Our department has these newsletters where they highlight the awesome stuff some of our alum go on to. It makes us feel good that we’re doing something, and makes students want to flock to us because they think we’re great at placing students in high-paying, fun jobs. However, this has set a false standard for students. They are coming in thinking employers will flock to them, it will be easy to get a job, they’ll have enough money to buy their dream car, and they’ll be doing some novel work at their dream job straight out of college. Truthfully, maybe 5% of the students from each graduating class are getting jobs like this. There aren’t as many of these types of positions in industry, and students are just not prepared for the ‘real world’. On the engineering side, coming out with a BS or sometimes even an MS, the majority of students go into QE, process, new product development, systems, or testing engineering. From talking with them, the majority of students would prefer to go into early feasibility engineering (some say they want to go into business or marketing….kids….): coming up with new ideas, building new prototypes, testing them themselves, and getting their devices into some sick patient’s body. Luckily, I had early mentors that prepared me very well for the few unicorn-jobs that are out there.
Aside from that, the students are coming out with skill-sets and knowledge that aren’t conducive to highly challenging careers where you need to balance work ethic and knowledge to get your foot in the door. I do three things in preparing undergrads: 1. Bring in industry people looking for good students, 2. Prepare students for the types of jobs that are out there and what they would qualify for, and 3. Teach them the skills they need to get in the door and be successful. I want our newsletter to be inundated with students doing incredible stuff, and not just have to highlight specific grads because it’s all we could get.
Prep point 1: I was talking to two grad students from the same undergrad program and they complained that there were only a few employers from the medical side of things at their career fairs at their top-5 undergrad institute. Here, we have a dozen employers looking for good students right now. The exposure is key. Students learn about the company, the company learns about the students, and the biomedical internships have increased 10x since I joined a few years ago. So I’m pretty proud of what I’ve done here. And this was easy because I know exactly who to call to get them to come to the career fairs. Prep points 2 and 3: Students need a dash of reality. In every industry, we need paper-pusher scientists. And if you want something more stable from a work-life balance perspective, I’ve noticed these are pretty damn regular. Good pay, good home life, but lacking in creativity. In addition, some students just aren’t talented enough. I’ve done a good job of fostering more applied skills so at least students will have that experience if they haven’t done so hot in thermodynamics, so students are placing into jobs more easily, but it’s still not where I’d like. The median was 1 month after graduation that students have found a job by before I started, and it’s 2 months before now. The economy is also doing well, so that may be a factor, but I feel way better about the recent crop of students than the first when I came in. And half have gotten medical jobs via advertisers at the career fairs here. I’m pretty proud of that.
Overall, contacts matter so much in finding work and I tried to bring as much of that as possible in combination with teaching students the skills they need. Next to one specific project I have, this is definitely one of my favorite projects.