students employed as professors, the University has taken early steps to diversify these students’ potential career paths by adding three new administrative positions and altering its relationship with the Career Services Office.

“As the job market gets more difficult, Cornell has made a commitment to ensure that its graduate students are as prepared as they can be for the process of getting a job, both academic and non-academic,” said Evan Cortens grad, president of the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly.

Although accurate and timely figures are scarce, several national media outlets recently reported on the grim job prospects for graduate students in the humanities.

Inside Higher Ed, for instance, said that the number of tenure-track job listings by the American Historical Association and by the Modern Language Association fell by as much as 37 percent from 2009 to 2010.

Additionally, The Chronicle of Higher Education published a series of op-eds written by Prof. William Pannapacker, Hope College, lamenting the highly competitive nature of obtaining employment in academia.

“The handful of real jobs that remain are being pursued by thousands of qualified people — so many that the minority of candidates who get tenure-track positions may as well be considered the winners of a lottery,” he wrote.

In the humanities and humanistic social sciences, post-graduation employment in academia was the most frequently reported placement, said Barbara Knuth, vice provost and dean of the Graduate School.

However, the Graduate School remains concerned that there will be fewer university positions to compete for in the future.

“As active hiring slows for humanities positions in tenure-track university positions, humanities graduates may face more competition for these university positions,” Knuth said. “They may choose to refocus their career aspirations toward non-tenure-track positions or in careers outside of academia, such as in museums, consulting, government agencies, the non-profit sector or secondary education.”

Some students also remain concerned about job prospects for graduates in the humanities fields.

“The situation is very bleak,” said Ermita Soenarto grad, a history student. “Senior grad students are the ones who are the front line. They know what the market situation is and what employers expect.”

New Administrative Positions

Despite the uncertain outlook for humanities students in the job market, students across the Graduate School may soon find hope from the addition of three new positions, aimed at encouraging academic and professional development.

On Aug. 19, Sheri Notaro joined the graduate school as Associate Dean for Inclusion and Professional Development. The second position, Assistant Dean for Professional Development, was filled by Tilman Baumstark, who began on Sept. 13.

According to the University, Notaro will be responsible for improving retention and completion rates and preparing students for their professional careers.

Baumstark will provide leadership for developing a program in ethics and scholarly integrity, mentoring in grant writing and communication and partnering with other offices on campus in support of professional development, according to the University.

In addition to these positions, the Graduate School is funding half of a Career Services position that will serve as an advising specialist on careers, jobs and internships for graduate students, Knuth said.

The search is currently underway to fill this position, Knuth added.

Tracking Success of Post-Graduates

The Graduate School also hopes that gaining more information about students’ post-graduation careers will lead to more informed administrative decisions that will ultimately help students, Knuth said.

“Tracking doctoral graduates’ career development over time is a challenge facing all graduate schools,” Knuth said. “We are involved in discussions with our peers to exchange ideas about best practices and developing an informative and sustainable approach to address this need.”

According to Knuth, Cornell tracks graduate student job placement through the Survey of Earned Doctorates, coordinated by the National Science Foundation, and through the Graduation Manager on-line database.

However, the Graduate School has only used Graduation Manager for about three years, Knuth said, so “the database is limited.”

Cortens also saw value in tracking students’ career paths after graduation for future graduates.

“We can learn from from keeping track of our graduates,” Cortens said. “I believe that it is difficult to address a problem, if you don’t know the scope of it to begin with.”

Original Author: Liz Camuti