Today I want to respond to a question from Mikayla Ulrich, a recent college graduate with a 3.88 GPA. She wrote, “University graduates are feeling more and more pressured towards post-graduate education. I have noticed this especially in my own field, biology. It has been explained to me that the masters degree has become the new bachelors and, to get even an entry level job, you need to have either a masters or PhD. Is there any truth to this statement? And, if so, do you have any advice on securing even an entry level job at a reputable company without spending a fortune on more education?”
Mikayla is right. A massive 2014 Census Bureau survey that reached 3.5 homes found that 75% of people with a STEM undergraduate degree did not have a STEM job. Michael S. Teitelbaum, senior research associate in the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School, told the Washington Postthat data indicate that there are at least twice as many people entering the workforce as there are jobs in STEM fields for those with a bachelor’s degree.
Anecdotally, I observe that the challenges go deeper than simply should you get an advanced degree or not. For example, in many STEM fields, pursuing a PhD means working into your thirties for no or very low wages. You may have little control over where you live, because you may have no choice but to accept the one school or researcher that accepts you.
Faced with these prospects, ask yourself, “What do I want?”
There is a difference between being interested in science and feeling that you were born to be a working scientist. My physician friends spent the better part of a decade training while the rest of us were working, but that was the path to being a doctor so they took it.
But don’t start down this path with half your heart. You won’t survive the years of study and of being poor.
Here’s a bit of good news… in many respects, the wisest course of action is the same as in any other field. Spend less time looking for a job and spend more time building actual relationships with others who are ahead of you on the path.
Too many young people religiously apply for jobs, even though that is the most competitive arena. Instead, use LinkedIn and other tools to reach out to others.
Ask questions: Reach out and ask one intelligent but reasonably concise question, both to gather insight as well as to spark the beginning of a relationship. Make it easy for the other person to respond. For example, the question you posed to me could be adapted into a note you could send to others.
Respond to posts and articles: When you find content created or shared by professionals in your industry, send them a personal note and tell them what you found especially interesting or useful. Ask a short follow-up question. I find that very few people do this, and thus I respond to everyone who reaches out in this manner.
Share content online: When you discover valuable content, share it with your network, and add a line or two that explains what you find useful about it. If you can, also write and share your own posts. They don’t have to be long, but they do have to be focused, clear, and engaging. Invest the time in polishing them, because doing so is a lot less time-consuming than earning a graduate degree, but these posts might help you find a job that actually uses your undergraduate knowledge.
In short, don’t wait to get a job before you start participating in your field. The more initiative you show, the less risk a potential employer will take in hiring you.
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