February 8, 2012

Cornell Ph.D. Graduates Beat Peers Nationally in Job Hunt

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Students who graduate from Cornell with a Ph.D. fare slightly better in the job market than their national peers, according to numbers recently provided by Barbara Knuth, vice provost and dean of the Graduate School.

Citing a study coordinated through the National Science Foundation in 2009, Knuth said that, one year after graduating, about 22 percent of Cornell Ph.D. students are still searching for employment or further education opportunities. By contrast, she said, 27 percent of these students’ peers nationwide remain unemployed or lack plans for advancing their education.

Knuth also emphasized that, on average, Cornell doctoral students graduate with a lighter debt burden than their peers.

“At graduation, 64.6 percent of Cornell doctoral students graduate with no debt from their graduate studies, compared with 51.4 percent nationwide,” Knuth said. She added that 28 percent of Cornell doctoral students graduate with a debt of $35,000 or less, although in this category the University’s alumni only beat the national average by .2 percent.

While their prospects may be better than those of their peers, many graduate students at Cornell lamented what they identified as the vagaries of the job market.

“For people who pursue graduate degrees with educational aims, there will be a lot of emotional and material labor and no promises,” said Jenni Lieberman, a NSF postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Science and Technology Studies.

According to Tyson Vaughan grad, luck also plays an important role in the job search.

“With academic jobs in particular, it is a bit of a crapshoot as to whether anyone is looking for someone with your particular skills and interests when you are on the market,” Vaughan said.

He said that he knows of students who have spent a year searching for a job before receiving an offer from a graduate school.

“A lot of it just depends on timing and luck, and that lack of control is stressful,” Vaughan said.

Lieberman agreed that chance plays a significant part in one’s success in the job market.

“I have been fortunate and happy in terms of post-graduate prospects for jobs and other opportunities, but ‘fortunate’ is the key word,” she said. “I have worked hard, but so have many other people who have been less fortunate than myself through no fault of their own.”

Additionally, those who do find employment may end up in fields far removed from their initial expectations. According to numbers provided by Knuth, approximately half of Cornell’s Ph.D. students end up in academia and roughly 40 percent end up in the business world.

Evan Cortens grad, president of the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly, said that this data is a reflection of the fact that not all students who graduate with a Ph.D. will enter academia, but that this is not necessarily a measure of post-doctoral success.

“This isn’t about ‘Plan A: Academia, Plan B: Starbucks,’” Cortens said. “Someone may be pursuing a Ph.D. in English literature and not want to be a professor in English literature … Certainly I believe that an advanced degree of any kind from Cornell is a major asset, no matter what field you work in.”

Original Author: Elizabeth Kussman