Ph.D. students explore leadership and career options in new University-alumni program

Feb. 10, 2016 11 a.m.

Over 60 graduate students from disciplines spanning the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences and engineering gathered recently for a daylong conference focusing on leadership development for Ph.D. candidates. 

The "Leading with a Ph.D." conference was the first of a series of events being offered by the Graduate School, the Office of Career Services and the Graduate School Leadership Council. The "Pathways with a Ph.D." series will expose graduate students to potential career options inside and outside the academy, and help them apply experience and strengths from current graduate work to future jobs or roles. 

"I think it is important for all Ph.D. candidates to assess their strengths and determine how to best utilize them," said Christin Monroe, a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate in chemistry.

Group of graduate students working together

Over 60 graduate students from disciplines spanning the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences and engineering gathered recently for a daylong conference focusing on leadership development for Ph.D. candidates. (Photos by Lisa Festa, Office of Career Services)

Lisa Drakeman, who received her Ph.D. in religion from Princeton in 1988, along with Christine Murphy, assistant dean for academic affairs at the Graduate School, and Amy Pszczolkowski, associate director for graduate student career counseling in Career Services, organized the conference. They had heard a growing need among Ph.D. candidates to have more opportunity to explore careers beyond academia as the job market continues to tighten across many disciplines. 

"Only a fraction of Princeton's Ph.D.s will spend their entire working lives as college professors," said Drakeman, who proposed the series. "'Pathways with a Ph.D.' is designed to illuminate the many options that begin in the Graduate School and lead to a wealth of career destinations around the world." 

Drakeman served as CEO of Genmab A/S, an international biotechnology company specializing in the creation and development of differentiated antibody therapeutics for the treatment of cancer. She also is the co-chair of the Graduate School Leadership Council, made up of Graduate School alumni. 

"The idea for the series grew out of the Entrepreneurial Workshop that I began a number of years ago at Princeton," she said. "The focus of that workshop has been to help students understand the nature of the work and whether entrepreneurship is a good choice for them. It occurred to me that we could take that same approach to other potential career pathways."

Shirley Tilghman speaking

Shirley M. Tilghman, president emeritus and professor of molecular biology and public affairs, gives the keynote address at the conference.

The Jan. 30 conference featured a keynote talk by Shirley M. Tilghman, president emeritus and professor of molecular biology and public affairs at Princeton, as well as a panel discussion on leadership, a working lunch, a skills assessment and networking reception.

"In the 1970s, all Ph.D.s were expected to go into academia," Tilghman said. "Now it's important when you embark on a Ph.D. to think more broadly about the possible career options you may consider. You have to know yourself and ask two important questions: 'Am I going to be any good at this?' and 'Will I enjoy doing it?'"

A panel of graduate alumni leaders from business, national labs and the nonprofit sector shared their experiences with the graduate students. Speakers included Stewart Prager, director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory and professor of astrophysical sciences; Sara Ogger, executive director of the NY Council for the Humanities, who earned her Princeton degree in 2000; and Don Drakeman, venture partner for Advent Life Sciences, Research Professor of Constitutional Studies at the University of Notre Dame, a 1988 graduate alumnus and Lisa Drakeman's spouse.

Leading with a Ph.D. panel

A panel on leadership through diverse career fields included, from left, Sara Ogger, executive director of the NY Council for the Humanities, who earned her Princeton degree in 2000; Stewart Prager, director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory and professor of astrophysical sciences; and Don Drakeman, venture partner for Advent Life Sciences, Research Professor of Constitutional Studies at the University of Notre Dame, a 1988 graduate alumnus.

 

Common themes included building a team of smart people, learning how to nuance your message and communicating effectively with stakeholders. Speakers also reflected on the important ability of Ph.D. candidates to be able to adapt their education to new situations and learn to act quickly as manager or leader. 

The Office of Career Services offered graduate students a guided self-reflection on their strengths using the Gallup StrengthsFinder tool. Said Pszczolkowski: "Graduate students are often looking for a starting point in the conversation around what skills they have to offer. This type of positive assessment gives them a fresh perspective on their strengths and how they have seen them at work in their educational pursuits and beyond."  

The next event in the series, "Pathways with a Ph.D.: Careers in University Administration," is at 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 18, in the Friend Convocation Room.