The Annual Fund in Action

Career Development

By Wendy Perry
This is an image of Sergio Sanchez

Sergio Sanchez
Photo by Tom Cogill

Launching bright minds onto paths of professional success is an implicit promise of the University’s mission. As director of the new Graduate and Postdoctoral Professional Development Programs, I tailor this task to the specialized needs of our graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. Some have likened me to an entrepreneur for creating innovative programs and resources that address the wide-ranging professional interests of our most academically accomplished students and research trainees.

As U.Va. enters its third century and places increasing weight on outcomes, professional development programs lie at the core of enhancing those outcomes. At the advanced degree level, growing these programs improves retention rates, time-to-degree and the lifelong relationship with the University that graduates and trainees will maintain as successful professionals. Our program seeks to aid our faculty, stimulate imaginations about possibilities and enhance the competitiveness of those who have excelled by our own standards as they transition to the professional world, whether working in academia or in the private sector.

This year Graduate and Postdoctoral Professional Development Programs introduced an extensive website featuring 250 pages of content. We also hosted 37 interactive seminars and events about preparation for the academic job market and for careers beyond academe. Successes included our interdisciplinary “Mock Academic Interviews” with faculty panels and graduate-student volunteers performing for audiences. Our very popular “The Expanded Job Market for Advanced Degrees” sessions spotlighted graduate and postdoctoral alumni who explained their career paths and offered advice to current graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in the humanities, social sciences and biomedical, life, physical and mathematical sciences. In a pioneering move, we digitally recorded these events and streamed the videos on our website.

In some fields, up to 80 percent of Ph.D.s pursue jobs beyond academe—in private research, government, industry, consulting, the nonprofit sector and other fields. We respond to this reality. One microbiologist wrote, “Let me just say that you have radically changed my vision of job opportunities upon completion of my Ph.D. degree. After attending your last two presentations on work beyond academe, I feel like a blindfold has been taken from my eyes and confidence injected in me. I now actually believe that all this very specific training I’m receiving can be translated into meaningful contributions to any big business/scientific company.”

It is imperative in a tough market for those who seek academic positions to be well prepared for the job search. A graduate of the new Ph.D. program in music received multiple academic job offers and attested to our program’s “direct impact” on his success.

This work never gets old. Every week I learn something new that sparks an idea. For me, the best part is the tremendous reward—the warm thanks we receive as we help to change lives, and the news that often later follows of the fascinating contributions U.Va. advanced-degree holders are making to society within academe and well beyond.

Alumni, students, parents and friends help make things happen through their gifts to the Arts & Sciences Annual Fund—financial support for career services, plus academic journals, workshops, travel, labs and more. As of the fiscal year ended on June 30, 2008, the Arts & Sciences Annual Fund had raised more than $4.26 million. As of May 31, the College had raised $175 million of the $500 million goal for the Campaign for the College. Overall, campaign gifts to the University stood at $1.7 billion of the $3 billion goal (May 31).