Preparing the talent of today for the industry of tomorrow is the tagline that we proudly adopted as an initiative. I founded Industry Link a little over a year and a half ago with this vision in mind, motivated by a cocktail of frustration, personal interest, and excitement at the opportunity to address a major gap in the education system. As we launch into our second year of operation, I hoped to share with you some of the more specific reasons behind why we decided to start Industry Link.
It was abundantly clear that there would not be enough academic jobs available for the outflow of advanced degree-bearing graduates. In fact, fewer than a quarter of current PhD students are predicted to end up in full-time, tenured faculty positions in Canada, forcing the majority to seek employment in other countries or non-academic industries. Numerous scientific sources are exclaiming the severity of this problem. Yet, for various reasons, enrollment continues to increase in graduate programs that were built for career landscapes that are decades out-of-date. More disconcertingly, four-out-of-five graduate students still believe they will follow an academic trajectory. From those who were more sensitive to the situation, I would catch bits of conversations about the mysterious "industry" or "dark side" that graduate students could transition into. But guidance on how to prepare oneself for this potential postgraduate undertaking (or where these industry jobs even were) remained vague. After finding myself disappointed with career seminars and workshops, I decided to find out how many of my fellow peers actually resonated with what I was going through.
One of the first affirmations for Industry Link came in the form of a survey conducted by our early team. Like myself, 89% of the students in my graduate program did not find current career services to be sufficiently helpful for industry exposure, and most were neither aware of, nor prepared for, non-academic career options in science. Interestingly, the majority of students reported that their greatest barrier to discerning these alternative aspirations was the lack of opportunity to gain first-hand experience. This was a major finding. (And also helped explain why so many graduate students find career seminars to be ironically unhelpful*.) We decided that this was the critical problem we needed to tackle. And as Industry Link, we would do it by designing and implementing newer and more relevant programming that provided the pragmatic experiences they so desired.
This endeavor demanded an immense amount of hard work, persistence, and dedication from our team (each of whom I am extremely grateful for). Alongside the generosity of partnering companies for opening their doors to us, solid guidance from a number of personal mentors, and an incredibly supportive graduate program office, I can confidently say that we are beginning to meet this need. In this past year alone, we served over a hundred graduate students on our Company Tours program to over seven companies. Graduate students were given the chance to see the insides of real-world, health science organizations, and discuss prospects with employees from multiple different roles, all within the same day. With sign-ups sometimes exceeding the maximum capacity by 200%, the interest and excitement in our new program was evident. We further expanded our offerings to eight Part-Time Internships and facilitated the circulation of six full-time/contract job posts. Most recently, we began planning a multi-university health science careers conference and recruiting fair coming March 2018, and soft-launched Industry Link Consulting, a service that skill-matches teams of graduate students to provide scientific and technical consulting for early-stage companies.
The current paucity of academic positions should not be seen as a dead-end to higher education, but instead, as a hopeful occasion to reroute excellence into a different facet of health science. Creating the proper infrastructure to funnel these brilliant minds from academia into industry will be essential to retaining and utilizing talent that took years of schooling to nurture. And through continued equipping and connecting, we aim to cultivate and strengthen the future innovation sectors of Canada. As we begin our second year of operation, I invite you to keep watch of the different programs and events that we will offer**. Through Industry Link, we hope to inform, encourage, and empower you to take hold of these dynamic times that we live in.
* Much like how the description of sashimi or durian may give you an idea of what it is, you can never really know whether or not you like it until you take the actual bite. And for many graduate students who have worked almost exclusively within the walls of their university lab, which is how most Canadian research-intensive, health/life sciences graduate programs operate, that is how exotic and foreign an industry job will seem. Thus, while career seminars are great for information, career advice, and learning about the speaker’s journey, sitting and listening inside a lecture hall will only take you so far. Based on our findings, if it truly is in our interest to help students discern their paths, we have to start providing tangible experiences. Whether or not it should be in the interest of the university to do so is another matter entirely (and perhaps a subject of future discussion).
- Charbonneau, L. (2011) The problem with PhD training in Canada.
- Tamburri, R. (2010) Why universities need to prepare doctoral students for careers outside academe.
- Industry Link Career Survey, 2016.