Madeline Goldman, Virginia Commonwealth University
Consistent with national trends, Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) has implemented strategies to improve academic advising as a way to increase student progress and graduation rates. VCU has demonstrated significant gains in 4- and 6-year graduation rates for incoming first-time, full-time students that are well above the national average. It has developed an extended coordinated care network where academic advisors can make referrals to other offices: for example, career services. Better coordination among campus administration has led to a breakdown of organizational silos and increased focus on student success. Academic advising has developed more cross-functional coordination with career services and the campus learning center in an effort to integrate campus advising efforts. By building collaborative teams, advisors are able to support the student in a more holistic manner that provides academic resources to enhance student success.
Integrating academic and career advising is becoming more common. The Career Services Center at VCU recently became a part of our Student Success unit which houses all of the first-year academic advising on campus. Students often have career related questions for their academic advisors. When first-year students were given the Ruffalo Noel Levitz (2020) College Student Inventory and asked what they would need help with as incoming students, five out of the top ten answers were major/career related. Since students are often required to meet with their academic advisor, academic advisors are becoming increasingly aware of the need to help students with their career goals. Academic advisors can work with students to help them define, set, and create plans to reach academic and career goals. Students with clear career goals will make better decisions about their major.
Many colleges offer career courses to help students through self-assessment, career exploration, and decision making as well as to provide students with the tools needed for the job search. Students often have difficulty making career decisions; if these difficulties are not addressed, students might not make optimum career and academic choices. Career development classes are important to help students clarify their career and academic goals. Goals often change because of academic and experiential learning.
One such career class at VCU is a Biomedical Sciences Careers Seminar. The course is designed to broaden the students’ knowledge about the spectrum of non-academic careers available to people with degrees in biomedical sciences. In addition, the course is designed to complement the educational experience of the student with career development activities that help clarify career goals and prepare students for future professional endeavors. The overall goal of the class is to help the student make meaningful career choices, prepare and connect for them, and gain confidence in their career development.
Many career development activities from this class can be used in academic advising appointments. Academic advisors are moving away from a transactional approach, which is mainly focused on academic course planning, to a more comprehensive approach that provides holistic support of the student. An academic advisor helps a student understand their strengths and is often proactive in their outreach. The relationship that the advisor has with a student in helping them clarify their academic and career goals can be built upon by incorporating some of these activities from the career class. Here is a list of the activities:
- myIDP website
- LinkedIn profiles
- Informational interviews
- Referral for resume review and critique
myIDP is an Individual Development Plan commonly used in industry to help employees define and pursue their career goals. It is a unique, web-based career planning tool tailored to meet the needs of PhD students in the sciences. This would be useful for those who advise graduate students.
myIDP provides exercises to help the student examine their skills, interests, and values. The site offers a list of 20 scientific career paths with a prediction of fit for each one based on skills and interests. It can also be used as a tool for setting strategic goals for the coming year with optional reminders to help keep the student on track. Articles and resources are available to guide the student through the process. There is no charge to use it.
Another vital important component of the class was helping students create LinkedIn profiles. In my experience, students often come into advising appointments with career questions and often lack career goals. By creating a LinkedIn profile, the student has the ability to network with other professionals and learn about different career options. For example, they can reach out to a professional who has a job they want for a shadowing opportunity.
To help a student create a profile, students can:
- create a LinkedIn profile listing education, work experience, at least 10 skills, and a photo and make 10 connections;
- follow at least one group;
- learn how to make connections, with a challenge of connecting to at least 10 individuals;
- search for contacts who work at a company that the student wants to find out more about; and
- look for informational interviews.
Informational interviews are another way for students to gain career clarity and career goals. To gain career clarity, the student should conduct an informational interview with at least one person who has a job that they are interested in. Teaching the students how to network helps to build relational capital. They can also set up informational interviews through contacts on LinkedIn. They can be referred to career services for further help with questions to ask during the informational interview.
The class also taught the students the importance of going to career services when applying for jobs or internships. Students submitted their resumes as part of the class and received feedback. Students also learned how to self-critique their resume. By strengthening the collaboration between academic advising and career advising, the student is treated in a holistic way that better serves the needs of the student.
The class underscored the importance of reflecting on values, strengths, and weaknesses. It is important to teach students how to do this during an advising appointment as well. Clarity in these areas leads to better suited career goals, which then leads to better academic goals. Reflection can often occur in an academic advising appointment when a class or semester did not go as planned. Students can reflect on the skills that they need to develop to be more successful. Students on academic warning or probation may need to clarify their career goals and values before proceeding further in the major. Students should be encouraged to take assessments offered at their university, such as Life Values Inventories that are an online inventory that is free to take. By understanding themselves, students can determine if they are a good fit for their major.
By participating in career development activities, students showed self confidence in career-making decisions including major and field selection. The more the students understood themselves, the better their career goals were. Students felt much more prepared for a job search when they could create their own LinkedIn profiles, conduct informational interviews, and receive resume feedback. While most of these activities could be started in an academic advising appointment, they should be done in conjunction with the career services office to optimize student success.
Madeline Goldman, PhD
Forensic Science, College of Humanities and Sciences
Virginia Commonwealth University
Ruffalo Noel Levitz (2020) College Student Inventory. www.ruffalonl.com
Cite this article using APA style as: Goldman, M. (2020, June). Learning from a career class: Tools for academic advisors. Academic Advising Today, 43(2). [insert url here]