Campus News

Initiative helps graduate students prepare for careers

UGA graduate students from plant science disciplines visited Bayer Crop Science headquarters in St. Louis, Missouri, along with Andrew Crain (far left) and interim Dean Ron Walcott (far right) of the Graduate School. The students were participating in a crop protection tour coordinated by the Graduate School’s Office of Experiential Professional Development initiative.

Much of Marcus Dumas’ time these days is spent completing his doctoral work. But his commencement day will come next May, and the health promotion and behavior graduate student has life after his hooding in his sights.

Despite his busy schedule, Dumas has taken advantage of a number of career-readiness workshops and events hosted by the Graduate School to gain additional skills to help him be successful in the next phase of his career.

The Graduate School’s Experiential Professional Development, or xPD, initiative launched last fall with the goal of providing career-oriented experiences that prepare master’s and doctoral students for entering the workforce. Since November, about 500 students, including Dumas, have participated in events and symposia on topics such as job search planning, networking, personal branding and careers in consulting.

“I truly believe the program is preparing me for my career. Also, it has helped me to understand how to work well with colleagues who have different strengths,” said Dumas, who dreams of opening a nonprofit community health center. “The program has made me become more intentional about learning how to use my strengths in my personal and professional life. As a whole, this was a great investment of my time.”

The xPD initiative expands on the University of Georgia’s commitment to providing meaningful learning opportunities that enhance classroom learning. In 2016, UGA became one of the largest public universities to ensure all of its undergraduates participate in a purposeful academic experience such as an internship, service-learning course or study abroad program prior to graduation. The xPD program expands experiential resources to graduate students.

“Through the xPD initiative, the University of Georgia is taking a leadership role in enhancing graduate education to meet the needs of our students as well as the economy of our state and nation,” said Ron Walcott, interim dean of the Graduate School.

UGA’s more than 7,400 graduate students receive an array of educational opportunities and consider a broad range of career options. Fewer than 40% of graduate students pursue positions in academia, according to the UGA Career Center’s annual Career Outcomes Survey. This means that more than half of them engage in other paths, including joining the private sector (35%) or entering government or nonprofit careers (27%). These findings remain true even for doctoral graduates, with career outcomes data suggesting that around 40% each year pursue a job outside of academia.

In a survey conducted by the Graduate School, students said they feel well-supported across campus in terms of research and teaching experiences. But offerings in other professional development aspects vary by school or college. The xPD initiative supplements those efforts with impactful experiences that are open to students in any field and across all graduate levels.

Andrew Crain, the director of the xPD initiative, said the programming has been designed to suit a variety of needs as well as to accommodate students with limited free time. In addition to bringing guest speakers to campus, he has organized virtual panels that work easily into a student’s schedule and arranged for on-campus internships and off-campus visits with more than 20 different employers across the U.S. In addition, a monthly newsletter and social media accounts (@UGAGradCareers) provide tips and reminders to students about how to prepare for their careers.

One event, an xPD tour of the St. Louis area designed for agriculture students, has proven to be beneficial for Carolina Ballén-Taborda, a doctoral candidate studying plant breeding, genetics and genomics.

With an expected graduation day in December quickly approaching, her next steps are weighing on her. Ballén-Taborda plans to complete a postdoctoral program on campus to continue her research in the short term, and she is narrowing down her options for her career trajectory after that.

“Regardless of the position or sector, my objective is to apply the knowledge I have acquired to keep supporting the improvement of crops,” Ballén-Taborda said. “The trip was a great opportunity to broaden my perspective on career paths outside academia in well-established companies like Bayer, academia/private type institutions like the Danforth Center and new growing companies like Benson Hill. It was a very enriching experience.”

Like the students that he serves, Crain is looking ahead to the future, and he is working with a student advisory board to help guide the expansion of programming for the upcoming academic year.

“We’ll continue to add new programs and resources,” said Crain, who is a doctoral candidate himself, studying in the Institute of Higher Education, “and I think the sky is really the limit on the scope and scale of impact xPD can have on graduate education at the University of Georgia.”

To learn more about the Graduate School’s xPD initiative, see