Dear esteemed professor:
For many years I was conditioned to think I had to go to college to be successful. All of my pre-college schooling was geared towards getting into a college or university, which of course would get me into a good job. I would make more than the undereducated, according to my high school teachers. I would have a more comfortable job (white collar, heaven forbid I did anything blue collar(more on that later)). I don’t remember but maybe I would even live longer. I certainly would have job security, just like my parents had.
To be honest, I didn’t really go to college to learn. I can do that on my own. Back in the olden days I would just get books from the library and read good magazines and newspapers. Now I can educate myself using Google, YouTube and subscribe to various industry or association continuing education opportunities. Not to mention there are a ton of self-proclaimed experts who give out so much information for free on the Internet that I don’t have enough time to go through it all.
For me, going to school was not about learning. It was about being prepared to be (and survive) in the workforce. It didn’t help that most of the material presented in the classroom was outdated, or for a setting I wasn’t going to be in. I remember an MBA ecommerce class, taught by a marketing professor who didn’t know how to spell ecommerce… he had no interest in current ecommerce issues, only in teaching the lists from his undergrad marketing classes. What a shame. It was my first MBA class and it really deflated my expectations of how much better the MBA program would be from the undergrad.
So, understanding where I am coming from, let me assume (I know, I know) what you are there for. You want to impart on me your knowledge and wisdom from your area of expertise. Whether it’s anthropology, economics or outdoor recreation, you want me to be that much smarter in that area. I’m cool with that. I am interested in expanding my mind and vision… I just beg you to make it interesting and not do a book report of what I had to read for homework, okay?
But more than that, I have something I really wish you would do. It’s too late for me, since I’m done with the “formal education,” but I would like ask you do this for the people I care about, whether they are in school now or whether they will be in 15 years (my kids). I really wish you would take a few class hours during the semester and have frank, candid career discussions. Here are some ideas:
- Tell me what I can expect when I get out of school.
- Tell me what the value of an internship is and strongly encourage me to get a real internship.
- Tell me what you love about your career, and what your friends in the industry do, how they got there, etc.
- Bring professionals into class so they can share their stories with us. Bring recent grads in so they can tell us what it’s really like.
- Teach us what networking is, how to network, and why and when we should network.
- Teach us about personal branding, what it is and why we need it.
- Any chance you can bring the career services folks into the picture? It seems like there is a brick wall between you and career services… I don’t care why, but I would like to know if there is value in the career services offices.
I’m obviously not asking you to step away from all of the great stuff you prepared for the class, but please bring some career management stuff into the discussion. The more open and candid you are, the more interested we’ll be, I promise it.
Oh yeah, not to be demanding, but I have one more request. Don’t just talk about it (although that would be a 1,000% improvement from what other professors are doing), but LIVE IT. I want you to network, and be well-networked. I want to be able to google your name and see your brand on-line. Between sessions I’d like to know you are out consulting, or volunteering, or somehow staying current in the industry.
If I come to you requesting job search help, you should be able to give me some leads, because you have been nurturing relationships. Whether you give them to me or not will depend on our relationship, and whether you trust I’ll treat them right or not… but please develop and nurture those relationships! You need to teach us how to do that, and it really should come from your experience.
Just some guy
P.S. Sorry for all my smart alec remarks during my many years of school. I know I was a bad student.
P.P.S. Not everyone agrees with me. Here’s some feedback I got from some of my network (first my question):
Here are my the responses I got:
I must end on this note. I didn’t write this to offend or degrade professors, rather the system they are in.
32 thoughts on “Letter to University Professors: Stop Failing Us”
All of my MBA professors have worked out in the “real world”…most of them did that before going back and teaching. That might be an anomaly with my program, though…so I appreciate the combination of real world work experience and advanced education.
I know I’m not paying tuition (which I’m paying for myself) for my college professors to give me career management advice – I’m paying them to teach me about financial management, research methods, consumer behavior, etc. Or…American history, geology, and political theory…back in my undergrad days. It’s not their job to help anyone find a job.
If people want to get advice on career management, I don’t believe there’s anything blocking the path to the schools’ Career Services office. I’m a little peeved at the pervasiveness of people asking others to do the hard work for them, and to bring information *to* them. Go out and get it yourself! If you have a professor you like, make an appointment and go in to speak with him or her. That’s what I plan on doing this semester.
