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Career Resources for Graduate Students

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Did you know that the career paths of graduate students are changing?

  • Since the start of the 1980s the rate of enrollment of graduate students in Canada has increased faster than that of undergraduate students; enrollment of master’s degree level students has tripled, while doctoral students have increased 4.5 fold.1
  • Between 60-70% of Canadian PhDs do not pursue academic careers.2
  • Only 12% of tenured faculty members in Canada are under the age of 35.3

1 Marilyn Rose, “Graduate Student Professional Development: A Survey with Recommendations”, prepared for The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, March 2012.

2 Statistics Canada (2011). Labour market outcomes of Canadian doctoral graduates.

3 Charlie Gillis, “Are Ph.D.s an academic dead zone?”, Maclean’s: June 3, 2013.

And so is the local and national labor market!

  • Many UBC graduate students want to make the Lower Mainland their home; however, this is a community with few head offices or major government centers, as 98% of employers in British Columbia are small businesses.4
  • WorkBC predicts that over 450,000 jobs will need to be filled by 2020.5
  • The Research Universities’ Council of British Columbia’s Opportunity Agenda makes the link between graduate education and a prosperous, sustainable economy.
  • Vancouver is a world-renowned “vibrant startup ecosystem” that seeks people with entrepreneurial skills.6
  • Demand for graduate degrees in the Canadian labor market has increased over the past two decades, from 600,000 jobs in 1990 to over 1.3 million jobs in 2009.7

4 Statistics Canada (2012). Canadian Business Patterns Database. This accounts for public, private and non-profit sectors. Small businesses are made up of less than 50 employees.

5 WorkBC (2013). British Columbia Labour Market Outlook 2010-2020.

6 Compass (2012). The Startup Ecosystem Report.

7 AUCC (2011). Trends in higher education: Volume 1 – Enrolment.

What do we know about the career paths of Canadian graduate students?

Traditionally, graduate students have tended to progress into academic roles on graduation. With number of graduates with advanced degrees increasing (an almost five-fold increase since the early 1980s), graduate career paths are gradually becoming more diverse.

A 2011 StatCan report on the Expectations and Labor Market Outcomes of Doctoral Graduates from Canadian Universities revealed some clear information on PhD destinations in Canada, including the following:

  • 77% of doctoral graduates in arts/humanities disciplines progressed into careers in “Educational Services”. (Not all of these graduates were working as lecturers or researchers. Many were in “alternative” academic roles such as administrative, program management and other leadership roles within the university environment. Others may have been working as secondary or college teachers or the private sector).
  • The outcomes vary sharply by discipline. Only 34% of PhD graduates of engineering were found to be working in “Educational Services”, 51% of life science PhDs and 56% of computer science PhDs.
  • Over a third of engineering PhDs work in “professional, scientific and technical services”, along with 18% of computer science PhDs and 14% of life science PhDs.
  • 16% of PhDs of life science disciplines were working in healthcare and social assistance.

It would seem that well-worn paths have been established from some doctoral programs to professional career paths beyond education and academia. For some disciplines, new ground will be forged. One of the most exciting things about today’s job market is that so many work roles and projects are being created each year.

See the following link for 10 in-demand jobs that didn’t even exist 10 years ago!

One way to view career pathways of graduate students is to consider them according to three key categories:

  1. “First Wave”

    Careers directly related to your graduate research, e.g. Lecturer, Post-Doc

  2. “Second Wave”

    Careers indirectly related to your graduate research, e.g. Consultant, Spin-off Entrepreneur, Teacher, Academic Librarian, Science Writer,  “Alt-Ac” Professional

  3. “Third Wave”

    Career paths in field not related to your graduate research but personally appealing nonetheless e.g. Law, Management, Finance, Accounting, Computer Science, Business Development

For graduate students with an eye on “first wave” careers, skills such as networking, career management and relationship building skills have become more important than ever.

Building industry knowledge and personal connections in “third wave” career paths will take a little more effort and ingenuity, as these fields are usually far removed from the world in which you’ve been immersed.

Navigating the complexity of options to choose from requires in-depth knowledge of:

  1. Yourself (your strengths, personality and marketable skills) and,
  2. The job market (industry-specific knowledge, areas of projected growth and the overall landscape).

One of the most effective ways to research second or third wave careers of interest while simultaneously making connections is to find, join and participate in professional and/or industry societies and associations. Many associations offer free/reduced memberships to students, in addition to free entry to their events. Find out more about networking with local industry and professional associations nnetworking.


An arts perspective: Peter Wrinch

Peter Wrinch was focused on a career in academia throughout his studies in Russian History. He now has a career in the not-for-profit industry as the Executive Director at Pivot Legal.

An academic's perspective: Marwan Hassan

Marwan Hassan is a Professor and Geography Department Head at the University of British Columbia. He gives insight into choosing a career in academia and methods of achieving a job.

An engineer's perspective: Veronique Hadade

Veronique Hadade has a Masters in both Mechanical Engineering and Management, which she has applied to a career in Business Development at MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates.

Combining technical and business skills: Leslie Ng

Leslie Ng supplemented her undergraduate studies in Chemical Engineering with an MBA. She now works for the City of Vancouver as an engineer and planner for the sustainability team.

From a CFO and Mentor: Kathryn Hayashi

Kathryn Hayashi is the Chief Financial Officer at the Centre for Drug Research and Development, with a career spanning a variety of industries from music to biotechnology.

Transferring technical skills to industry: Harish Vasudevan

Harish Vasudevan holds a PhD in pharmaceutical sciences from UBC. After deciding that academia wasn't for him, he focused his career on industries requiring high intellectual capital instead.

So what are the career options that appeal to you?

There are numerous self-assessments available to deepen your self-knowledge and learn how to articulate your strengths confidently to prospective employers.

The following are some Canadian and international labor market information (LMI) tools to aid to aid your research of the job market:

BC Labour Market Outlook 

BC Labour Market Navigator

BC Work Futures

Baccalaureate Graduates Survey (BGS) 

Working in Canada

Workapedia - Advice for Careers in BC 

Additional Resources

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