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Graduate Students Lack Career Advice, Survey Shows

by Linda Wang
September 15, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 37

Graduate students do not think that they are getting adequate career information—especially on nonacademic career paths—from their research advisers, according to recently released results from the 2013 ACS Graduate Student Survey, conducted by the American Chemical Society and supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

In 2013, more than 16,000 graduate student members of ACS were invited to complete the survey, and 2,992 usable responses from Ph.D. and master’s students were received. The survey covered career plans and preparation, student-adviser relationships, and support mechanisms.

Most graduate students reported overall satisfaction with their graduate school experience. However, many felt that their knowledge of careers was lacking. Just 9.5% of students reported that their adviser provided considerable information about nonacademic career paths, and 26.3% of respondents said their adviser had not provided any information about nonacademic careers. Even for academic careers, only 14.7% of respondents said their adviser provided them with considerable information about that option.

“Graduate students may be getting the preparation they need to be good scientists, but they’re not getting the advice they need to get a job,” notes Joe Z. Sostaric, manager of the Graduate & Postdoctoral Scholars Office at ACS.

The survey results were presented at the ACS national meeting in San Francisco in August, and they complement other findings about graduate education in the chemical sciences. In 2012, for example, ACS issued the report, “Advancing Graduate Education in the Chemical Sciences,” which concluded, among other things, that graduate students were not getting sufficient preparation for their careers after graduate school (C&EN, Dec. 17, 2012, page 7).

Sostaric says the current survey results will help ACS and chemistry departments “understand what opportunities exist to enhance the graduate school experience.”

In other findings, roughly 20% of doctoral students believed that their funding was inadequate to meet their cost of living, and more male students than female students reported that their advisers helped them advance professionally.

Several recommendations have come out of the report, including that chemistry departments should partner with their campus career centers to develop a comprehensive suite of career resources targeted to the needs of graduate students at all levels in the chemical sciences. The report also recommends that ACS develop more career programs for graduate students and their advisers at its regional and national meetings.

For other recommendations, and to read the full report, visit

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