Supporting Stanford PhD and postdoc job searches

BEAM career education on campus has career coaches who work with graduate students and postdocs undergoing a job search.

BEAM career coaches Lance Choy, Urmila Venkatesh and Chris Golde assist graduate students and postdocs in their job search. (Image credit: Courtesy BEAM)

Chris Golde, assistant director of career communities for PhDs and postdocs, is one of three career coaches at BEAM career education who work with graduate students and postdocs undergoing a job search. She offers advice about being open to all the possibilities.


What support does BEAM offer for PhD students and postdoctoral scholars undergoing a job search?

We have three career coaches who work with PhDs and postdocs: Urmila Venkatesh, Lance Choy and me. We are also joined in offering services by colleagues in the BioSci Careers Office in the School of Medicine and in EdCareers in the Graduate School of Education.

At BEAM, we serve all PhDs and postdocs through one-on-one coaching, self-assessment tools, workshops and programs. Those workshops and programs can be on tactical subjects – like how to write a resume – or on broader issues of career exploration.

The one-on-one coaching we do ranges from new graduate students who are just starting to think about how to make good use of Stanford to students in the middle stages of study who are thinking about, say, internships. Much of our work is with those actively job searching at the end of their time at Stanford.

We work a lot with students who are trying to figure out what they want to do. There are a lot of cultural pressures on PhDs and postdocs to become a faculty member. But we talk to students who find themselves questioning that path, either because they are limited geographically or they develop other interests. We assure them that there are vast numbers of ways to use the skills, knowledge and training that they have.


In an August opinion piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education, you suggest that the job-search system in academia feels broken. What did you mean by that?

The academic job search is very competitive and challenging. For instance, the faculty job search requires a vast number of documents. Most students need to prepare a CV, a cover letter, a research statement, a diversity statement and a teaching statement, as well as references. Typically, there is then a video interview and then a two-day campus visit. Then they begin the negotiations to ensure they get the resources they need to be successful. At all of those stages we help.

But the point is that the process is incredibly stressful and time consuming. I’ve heard so many stories of how things were unnecessarily difficult. So I wrote about those experiences for the Chronicle. I outlined five things that could be done to fix what is really a broken system, beginning with asking whether all those documents are really necessary and whether the hiring process really needs to extend over nine months. Essentially, I recommend that hiring departments put themselves in a candidate’s shoes. For instance, don’t make them wait a long time to be reimbursed for flights and hotels and don’t leave them hanging if you know you aren’t going to offer them the job.


What are some of the top pieces of advice that you give to those who are seeking a job in academia?

For all students, I remind them that they are really smart and talented and that there are many ways to build on those skills. If you are applying for a faculty position, remember that there are different kinds of institutions to consider. We help them figure out, for instance, the extent to which they want to do research, be more focused on teaching or do both. The clearer they are about what they value, the more focused they can be. I advise people to be open to a range of opportunities. My second piece of advice is to engage in active self-care because this is at least a nine-month-long process.


How tough is the job market for tenure-track positions?

It depends on the discipline, what kind of institution you are looking for and what your geographic requirements are. But we have some Stanford data from 2015 and some national studies. In the humanities, for instance, some 40 to 50 percent enter faculty positions. In the biological sciences, it is a much smaller percentage.


What advice do you give to those who are seeking positions outside of academia?

Remember that you don’t have to make a decision for the next 40 years of your lives. In the real world, careers go in chapters, which is a subject I wrote about for Inside Higher Education in February. You do one thing for a while, which leads you to the next thing and so on. The first choice you make after your PhD isn’t forever. Like in a good book, there are always plot twists in life.

Again, for everyone, we want to help people understand who they are, what they want to do and what they care about. We talk about values, skills and interests. That’s the three-legged stool. As career coaches, we ask questions that lead people to the answers located inside themselves. At that point, the career exploration is a research project, and people earning a PhD definitely know how to do that.


In another piece in Inside Higher Education, you suggest that PhD students should look also to higher education administration as a possible career. Why?

Some people recognize that they love higher education and the teaching, learning and research mission. They don’t want to be faculty members, yet they want to be part of the enterprise. I’m in that category. I taught at the University of Wisconsin after earning my PhD, but really didn’t want to pursue research. So I moved to the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and then to academic administrative positions here at Stanford. It’s a great path for a lot of PhDs. We have created a directory of over 150 Stanford staff with PhDs who are eager to have informational interviews with current students.


If PhD students or postdocs want to take the next steps with you or your colleagues, what do they do?

We have an online system called Handshake. Students make coaching appointments at BEAM or BioSci Careers via Handshake. Registration for all of our programs and events is through Handshake. There is also an employer section, job listings and resources.