I think the #1 thing people in school need to understand these days is that when all is said and done, the only person who will truly be an advocate for your career is you. The sooner everyone understands that, the better.
I have the unique (or scary) perspective on this topic from being a career coach/HR professional, adjunct faculty member, and intimately familiar with academic administration and accreditation from my many years on that side of the fence.
It’s just not as simple as you’ve noted.
First, every legitimate accrediting body of a college or university has in place a requirement that schools will provide career resources and and preparation to students. This includes, but is not limited to, writing a resume, searching for a job, and preparing to graduate and enter the workplace. Many schools, somehow, manage to avoid this requirement by tacking on a 15 minute career prep discussion at the end of the term in at least one class in each curriculum. That is very ineffective for many of the points you make in your posting. While the accrediting bodies would LOVE if faculty brought in industry professionals as guest speakers, there are often (not always) so many other issues that impact our ability to do this effectively, including time, budget, permission, and course outcomes. This is particularly the case in traditional, general education-level, theory courses.
Second, most faculty members, particularly those who are traditional track, are ill-prepared to talk to students about the “real world.” As many of your respondents noted, their perspective is advanced education and THEORY. They are not current on networking, changes in interviewing, or even how to write a resume (the professor’s CV is vastly different from the working person’s resume). If you do get lucky enough to get a practicing professional in the classroom, the curriculum is often so prescribed that it’s difficult to go off message.
Third, and think back to when you were in college, did you really want to hear from your professor about the piece of paper you needed to produce in order to get a job? The reality is that you wanted to get your grades and move on out. I see this every term in the class I teach.
The job resides with a career center within the school, where there are trained and skilled professionals who are current in job search techniques. Additionally, like one of your commentors noted, it also resides with the student to seek out the assistance and to WANT it.
I am a credentialed career coach and HR professional. My 20-year-old niece lives with me (and my 23-year-old niece recently entered the job market post graduation). No matter how much I try to emphasize the importance of networking and other job search skills, they’re simply not at the point in their lives where they values it. At 20 (or 22, or 25), you think you have it all sewn up. It’s not until you have a few hard knocks and some years under your belt that you “get it.”
I would LOVE it if you would write a blog, instead, that DOES challenge the academic institution to provide career services to students and to see that this service is not a money taker (as most believe) but an invaluable service in helping students be successful and employers begin reducing costs associated with bad hires (that is another very long and sordid blog topic). Part of every academic institution’s mission, whether explicitly stated or not, is to prepare the student for the real world. Therefore, part of the services that institution offers for the tuition dollars it receives, should be career services, guest speaker seminars, etc.
I will now step down from my soap box.
Jason, I think Sharon and some of your twitter commenters hit this point, but it does bear repeating: you’re focused on the wrong node in the system. Asking a professor to do what you’re suggesting is like for me to ask you to prepare a lesson plan on the theoretical foundations of the British economic system from 1900-1950. I’m sure that’s not exactly what you’re good at. And also, I’ve written on this before, but what exactly is the point of college? While I could agree that it should be a form of preparation for the working world, I think what get’s missed is that it ought to be a form of preparation for lifelong learning. To expose individuals to thinking, ideas, experiences that will carry them through life. Unfortunately, I think we get caught up in an almost utilitarian notion that everything has to prepare us to make money or advance us professionally? I don’t believe it’s naive to also want a citizenry that is prepared to think critically and creatively throughout life. I’m thankful for my liberal arts education.
With that said, I do agree with Sharon that colleges must produce a better career center. One that balances the institution’s focus on academic learning with a professional learning that’s going to be necessary after graduation. Let professors teach (or the TA since this is often the reality) but let’s ask the institution to complete the preparation process through improved career centers.
I think the problems you describe, especially the rift between career services and professors, is still pervasive in the college system, but is slowly diminishing. As someone who works in college career services, I can see that as newer professors enter, they are much more likely to approach our office, or be willing to collaborate when we approach them. There are still a few, well-tenured, 30-year professors who just don’t get it, but *hopefully* the trend I am witnessing will continue. And *hopefully* as those new professors progress in their careers, they won’t turn their backs on collaboration with career services, although that might be too much to hope for.
