|This page in the original is blank.|
A Discussion of Scenarios
Approaching a Career
Now is the time for Ellie to think carefully about her next steps. Is she sure that she will enjoy working with students? She might benefit from some form of practice teaching either as a tutor or as a volunteer in a community service project for high-school students or adults. Taking the Graduate Record Exam might let her gauge her aptitude for doing advanced coursework, although it can tell her little about other aspects of graduate education. It is unusual for a high-school teacher to desire the rigorous work demanded of a master's or PhD in mathematics. However, some PhDs have found rewarding careers in teaching at the pre-college level, and many high schools and community colleges explicitly want to hire teachers at the master's level or even PhD level (in magnet schools, for example).
If she has doubts about whether teaching is for her, this is the time to investigate alternatives. She might take courses in disciplines in which her interest in mathematics would be
an asset, such as engineering, accounting, or biology. She might take a summer job in the private sector (with an actuarial or accounting firm, for example) to familiarize herself with other mathematics-related careers. As science and technology become more pervasive in our culture, mathematicians are increasingly in demand in positions outside academia, including environmental work, health science, business, finance, and banking.
If she decides on high-school teaching, she will benefit from a master's degree for the best chances of career advancement. She will also need her state's teaching certificate; many states have alternative certification programs for those with graduate degrees, allowing people to teach and obtain certification at the same time.
Frank has two questions to answer: What opportunities are available to him as a chemist? How do his personality and abilities match with these opportunities?
In thinking about the profession of chemistry, he can begin his search with the career counselor in his college, who will have advice about graduate study and potential careers. He should also get in touch with the American Chemical Society (which has local sections) and ask for useful materials on career planning. He should ask both sources for names of professionals whom he might talk to. He should watch for local disciplinary meetings and seek out people there.
To understand his own personal needs better, Frank should review his personal life and experience. He might make a list of his accomplishments and weigh them against
his shortcomings. What can such a list tell him about the employment that he is best suited to? His counseling office will probably offer a personality or aptitude test. Although the results of the test might be helpful, he might find even more benefit from just thinking about the questions asked on the test.
Frank should attempt an evaluation of who he is and what he wants. Does he thrive on challenge, competition, and problem-solving? If so, he might prefer a position in which initiative is prized. Does he place high value on security, benefits, and long-term security? If so, he might do well in a less-challenging but more-stable position. The better he knows himself, the sounder will be his decision.
If such skills are important to her, there are many opportunities to develop them without adding extra courses. For example, to build communication and group skills, Lee could join a graduate-student seminar group. Organizing one would also help to strengthen her leadership and group skills. She could join a disciplinary society and take on the responsibilities of organizing workshops and planning meetings. Making contacts, initiating plans, and making public announcements will all be helpful. Joining a Toastmaster's Club could help to strengthen communication and public-speaking skills.
To better understand the culture and work style of industry, she could try to arrange off-campus, for-credit internships to take the place of courses. She might find an off-campus adviser as well. She could practice explaining the importance of her field to off-campus or civic groups.
It is true that a dedicated researcher can have a career as an independent scholar. But all disciplines, including mathematics, are becoming more team-oriented.
Graduate school provides many opportunities to learn to work cooperatively—for those willing to seize them. Perhaps with the help of a friend or counselor, Howard should make an effort to interact with students in adjacent disciplines, such as physics, engineering, biology, and computer science. He could organize projects or groups, look for intellectual ''edges" where his work meets the work of others, and make conscious efforts to participate in discussions, seminars, and workshops.
Deciding Whether to Attend Graduate School
By moving directly into a job, Chris might very well satisfy her desires to earn an adequate income, to live close to home, and to have a rewarding career.
If, after a few years, her interest in further study is rekindled, she will likely have gained valuable skills and a realistic perspective on her field. She will have had a break from school, which often proves refreshing. She might also be able to earn a master's degree while working, most likely with her employer's support.
However, after a few years off-campus, it could be difficult to leave the job and to regain momentum for a PhD. She would have to shift from receiving a good salary to living on a student scholarship or loan funds. She would have lost touch with some of her academic material in a field that is changing rapidly.
It is important for Chris to consider the eventual shape of her career. An advanced degree will allow her to move up the career ladder and attain higher levels of responsibility and salary.
