The road to post-grad success

GENESIA TING / AGGIE

The Class of 2017’s post-degree plans

The excitement of post-graduation careers and schooling comes with many challenges for the UC Davis graduating class of 2017. With less than three months left in the school year, seniors’ plans for the future are shaping up through a whirlwind of interviews, applications and last stretches of required units.

After applying to nine different graduate school programs and interviewing with four of them, Amanda Robinson, a fourth-year microbiology major, ultimately chose to study structural biology and immunology at the Biological Sciences and Chemistry Research Center at Scripps Research Institute, where she plans on pursuing a Ph.D. degree.

“[Applying to graduate school] was pretty exhausting, but it was a great experience,” Robinson said. “You got to meet people who were currently in the program, people who had been in the program and the potential faculty that you would want to work for when you were there.”

Robinson represents one of the 63 percent of UC Davis seniors who choose to go on to graduate school or start employment immediately after getting their diploma. Like many of these seniors, Robinson went through an application process that included giving up many weekends to interview at graduate schools as far as Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.

“It was a very intense interview process,” Robinson said. “With time zones and flying and traveling and then being up at 7 a.m. on the West Coast — which is 4 a.m. here — and then coming back and having a midterm that Tuesday, it was a very intense quarter.”

According to Robinson, a typical weekend of interviewing began with an early flight on Thursday and an introductory dinner that evening. Fridays would generally consist of a full day of interviews, and Saturdays would end the trip with presentations on research as well as fun activities to explore the town surrounding the school, such as hikes, brewery tours and kayaking.

Unlike Robinson, many other seniors plan on diving right into the workforce after graduation and have experienced the challenging application process while job hunting.

“I applied to lots of jobs […] where you go online on a job board and mass apply,” said Jennifer Chao, a fourth-year biochemical engineering major. “For me, that wasn’t fruitful at all. I think that [it] was not necessarily that my resume [and] portfolio wasn’t good enough, but it was that the connection wasn’t personal enough.”

Like Robinson, Chao went through a series of interviews during the hiring process. After a 30-minute on campus interview, Chao was invited to a company’s plant where she spent a full day touring, testing, interviewing and interacting with her future co-workers.

“Generally, if you’re at the plant for a full day, you gotta be on it for the full day,” Chao said. “Even if you go for lunch, that’s a full interview. It’s super important that when you go […] on a plant tour, you […] let yourself be natural and ask tons of questions, because otherwise how are they supposed to know you’re interested?”

Though the mass applications did not advance her career, through networking and connections, Chao secured a position at a large manufacturing company.

“For a full-time position, [large corporations] usually hire people they’ve had as interns,” Chao said. “I have a pretty special case. I networked a lot. Since freshman year, I would go to [on-campus career] events and talk to [the company that hired me], and it was always the same people.”

Statistics from the UC Davis Internship and Career Center (ICC) confirm that over half of the graduates from 2012 through 2014 reported that they secured jobs through networking or previous employment. According to ICC Director Marie Kirk-Holland, the biggest obstacle of finding jobs is prioritizing the job search.

“This is the time of year that people are balancing grades [and] saying goodbye to some of their friends,” Kirk-Holland said. “I also think that it’s really daunting if you haven’t been through a job search process before, and most people haven’t. Most UC Davis students go straight from high school into college and they’ve never had to look for a career position so […] the uncertainty makes it hard to prioritize. Students know how to study, but they don’t know how to do it for a career job.”

The ICC helps students fill the gaps in their experience through an array of programs including job and resume workshops, career advising, company information sessions and quarterly career fairs that bring to campus 120 to 175 companies that specifically seek UC Davis students.

“People can go to a career fair,” Kirk-Holland said. “They can meet a company rep [and] learn about a company and the positions they have available. And we’ve just set up a system where many companies interview immediately following the career fair in the ARC ballroom. From there, students can go to a second interview.”

However, according to Chao, jobs are not mainly secured through interviews.

“What I hear from a lot of recruiters is that by the time they accept your resume and give you an interview, they [already] know you’re qualified,” Chao said. “At that point they just want to know if your personality would fit in with the company culture. “

Robinson reported a similar case for the graduate school application process.

“Once you get the interview, it was very much more they were trying to convince you to come to their program, it wasn’t that you had to prove yourself anymore,” Robinson said. “You put in all this work into undergrad. Having the validation that someone thinks you can do it is awesome.”

Despite the confusion and challenges of the road to life after graduation, the lessons gained are worth the struggle for UC Davis seniors, especially fourth-year design major Tara Parker-Essig.

“I have much more of a can-do attitude now,” Parker-Essig said. “I came up with this phrase to motivate myself whenever I’m anxious. It’s ‘do it, despite’ — despite whatever anxiety you have, despite thinking that you don’t have the skills, despite somebody telling you that you don’t have the skills. Just try and do whatever it is that you’re interested in despite all obstacles and you’ll end up learning a lot.”

Written by: Kristen Leung & Allyson Tsuji — features@theaggie.org