I think the other problem is that students don’t realize that they could really use career management information until it’s “too late,” ie, until they are out of college and suddenly realize that they have no idea what they want to do or how to figure it out. It seems cyclical- students feel that they are getting adequate information from their professors, they give their professors decent reviews, and the professors continue to teach exactly the same info the same way every semester. I wish more former students would write “I wish you had done…” letters like this to their former professors!
And finally, I’ll admit that career services can be less-than-quick on the uptake of providing current, fresh, innovative career management to students. Similar to professors, we get comfortable with the information we know like the back of our hand, and don’t always jump at the chance to change the way we do things. I think I’m fortunate to work in an office that strives to avoid this issue, we are always trying new things, but it’s certainly a problem generally throughout career services.
I know I said finally, but one more tiny thing- to Stacy, who wrote “If people want to get advice on career management, I don’t believe there’s anything blocking the path to the schools’ Career Services office.” Amen to that! We don’t just sit on our offices, hoping students will stop by. We go out on campus. We go to dorms, we go to the cafeteria, we go to the library. We get ourselves out there for students to take advantage of. And still, I would say we really only see about 30-40% of the student body during a good year.
So for any current students reading this, PLEASE, be on the lookout for career services at your school. If you’re not getting career management information from your professors, you can be certain you’ll get it from us.
Jason- Thank you for the great post. When it comes to this topic I have deep feelings, but on the other side of the fence. I received my degree in Philosophy. I cannot count the many thousands of times I have been asked “what do you plan to do with your philosophy degree.” To combat this question I generally respond with, “I went to school for an education not a vocation.”
The practical skills you are demanding university professors to have are actually found in vocational schools (like IT Tech or DeVry) and the school of life–not accredited universities. Unfortunately, the mindset of the student is often how much money can I make from my degree. Your post epitomizes the classic example of how today’s students seek an education to help them climb the corporate ladder, not the ascetic ladder of wisdom.
Personally, I feel that my philosophy degree helped me considerably in my business life. It provided me with a deepened awareness and guided me in bringing logic and systematic processes to my business practices. However, this is just a byproduct of why I earned my degree.
The best thing that a university professor can do is assist the student in finding confidence in anything he or she may do. No amount of vocational training can replace the self awareness that you are able to achieve anything you put your heart and mind to.
I think you and JibberJobber.com are a great example of this principle. I am certain you never took a MBA class which taught you how to overcome the depression of being laid off from your job. I would be surprised if any of your MBA courses even encouraged you to start your own business when the corporate world kicks you to the curb. However, I do believe that by you asserting yourself to receive your multiple degrees you were taught the lesson that Jason Alba can do quite a bit with his life.
And that one lesson I believe is the greatest lesson we can learn from our higher education experience.
Great thoughts and input. I confirm your focus on Networking, Branding, etc. I would add three features to your list:
Career as a building block – Corporations, personal issues and other influences often take us in alternate ditrections. (In my life, you are awrae of the diversity of my personal experience.) One of the items that needs to be present throughout a career is a clear and visible focus on progression and growth – even if in different arenas.
Documentation – Educating students on the value of documenting and maintaining statistics and records of achievements, recognition, and awards.
Development – each new position should not just focus on moving you up the ladder. It should focus on development, learning and growth. On of the main ideas of Robert Kiyosaki’s RICH DAD POOR DAD is the focus on learning. Each experience we take on should go back to the building block theory. Especially in the early part of a career, gaining knowledge and experience (not institutional education) is critical to long term success.
I like your concept of incorporating these into daily curriculum, but I believe it might warrant a focused required curriculum to help students develop good habits from the start. Many colleges have a required course in “study habits” for freshmen. Perhaps there should be one in “career habits” for juniors as they begin their career planning and initial job search.
Hey Jason, here’s your response:
“Old School Education” was founded on the assumption that an individual was educated by “dumping” FACTS on them, actually this is still the major problem in current Public School Education and many Private Schools. The solution is that this founding assumption must change, I believe that Constructivist Education is the solution see https://www.funderstanding.com/content/constructivism.
Also, you said “Oh yeah, not to be demanding, but I have one more request. Don’t just talk about it (although that would be a 1,000% improvement from what other professors are doing), but LIVE IT. I want you to network, and be well-networked. I want to be able to google your name and see your brand on-line. Between sessions I’d like to know you are out consulting, or volunteering, or somehow staying current in the industry.” if someone is good at networking doesn’t signify that they are good at what they claim they are good at.
