Science alumni help current grad students explore career pathways

By Erica Balch , February 28, 2017
photo by Natalia Lapinskaya     Richard Lee (pictured with microphone) was one of ten McMaster alumni with Science PhDs who recently returned to campus for an event aimed at helping current PhD students learn more about career pathways outside of academia.

In 2013, McMaster alumna Maria D’Angelo was working toward completing her PhD in Experimental Psychology. Now she’s a research scientist at Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, using the training she received as a graduate student to conduct market research and work on data analysis projects that help shed light on consumer behaviours.

D’Angelo, along with group of Science alumni with PhDs who are now employed in a diverse range of sectors including finance, health care, science education, the arts and data analysis, recently returned to campus to talk to current PhD students about how to position themselves for careers in industry and other non-academic fields.

Maria D’Angela (left) talks to students about how she came to work at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment as a research scientist.

Maria D’Angelo (left) talks to students about how she came to work at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment as a research scientist.

It was all part of an event aimed at helping graduate students in the Faculty of Science learn more about the professional paths open to them outside of academia.

“Oftentimes graduate students are only exposed to the academic environment and think it’s their only career option,” says Tarushika Vasanthan, President of the organized by Scientist Association at McMaster (SAM), and lead organizer of the event.

“We want to broaden that perspective and introduce students to alumni who aren’t working in academia, but  are working in industry, or other unique jobs to show graduate students that there are many other opportunities.”

More than 50 students, faculty and alumni representing a range of scientific disciplines attended the event.  Students and faculty had the opportunity to ask questions and speak with alumni who spoke about their own experiences and provided advice about the kinds of professional skills students need to develop in order to prepare them for potential roles in industry and other sectors.

Bruce Milliken, Acting Dean of the Faculty of Science, along with Bhagwati Gupta, Acting Associate Dean of Graduate Studies in the Faculty of Science, worked with SAM to organize the event.

Milliken says that with fewer positions being created within academia, it’s important that both graduate students and faculty supervisors understand the range of career pathways available.

“This event was for faculty as well,” says Milliken. “The best way to guide students isn’t the same way it was 20 years ago – the paths are different than the ones that they followed. Faculty in their day may have counted on putting their heads down, publishing papers and then everything would take care of itself. But they need to know that many of their current students won’t end up in academic positions, and that their students will need to set aside some time to acquire the extra skills they’re going to need to make themselves attractive to industry positions.”

Milliken says this is the first in what he hopes will be a series of events to come.

“Many of our alumni have found themselves in very interesting positions,” he says. “We’d like to continue to get advice from them about the great paths students can take after they compete their PhD so we can better understand the kinds of skills that are going to position graduate students well for employment.”