If she does not want to move, it is sometimes possible to obtain adequate schooling at a smaller institution near one's home. Regional schools often specialize in subfields that are attractive to potential employers and provide an excellent path to an industrial position. A good regional university can often provide the management, organizational, or financial skills needed for advancement.
Choosing a Degree
Wesley's social skills and love of teaching suggest a natural path toward education. He needs to think about what level of teaching suits him best. If he stops at a master's in chemistry, his best option might be to teach at the junior-college or high-school level; he could also work as a technician in a chemical company. If he hopes to do research or to teach at the university level, he will need a PhD and probably postdoctoral experience.
His good communication skills are highly valued in the private sector. He might choose to go on to the PhD and broaden its value through an internship with industry. This might lead to a career in R&D, applications, marketing, or sales. Corporations value people who can explain complex subjects to customers and co-workers in other disciplines. Wesley might do well to seek out an adviser in industry.
His adviser's reluctance to discuss the full range of career options is a serious drawback. An adviser's support is invaluable in gaining perspective on one's career and in
making career contacts. Wesley should find another adviser or seek a second adviser who can help him.
The Adviser-Student Relationship
Fernando should make every effort to speak with his adviser; misunderstandings are common in the hectic environment of graduate school. If his attempt fails, he should consult the head of the graduate program, whose job it is to be the liaison between students and faculty. If this fails, he might talk with his department chair.
Is this problem his adviser's fault, or is he himself doing something that contributes to a poor relationship? This kind of difficulty is a good argument for taking great care in choosing an adviser.
If Fernando is truly blocked, he might need to find another adviser. There are risks to this step: he might not find one in his field, he might lose time in reshaping his career, and he might lose financial support. But unless he is nearly finished with his research, selecting another adviser is probably preferable to continued unhappiness and lack of progress.
Choosing a Research Topic
It is not uncommon to shift the focus of thesis research, but there must be some focus. Without it, Henry faces several grave dangers, such as repeating what someone else has already done, losing his way amid the immensity of his subject, or trying to do the work of an entire career in a brief time.
Most advisers can help to prevent these mistakes, but
only if lines of communication are open. This communication is a responsibility shared by Henry and his adviser.
At this point, Henry can only make the best of a poor situation. To begin with, he should seek out opinions from the other members of his research committee. He has already done considerable research; with their guidance, he should be able to put together a decent (if not first-class) dissertation. He might have hoped for better, but obtaining a PhD at least provides a tangible return on his investment of effort.
Finding a Job
Carol should start immediately to learn what she can about corporate culture. She should use her contacts and friends to obtain coaching from biotechnology experts and others familiar with private-company values.
She should also sharpen her communication skills by working with friends, taking classes, or hiring a tutor. Disciplinary groups are especially helpful. They often have listings of job-opening services that help to match employers looking for employees with members looking for jobs and a variety of written guidance material, including resume, interview, and job-search guides.
Scientists and engineers who work for industry are commonly called on to work in teams, to follow products beyond the laboratory, and to interact with customers or co-workers in other disciplines. Therefore, Carol would benefit from good skills in communication, teamwork, and leadership. Industry places more emphasis on timeliness, goals, and cost control than there is in academic research. Even a brief experience in an industrial laboratory during a sum-
mer or off-campus internship might have prepared Carol for these expectations.
Carol should not give up easily. It takes work and time to find a job; a search commonly lasts 6–12 months.
Self-employment requires considerable maturity and experience. Kim should assess her position before leaving her firm: Has she become expert in her field? Does she have enough contacts to bring her steady employment? Does she have the financial stability to endure the months when her income is below average? One rule of thumb is to have a year's income in the bank before venturing out.
Some advantages of self-employment are increased flexibility, responsibility, and choice. On the other side of the coin, Kim will lose the infrastructure, advisers, and teamwork that supported her activities in the firm. Unless she is part of a group, she will also have to deal with the isolation factor—doing without the personal interaction, intensity, and (in most cases) fun of the workplace. She should ask herself whether she has the perseverance and self-reliance to do without those and whether independence is truly important to her. If the answers are positive, self-employment could offer an unparalleled opportunity for growth.