I was fortunate in this regard (as in many others). I went through my undergrad degree both wanting to learn and wanting the piece of paper. The knowledge was not nearly so useful in terms of career if I didn’t get the diploma. While the quality of my professors varied, of course, I did get a good number of fatherly talks on what the profession is; and we had an excellent student employment center to help with career start-up (though I wish I had taken more advantage of it.) I think this is in part because the engineering school — Polytechnique of Montreal — was large, homogeneous (just engineering programs, nothing else), and very practical-minded.
When it was time for my master’s, I really didn’t care that much about the piece of paper, though it was good to get it. I cared about learning what I needed to grow and to make my career more interesting. I selected my classes based on two criteria: (1) Is this professor an outstanding contributor in her or his field? (2) Does the topic fill a blank area in my knowledge? I learned and grew tremendously, and that M.S. was worth every penny and every minute of effort it cost me.
I think the kind of help you want to see provided, especially at the undergrad level, is extremely important but needs to come from the institutions’ and departments’ administrations.
Having been in the workforce for some time, I decided to invest in myself and return to school, picking up some selective courses as I’m still eager to learn.
But, having enrolled in a University and a College recently, I feel it is the institution that drives the output. Here has been my recent experience. (1) Universities and colleges don’t run like a business. There are enormous processes they use that are flawed or inefficientand. (2) They offer poor communication. (3) They seem to want to teach theory or clinically vs. real world. Maybe it is because the professors are forced (?) to use a textbook approved by the school and must test students in a specific way.
But what has not changed is that higher education still believes in accepting large amounts of cash for someone to learn and upon graduation, you will receive a note of congratulation…. asking you to give them more money now that you are an alumni…..maybe looking for work.
I love your “open letter, ” Jason. I share some of your experiences: when I went to graduate school to earn teacher certification, I opted to stay an extra semester to take a course in “Teaching Social Studies.” The professor was a tenured faculty member who showed-up with his yellowed notes – totally change-resistant – not inquisitive or interested in the world. A bummer, and I lost time and money too…
All that notwithstanding, I think everyone should go to the best school they can get into and afford. Quality schools attract quality students – this can set your career off on more enlightened and exciting track. People you meet in college can form the base of a strong network.
Once a certain level of education is attained, e.g. Bachelor’s or Master’s, I recommend Continuing Education programs, e.g. Project Management, Marketing using Web 2.0, Six Sigma, etc. These classes are taught by adjunct instructors who have day-jobs in their field. They are usually well-connected in the field and can give direct feedback and guidance to career changers or job seekers. Moreover, these classes are a great way to meet others with whom you share interests, again, the networking thing…
School is necessary to be a part of the “club,” and better schools usually (not always) offer better professors, better facilities, better resources, and better students. But once that time is over, I say, go for the inexpensive and practical (tactical) classes offered by community colleges and local universities/colleges via Continuing Ed. See: Karen@CAN
I found several Profs who not only cared about networking, but moved heaven and earth for our department to participate in events usually open to larger schools. I had the chance to help found a chapter of the American Chemical Society on my campus, I had the chance to meet people at BASF and other companies in the Oak Ridge National Lab environment to learn what job openings would be available (or not) once I graduated.
My university could have cared less. If you were in nursing or education… you had dedicated resources to walk you through the employment process… you advisor was based on your specialty interest… and job based lectures and field trip / job shadows were all available through the career center.
It pains me to read that there are people who still think that colleges are based in Greece… thought for thought’s sake should be buried… helping students prepare for the reality of their subject of interest is not an administrative task… it is one of passions and discovery… teaching someone how to build a better essay that has no relevance serves no one… teaching someone how to build a value case on why their skills would be a great addition to a department is priceless!
So, I’m writing this with some trepidation.
Both my parents are college professors, and I’ve spent the last 10 years working as a career counselor in higher education settings.
