Wednesday, April 26th, 2017...3:16 pm

My Experience with the Ten Thousand PhDs Project and the Three Minute Thesis

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Guest Blog: Chang Zou (Recent Master’s graduate, Munk School of Global Affairs)


In the past few months, I had the opportunity to participate an evidence-based employment survey launched by School of Graduate Studies and to help students practicing their transferrable skills. In this post, I am going to share my experience working as a researcher for the Ten Thousand PhDs Project and as an event coordinator for the Three Minute Thesis® competition.

The past 16 years has seen a sea change in employment outlooks for PhD students. More PhD students are planning for job opportunities outside of the academia now than in the past. In response to the changing landscape of employment, universities are researching and reflecting on ways to better prepare their graduates for a diversity of professions; students have grown more passionate about graduate professional development and building a transferrable skillset.

Ten Thousand PhDs Project

From astronauts to high-school teachers, the career trajectories of U of T graduates are truly boundless. To interpret the career trajectories, I have been working with a group of students, faculty and staff on the Ten Thousand PhDs Project since last October. This project aims to answer one question–where do our PhD students go?

By using publicly available data, we have built one of the most extensive graduate employment datasets from scratch. Through data collection, auditing, analysis, and visualization, we strive to help students in realizing all potential career pathways; faculties, departments and units in better assessing and designing programs; and the public in understanding the value of PhD education.

What I find most inspiring in this project is that our PhD graduates can handle the career transitioning and designing for themselves. For those who pursued a non-academic path, they applied the research mindset to their career change with patience. To them, the job search outside of academia is just another round of research: you need to understand the market, understand your transferrable skills, and find an area or two that fits your interests and matches your skillset. For these students, the Ten Thousand PhDs Project could serve as a teaser for brainstorming new ideas and career evaluation. More information on this project. 

Three Minute Thesis®

One of the events that focused on developing transferrable skills at U of T is the Three Minute Thesis® (3MT) competition, during which I was impressed by competitors’ dedication and professionalism.

The Three Minute Thesis® is a competition on academic communication skills. In three minutes or less, PhD candidates must present their research in layperson terms using one slide. This year, 73 PhD candidates signed up for the U of T 3MT® competition.

At the UofT finals on April 5th, 17 finalists gave fantastic presentations on their research. Richard Kil from Department of Chemistry won the first place; he kept the momentum going and won the provincial competition on April 12, 2017 at the University of Waterloo. What stood out in 3MT® competition were the importance of audience-oriented mindset. Since the candidates are evaluated based on their ability to communicate their research non-technical language, it challenged the graduates to present their ideas from a different perspective. I was particularly impressed that the winning presentations not only provided extensive background and context for people with no expertise in the field, but also explained the nature of research within 3 minutes.

3MT® provided more than a venue for our future professors to practice teaching skills. It raised the awareness of public engagement. I hope that events like 3MT® could promote direct dialogues between researchers and the public and that the progress of cutting-edge research will be celebrated more widely. More information on this competition.

To adjust to the changing landscape of employment outcomes is not easy. Students, professors, and other staff members could all benefit from seeking out up-to-date information on employment outcomes and building transferable skills.

Chang Zou is a recent Master of Global Affairs graduate from the Munk School of Global Affairs. He is a Research Assistant for the Ten Thousand PhDs Project at the School of Graduate Studies. He has helped organizing various professional development activities on campus.  The most recent one is the Three Minute Thesis® competition, an academic communication contest for graduate students.

Photo credit: Luc De Nil

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