Helping Graduate Students Get In the Door and Through the Glass Ceiling

Submitted on February 8, 2021

By Elizabeth Labiner

The Graduate Center has a plethora of resources focused on career preparation and professional development, including a full-time career counselor dedicated to graduate students. Among the programs dedicated to career support are two in particular that aid graduate students in the essential elements of crafting applications and navigating the hiring process.  One series is geared to the academic job market, though it provides valuable information for any career search, and the other addresses strategies that are critical in all employment sectors. 

The Preparing for Faculty Job Applications workshop series focuses on the academic job market and addresses topics such as writing teaching, research, and diversity statements; creating ePortfolios; managing your online presence; and preparing for interviews. While the primary audience for the sessions is those graduate students planning to enter academia, the workshops offer information and advice that are applicable to all job searches, regardless of job sector or scholarly field. The six-workshop series culminates in a session devoted to reviewing participants’ application materials, which they will have drafted throughout the series.

Dr. Jose Luis Ruiz Duarte (PhD ’20) took the series twice, with different goals each time. Dr. Ruiz recalls, 

I wanted to become a professor for more than 10 years, so when my advisor and other professors in the Systems & Industrial Engineering Department suggested that I take the workshop, I immediately said yes. I took the series two times. The first time, during my second year, was mainly to learn in general about faculty life and the processes for applying, while the second time, during my third year, was to delve into details about the application.

Dr. Ruiz, now an Assistant Professor at the Department of Marketing and Business Analytics of the Lucas College and Graduate School of Business at San José State University, feels each of the sessions was vital to crafting a successful application, particularly those dedicated to writing teaching, research, and diversity statements. Beyond those, he says, “The most important session for me was the workshop regarding the interview and the type of questions that I could expect -- and that the  hiring committee may expect from me. Knowing what to expect was extremely helpful to feel confident!” Listening to experts also gave Dr. Ruiz a broader perspective on the faculty experience, which helped him confirm that it was the right fit for his passions and career goals. The preparatory workshops were crucial to his success in securing his current position at SJSU, he explains, since they gave him information, examples, and readings to help him craft a portfolio showcasing himself as an academic. 

The Start Smart Salary and Negotiation workshop series was created to address the gender pay gap and to give women the background and tools to ensure they are paid equitably. While the workshops, co-hosted by the Graduate Center and the American Association of University Women (AAUW), are focused on women’s career trajectories and wages, all students are welcome. The skills taught in the series are not gender- or sex-specific, though the socio-economic problems they seek to rectify typically are. The sessions emphasize understanding the financial impact of the wage gap, readiness for negotiations, and practicing specific negotiation tactics to use during the hiring process. 

Dr. Shyla Dogan (PhD ‘19), learned a great deal from the series, in which she participated multiple times while earning her degree in Educational Leadership and Policy. The most important advice she received? “Always, always negotiate!” Prior to the workshops, Dr. Dogan hadn’t ever considered the hiring process from the perspective of the hiring company, and the shift in thinking catalyzed by the workshops helped her approach the process with far more confidence. She explains, 

Employers won’t make you an offer unless they want you, so that’s your moment to put your terms out there! Prior to Start Smart, I would go into job hiring processes with the fear that they might choose someone else. I was letting my insecurities drive me, and worrying that a better applicant would come along. But once a hiring committee has established that they want you, you have to let those insecurities go. 

In fact, she says, the workshop helped her realize that the first job offer she received -- for the position of Director for the Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at New York University  -- wasn’t going to provide enough to support herself and her family in New York City. “It looked like a great offer at first,” she remembers, “especially to a graduate student transitioning from student-level to faculty-level income. But, as the workshop advocated, I did research on the cost of living in New York, and very quickly saw that there was no way to live in New York with children on the salary they were offering.” As difficult as it felt at the time, Dr. Dogan knew that she needed to find a position in which the pay was commensurate with her experience and was feasible with regard to the cost of living in the area. When she received an offer from Arizona State University, she put her skills from the workshop to use again. Even though she got a strong initial offer, Dr. Dogan knew it was critical to advocate for herself and her family. She asked for time to think, then returned with a counteroffer. The result was a final offer with a higher salary and a better teaching assignment, which she then accepted. Among the tools for negotiation, the workshop taught Dr. Dogan to prompt the employer to make the first move: “Always let them give their number first! Chances are, you’re undervaluing yourself. If they put you on the spot, ask, ‘What were you thinking?’” Really, though, she says, the biggest takeaway from the series was her increased respect for her worth on the job market. “I’m much more aware of my own value. My time and my work have great value, and I deserve to be compensated fairly for it!”

To learn more about these workshops, as well as additional resources for career support, visit the Career Support page on the Graduate Center website.