From this experience, I can tell you that most universities have a two-caste system for their employees. There are The Faculty, and then there are The Staff. The Faculty are the heart of the university; their research work is what keeps the university on the map, receiving grant funding, and climbing the academic prestige ladder. (I know and love many, many faculty.) The Faculty can (sometimes) get 100% job security through tenure. In many universities, the teaching skills of faculty are considered far less important (for determining tenure, raises, and prestige), than their research and publications. On many occassions, faculty have outside connections beyond academe, but on many, many occassions, their entire career has revolved around research, academic conferences, journal editorial committees, and academic institutions. There is usually no expectation on them that they should help students get jobs in most cases. In fact, much as I dearly love my parents, and much as being their kid gave me tons of excellent academic skills, they were really not well equipped to help me find a job (though, I have to admit, my mother did help me get my second job out of grad school by sending me the job posting, clipped out of Chronicle of Higher Education. Thanks, mom!).
The Staff, on the other hand, often do not even have PhDs (!), and certainly never expect job security in most cases. They are usually there to provide the basic things that keep all the students from dropping out: enrollment, financial aid, some student life, and career services. There really is no particular reason or mandate for Faculty and Staff to talk to each other most of the time. Depending on the institution, faculty may not have any idea what career services does, and may not have any interest in contributing to it– in their mind, true success requires a student to get a PhD and become a professor. In some cases, faculty are truly supportive; and career services is taken seriously by them. And in other cases, there’s no convincing them that, for instance, an internship should ever get college credit (because this degrades the academic institution into providing “technical training”).
So, I would never say faculty are failing us. Rather, I’d say that it will take a large cultural shift, starting with the Deans, Provosts, Chairs, and Presidents of universities (ALL of whom are academicians) to create more partnerships between academia and career services. It really isn’t faculty’s job to get students employed; but it would be nice if they’d refer students to career services from time to time. It’s up to the lowly career services staff to try to convince faculty how this benefits them and the institution as a whole.
I have a BA, and my college offered free career seminars and so forth from its Career Services unit.
Which I had to sign up for and attend on my own initiative. Luckily, the threat of the senior year got me very motivated to take all the classes they offered on resumes, interviewing, and so forth. They even helped me with assessment and counseling.
I never expected them to spoon-feed me that material.
Jason, I’m with Paul and Chris on this one, and they have stated the case eloquently enough that I am going to be brief (by my standards anyway). The primary purpose of college is to educate citizens and lifelong learners. I’m not oblivious to the need to earn one’s living. I was the third person in my family to earn a college degree and the first to go to grad school, and there was no family fortune (or family business) to fall back on–nor is there for my own children. And I had to take some unsatisfying, low-paying jobs when I graduated with my liberal-arts degree. *But* I had the intellectual equipment to do on from there.
I would say that the disconnect between liberal arts education and employability is, at least in the medium and longer term, a lot more apparent than real. Consider that most extreme of great-books liberal-arts schools, St. John’s College (not St. John’s University, but the small college with campuses at Annapolis and Santa Fe). St. John’s makes basically *no* compromises in its educational ideals but ranks near the top of colleges whose graduates go on to professional schools and success in a wide variety of endeavors. The discipline of mind, the habits of reasoning and argumentation, and the deep understanding of the best works of our cultural heritage go a long way toward preparing students for a future in the “real world.”
Yes college should teach you how to be savvy in the work world, seek work you’ll love, be a great networker and see the value of branding — but traditional career programs don’t. That’s why Fast Focus Careers was invented. To fill the gap and do things differently like spending time exploring your strengths and brainstorming the hundreds of eye opening career possibilities that exist.
Most people want to come alive in their work and not be part of the 50% who are not happy at work. Why such a high rate? Because they have not uncovered their true strengths and passions. When you’re clear about activities you enjoy that feel natural– you often go after the type of work to use those strengths you enjoy. I don’t know why college does not help people explore more about their strengths and match those to the interesting jobs and hot job fields out there – but fast focus careers does. So don’t wait for your old school professors and career offices, go get the right resource so you can love your work.
The professors are not the problem. The administration’s blind eyes and the career centers’ failure to admit they are failing… these are the problems. Perhaps if you could get some alumni to actually push this issue with their alma maters instead of ranting on line something could get fixed.
I think the university career centers are failing, moreso than the professors. That is the designated resource for helping students get employed, and a lot of them aren’t current on modern resume building, job search techniques, web 2.0, or interviewing. Their experience is theoretical and academic, and seldom real-world or current. My local colleges have staff that have been there 20 and 30 years, right after graduating, and never had to negotiate their salary in their life or write a resume.
