Posted August 28th, 2017 by Tyler Irving

OPTIONS: Enriching career development for engineering PhDs and postdoctoral fellows

Panel discussion at U of T Engineering

Left to right: Michael Gray (CivE PhD 1T2, Cast Connex), Theresa Cooke (Siemens Canada Ltd.), Ivey Chiu (EngSci 0T5, MIE MASc 0T5, MIE PhD 1T0, Telus), and Brandon Bowhuis (EngSci 0T4, MSE PhD 0T9, Integran), along with Deshanand Singh (CompE 9T7, ECE PhD 0T3, Amazon, not pictured), participate in an ILead:Grad panel on Success Stories from PhD Engineers and Scientists, held January 2017. A new graduate professional development program provides students with guidance on how to market their expertise and competencies to potential employers outside academia. (Photo: Alan Yusheng Wu)

All professors have a PhD, but in engineering only one in four PhDs become professors. A new program — led by U of T Engineering’s Institute for Leadership Education in Engineering (ILead) and the Vice-Dean, Graduate Studies — is helping PhD students and postdoctoral fellows prepare for careers outside academia, from industry research and development to government policy.

Applications for The OPTIONS (Opportunities for PhDs: Transitions, Industry Options, Networking and Skills) Program are open as of Monday, August 28th. Over the next four months, participants will learn more about job market conditions, hone strategies to prepare for applications and interviews, and develop new competencies to bring to the marketplace.

“In the different roles that I have held in the Faculty over the last several years, I have seen that PhD students in particular are hungry for career advice,” says Professor Julie Audet, Vice-Dean, Graduate Studies. “This program bridges a gap between the university and the industries where our graduate students work.”

The OPTIONS Program is supported by the School of Graduate Studies’ Innovation in Graduate Professional Development Fund, and is modeled on U of T Engineering’s Prospective Professors In Training (PPIT) program, which helps graduate students prepare for an academic position. Starting last January a series of eight prototype workshops were held to test out ideas that will be incorporated in the new program. These included career planning sessions and panel discussions with PhD graduates now working in industry, government or other non-academic fields.

“The main source of anxiety and stress for me in the past year had been not knowing exactly what I want and what I can do,” says Nazanin Orang, who is pursuing a PhD in chemical engineering. “The structured exercises and peer support really helped me realize my own potential and how I can put it to work.”

Starting in late September, PhD students who enroll in The OPTIONS Program will attend a two-hour workshop each week throughout the fall semester, covering everything from creating an effective LinkedIn profile to fostering productive team dynamics.

“The OPTIONS Program appeals to me because it provides structured space for self-reflection and career planning that I might not otherwise get,” says Christian Euler (ChemE PhD candidate). “I think the program would help me to better understand how I can continue pursuing my goals and make them reality.”