Workshop prepares students for job market outside academia
UND students in Accelerate to Industry (A2i) program get insider’s look at industry hiring processes
“What’s your greatest weakness?”
This question has led countless job candidates to hesitate, because what’s the right balance for them to strike between honesty and employability? And for that matter, what are the best ways to handle the many other equally perplexing elements of the job search?
UND’s A2i initiative aims to help graduate students find careers outside of academia. Chris Nelson, the dean of the School of Graduate Studies, emphasized that an evolving job market has led educational institutions to reevaluate how they prepare doctoral and master’s students for life after college.
“The career paths of graduate students are now more diverse than ever,” Nelson explained. “Academia is no longer the primary career path for most PhDs. So, offering immersion experiences like this is a great way for us to prepare students for the reality of working beyond academia.”
During the first week of UND’s summer session, 20 STEM students were invited to participate in the workshop. The event included guest speakers and panelists from leading companies and industrial organizations, all of whom offered insider perspectives on navigating the job market after graduation.
Gathered around circular tables on the top floor of the Gershman Graduate Research Center, students engaged in discussions and activities with the visiting professionals, during which the students were encouraged to speak freely about experiences and ask questions about entering professional fields.
On the first day, Bio-Techne, a biomedical research company based in Minneapolis whose CEO, Charles Kummeth, is a UND electrical engineering grad, sent representatives to share industry insights with the students.
Bio-Techne, known for its research in clinical diagnostics and its acquisitions of research brands such as ProteinSimple and Asuragen, brought in corporate leaders including Steve Burdorf, senior director of operations, and Jessica Dauer, senior talent acquisition specialist. They provided in-depth information about their company’s roles and the desired qualities of prospective applicants.
Brenda Everson, Bio-Techne’s senior vice president and chief human resource officer, led a workshop involving a friendly competition. Students were given materials including a marshmallow, 20 spaghetti straws, and a handful of toothpicks to see which group could build the tallest freestanding tower.
Aside from some of the laughs and banter the activity produced, Evenson’s exercise also provided a hands-on learning experience that reinforced the core concepts of professional collaboration and teamwork.
In addition to the interactive sessions, Bio-Techne hosted a virtual panel discussion and Q&A with senior authorities from their research and development labs. This let students gain firsthand insights into the daily lives of professionals in their desired fields.
Bio-Techne’s involvement in the workshop attracted many STEM students who sought to gain insights into breaking into the competitive industry.
Katerina Litvanova, a doctoral student in chemical engineering, expressed her appreciation for the experience and the chance to interact with corporate representatives.
“It was good, I really did like it, and I appreciate that Bio-Techne took the time to come and speak to us and answer our questions,” Litvanova said. “A lot of us have questions that we’re afraid to ask in other environments, so it’s nice to have this outlet. I’ve been having fun with this and learning a lot.”
Jacob Haugen, a doctoral student in biomedical sciences, had previously interned at Bio-Techne for five months after attending last year’s A2i immersion workshop. Haugen returned this year and expressed gratitude for the opportunities A2i had provided him.
“I got the chance to work in labs that offered something different from what I’ve been doing at UND, and it gave me a more well-rounded field of study,” said Haugen. “They really let me make the most out of that experience and make as many connections as I wanted. I really don’t have anything but great things to say about Bio-Techne and these immersion opportunities.”
Chris Nelson emphasized that enabling students to engage with industry experts is vital for the School of Graduate Studies’ mission to ensure students have a path beyond graduation. The workshops let students ask questions and demystified key aspects of the job-search process.
On the second day, UND Career Services took charge, providing a comprehensive overview of finding jobs outside of academia. The focus was on honing practical skills necessary for navigating a complex job market.
UND Career Services staff members, including Mary Feller, a career coach and mentor coordinator, delivered interactive talks and facilitated a panel discussion and Q&A featuring HR professionals from Grand Forks-based companies.
During this discussion, students had the chance to learn about transforming applications into interview opportunities. The sharing of experiences, both successful and unsuccessful, shed light on the keys to crafting effective resumes, cover letters and interviews. The panelists’ firsthand knowledge provided insights for students attempting to untangle the anxiety-producing process.
The second day culminated in a mock interview session, where groups of students took turns responding to common but often challenging interview questions. Career coaches and academic advisors provided immediate feedback, allowing students to refine their answers in a low-stress environment.
This collaborative exercise showed why immersion experiences can help prepare students for life after graduation, Nelson said. The safe environment fostered open discussion and let students unravel the complexities of the job process in a way that standard job fairs or courses can’t replicate.
Brianna Beach, who recently completed her undergraduate degree in biology, appreciated the immersive nature of the event, describing it as a new and valuable experience. As someone seeking her first professional job after college, Beach found that the workshop offered the unique opportunity to ask questions and gain insights that she couldn’t find elsewhere.
“My parents don’t have bachelor’s degrees, so I don’t have anyone to ask these questions,” Beach said. “I’ve been down to the career fair once or twice, but I’ve never experienced something this small and immersive. At first I felt a little out of my depth because most people here are graduate students, but I’ve really learned a lot.”
Nelson said that he’s been grateful for Bio-Techne’s involvement over the past two years and expressed hopes to expand the immersion workshops. In the future, the School of Graduate Studies is eyeing longer immersive experiences that include more companies from different industries to introduce students to a broader range of career possibilities.