I have been contracted by local college departments, and paid out of their internal budgets, to give salary negotiation and interviewing seminars and presentations. They realize, particularly in a tough job market their students need more than is offered.
Of course there are huge varying degrees of quality, so I don’t want to indict all centers. But the biggest opportunity to help the most students with their employment search is through the career centers, and not the professors, although they can be a valuable resource also.
Each professor should be provided training in teaching students, during each session, how their course relates to any real world career track. This approach not only arms students to compete better in the business world, it adds high impact value to enhance a student’s academic experience.
To accomplish this, colleges should provide financial perks to motivate professors in going out to the corporate arena to obtain experience. Colleges should insist on this real world approach, as part of each professor’s continuing education program. It doesn’t matter whether the professor teaches philosophy or business management, every course can be related to real world career development.
This approach would also engage students to learn how to improve their ability to think, not memorize course material long enough to just pass the test that semester.
Carl E. Reid, CSI
Developer of Career Management Swiss Army Knife w/Smart Radar
Jason, I agree with Patti Wilson. I graduated with a psychology degree. Two typical responses: the ominous, “BOY! We need that around here” and the predictable, “What are you going to do with that?” Now I’m a communications consultant who helps clients, typically “non-techies” with technology. I am grateful for having pursued one of the only undergraduate majors at the time that required combining humanities, communications, science, and statistics!
I’ve probably learned 4 different resume formats as they’ve come in and out of fashion – now the de rigeur skill is online branding. I am grateful for time my college professors spent on lessons other than how to format a chronological resume in WordPerfect for Wang!
As someone with an MBA from Northwestern, I have come to believe that the real value of the degree comes from 1) the lifelong contacts you make and nurture after it’s all over, and 2) the resume enhancement that opens doors for you.
I don’t mean to belittle the education, I learned a lot, but it’s secondary to the 2 above mentioned benefits.
As for the MBA program teaching networking, branding, etc.: I think that’s our responsibility. My wife is an 8th grade math teacher and faces parents who expect her to share the parenting role. She’s supposed to teach and they are supposed to make sure the kids do their homework. Similarly, the MBA program teaches business, we are supposed to learn how to apply it to become successful.
Lew Sauder, Author, Consulting 101: 101 Tips For Success in Consulting (www.Consulting101Book.com)
Jason, College Prof’s could not teach you about branding and networking unless you signed up for the course and we both know that it was not offered. Branding and networking is too recent a trend to be something available in college when you were there.
Hi, Jason –
Great letter and reminder that career management is a foreign language in the universities (and even in the high schools where I teach Junior Achievement to Seniors.) They are so hungry for what’s next? High schools are focused on the colleges. Colleges are focused on – themselves. Great wake up call – thanks!
@Lew, great comments. I agree with your two value points from the MBA. For me, it wasn’t in learning the material.
As for networking, branding, etc, I really do think that they should talk about it, at least a little bit. I don’t mean that it is all their fault if they don’t, but I think it’s a shame that they don’t even breath an idea of any career management stuff (an overgeneralization, I’m sure).
@Malcolm, the thing is, I think they already know how to do it, because of their own career paths, and should mentor us. Even a statement like “I’m going to teach you all about _____. If you want to get a real job in this field you should check out the following books, which will really help you in your career.” I think branding and networking have been around long enough… but tenured prof’s don’t really care much about anything … another over-generalization, I’m sure 🙂
@JP – amen! Good point!
As a adjunct faculty member in an school with an accelerated program, I don’t have time to spend a lot of time talking to students about it. Have I? Yes. But the school also has a course that covers this type of thing. (our accelerated program will produce a business student beginning start to BS degree in 36 months. Each course is 4 WEEKS long and meets no more than twice a week.) I teach in the evening so my classes go from 6:00-8:30 pm. So I have 5 classroom hours per week with my students (max) for 4 weeks. If in the course of our class discussion something comes up, it gets addressed. I am always willing to address it outside of the classroom one on one but unless other faculty members do likewise, it will be when the students take PSY299 – which covers the topic in detail. Problem is this is one of the last courses the students take. Of course, most of our students are non traditional students. (it is a Career College in the Salt Lake City area)
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