Helping students prepare for careers outside academia

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I read an article in Nature about how academics who work with graduate students could do a better job preparing grad students for non-academic careers (Forrester, 2022). It reminded me of when I was in grad school 30 years ago. (Yes, I walked through the snow uphill to get to campus–and to get home.) While I don’t remember anyone explicitly telling me that choosing/getting/accepting an academic job that primarily involved teaching would mark me a failure in the eyes of the program, I implicitly got the message. I remember one grad student who got a job in an applied field, and her work was discussed as a curiosity, not as a legitimate option for life after grad school.

If we take the discussion down one more level, we can talk about the expectations undergraduate psychology programs put on bachelor’s students to go to grad school. If we’re not actively talking about career paths outside of grad school, we’re implicitly telling students they’re a failure if they don’t go the grad school route.

Take a look at APA’s Center for Workforce Studies’ Careers in Psychology page to see how many people with which degrees and at what career stage are working in each career field. In the word cloud, click on a career field to get the estimated number of people working in the field and a percentage of this segment of the workforce.

While the Nature article was written with an engineering, physical, and earth science grad faculty audience in mind, the advice works for psychology, too. And for both grad students and undergraduates.

“Voice your support for alternative paths,” and “[g]ive students time to explore.” Let’s talk with our psych undergrad and grad students about psychology’s career path possibilities. If we feel we are not well-versed in the topic, then let’s make it an assignment. Turn students loose to do their own research with a report back to the class. Be prepared to learn a lot!

As advisors, let’s “[a]sk students about their career interests and goals,” and “[d]evise a mentoring plan to help [our] students.” If students are interested in careers that we know nothing about, then it’s time to tap our networks. Let’s connect our students with others with similar degrees who are working in the fields they’re interested in. Have a psych major who is interested in going into business or healthcare? Or a grad student who is interested in helping golfers avoid the yips? If you don’t know where to start, I recommend posting to the Society for the Teaching of Psychology (STP) Facebook group. If you’re not on Facebook, try Twitter; STP’s Twitter name is @TeachPsych. Join the STP PsychTeacher email listserv and ask for networking help there. You may also want to contact the leadership of one or more of the 54 APA divisions that most closely matches your student’s interest. Don’t overlook your own department’s alumni. What are your former students doing now? If career and career interests match, are they willing to have a conversation with your current students? Mentoring isn’t always about having the answers. Sometimes it’s about helping finding someone who does.



Forrester, N. (2022). How lab leaders can support students’ non-academic career plans. Nature, 601(7894), 655–657.


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About the Author
Sue Frantz has taught psychology since 1992. She has served on several APA boards and committees, and was proud to serve the members of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology as their 2018 president. In 2013, she was the inaugural recipient of the APA award for Excellence in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning at a Two-Year College or Campus. She received in 2016 the highest award for the teaching of psychology--the Charles L. Brewer Distinguished Teaching of Psychology Award. She presents nationally and internationally on the topics of educational technology and the pedagogy of psychology. She is co-author with Doug Bernstein and Steve Chew of Teaching Psychology: A Step-by-Step Guide, 3rd ed. and is co-author with Charles Stangor on Introduction to Psychology, 4.0.