Searching for Employment as a Grad Student

Academic Positions

Entry-level academic positions are generally classified as tenure-track or non-tenure-track.  In engineering, tenure-track positions usually require a PhD and a demonstrated strong record of quality research, publications, professional recognitions and extramural funding.   To begin establishing these qualifications, a postdoctoral position is usually the first step towards obtaining a tenure track position.

Postdoc Positions
According to The National Postdoctoral Association (NPA), “a postdoctoral scholar (“postdoc”) is an individual holding a doctoral degree who is engaged in mentored research and/or scholarly training for the purpose of acquiring the professional skills needed to pursue a career path of his or her choosing.”  A postdoc appointment is a stepping stone to a future career and typically has a duration of one to five years.  Postdocs work closely with a faculty mentor to conduct independent and collaborative research, and publish the findings.  It is important to establish a strong record of research and publication as a postdoc to make yourself marketable for an academic position.

Non-Tenure Track Positions
Lecturer, research assistant, laboratory manager, etc. are common titles for non-tenure-track positions.  These positions are often term appointments and provide valuable work experience.  They may require a master’s or a doctorate degree.  These positions do not typically provide opportunities to conduct independent research, so they will not offer the same advantages as a postdoc.  However, they can be a foot in the door and lead to other opportunities.

Finding Academic Positions
The best ways to find academic positions is to network at research conferences, professional society meetings, with scholars that visit your department, etc.  You may also want to monitor publications in your field of interest, use Internet job aggregators (such as indeed), and visit the websites of potential employers.

Some online resources for identifying academic positions are:

  1. Professional organization job services websites and the website of the American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE).
  2. The Chronicle of Higher Education
  3. is a comprehensive site that has some basic free account features like Job Agents, Job application tracking, saving of work in progress, and more.
  4. Direct job boards of universities.

Industry Positions

If your desire is to find a job in private-sector industry, please review the guidance provided in Steps 3 and 5 of the Student Guide to Employment.   Many companies consider M.S./MEng graduates for the same positions as B.S. graduates.  A bachelor’s degree may be the required degree but a master’s degree may be the preferred degree.  Networking takes on added importance in the job search process for reasons discussed in the next section.


Understand the Added Importance of Networking

Networking with potential employers is always important in the job search process, but it takes on added importance for those with advanced degrees.  Since advanced degree holders are more specialized, it often requires more effort to identify an employment position that matches their more defined skills and interests.  Industry recruiters rely more on personal connections for faculty referrals because at the graduate level faculty really come to understand their students’ skillset and the type of work they are capable of producing.   While a student, you should be using faculty contacts, alumni that you have gotten to know, professional conference participants, and recruiters at career fairs and other networking events to make connections with potential employers.

Networking is Key.fw