Tag Archives: career

CollegeQandA asks: What’s the problem with For-Profit Colleges, and why shouldn’t I go to one?

What’s the problem with For-Profit Colleges?

Theoretically – nothing.  Realistically – profit above all else.  Not-for-profit institutions are  faced with ethical issues such as: should I recruit student X into my program even though it might not be good for student X, but we need our enrollment numbers to justify or maintain our budget?  Again, that’s a question for people who are just trying to maintain a not-for-profit organization.  Now imagine the motivation of the institution is to make money and provide growth and profit for investors – the for-profit problem. That’s just one of the dilemmas that emerges in the complex life of a higher ed institution.

Big Nickel

Why shouldn’t I go to one?

Because in the hierarchy of institutions that are concerned about your future, for-profits tend to be the worst at preparing you for your desired future.  That’s not to say that just because an institution is not-for-profit that they will keep your best interests as their main goal, but typically, a not-for-profit institution is better focused on your development.

Where then?

So, where should I go?  First off, you need to consider the economics of going to college.  If things are looking financially difficult, then I suggest you start looking at community colleges as a starting point.  They should have lower costs and shorter time spans to graduation.  Also, many community colleges have agreements with larger universities that allow you to spend 2 years and then move for 2 more years in an undergraduate degree.   Also, community colleges have programs that are, typically, focused on practical work in the community so there are more direct paths to a job at the end.  These are great places to start your higher education with less financial risk.

As you may be hearing, there is an ever increasing demand for technical and trade based careers.  For some reason, our societies seem to have put this type of work into a lesser career path, and many people seem to believe that they need to go to college to prove their worth.  All my degrees make me no better (and probably worse) than those people who can actually fix and build many of the things I use in daily life and our overall infrastructure.  Because of the skew in our societies, where not enough people are joining the trades and technical careers, there is great opportunity for many of you along this path.

Why the discussion?

The ideas in this post are discussed in my book, but John Grisham’s latest book (Amazon) is in relation to for-profit institutions, which revived my interest in spreading what I think is an important warning – just beware of promises.

Credits: Photo titled: Big Nickel, by Bruce Guenter


CollegeQandA asks: What questions challenge your advisors/mentors?

What questions challenge your advisors/mentors?

The reality is the questions here are the big questions we all have.  In university, your mentors are great for asking simple questions to such as: “which course should I do next?” or “what are some good career options to look in to?”.  More complex questions, which are usually individual and deep personal searches, are hard for all of us.

Does that mean you shouldn’t have those discussions with your advisors and mentors?  No, but expect them to be long conversations that you will need to reflect on more than you possibly thought going in.

Person in meditation by water

So, what are these questions?

“What should I do with my life/career/major?”

Those are big questions.  Flavors of that question are hidden in others such as, “should I do this major or this major?” or “will I like this job?”

There are two certainties to deep questions of your future.  One, it’s a personal decision.  Two, the decision can be an educated decision, but is impossible to make as right or wrong – it is just a chosen path.

Find office hour times to have this discussion – quiet times are best

Your mentors and advisors can provide suggestions on how to help explore these questions, but they can not solve them for you.  For even something as simple as picking a major and what career will I have once I complete this major, all an advisor can tell you is where people have gone previously with certain paths, and provide insight on their own experiences and paths.

The bigger task is for you to determine which path you want to take now.  And here is the problem.  Not all paths can be taken.  Only one can be pursued.  At some point, you just have to make a decision and take a path.  Once on that path, observe opportunities and, potentially, take other paths.  A little bit of reflection and thought along the path will guide you in, hopefully, better directions for you, but the unpredictable is, well, unpredictable.

Credits: photo titled: Wisdom; by Moyan Brenn


CollegeQandA asks: What is career fair and why should I go?

What is career fair?

What is a university career fair?  This isn’t that interesting a question, and as you can imagine, career fair has employers come the university to talk to students about careers at their respective companies/institutions.  A university can have a university wide career fair, but there can also be smaller career fairs that are focusing on a particular area or degree.  Most people think that career fairs should be attended in your graduating year where you dress up, and finally, look for a job post graduation.  The wiser among you should go early and often to learn and prepare for your career.  Nobody else will.

University career fairWhy should I go to career fair?

Well, yes, fourth year is a good time to go to career fair and try and find your future employer, but to be prepared for this culminating experience I suggest you go in your first, second, and third year too.  You want to go to learn how the career fair is done, and how you need to be prepared for the event.   For example, at Miami during career fair almost everyone is dressed in a business suit/attire, and students will line up to do short interviews with their prepared resumes that might be followed up with a post fair longer interview.  If you walk into the fair without the proper attire, then unless you’re looking to be recognized for your uniqueness, you stand out as unprepared.  Just knowing your basic career fair flow stops you from making these simple errors.

Also, just like doing integration, playing an instrument, or writing an essay, networking and interviewing are skills that need to be practiced.  Where can you get this practice beyond the mock interviews your career center might provide?  Career fair in your first and second year is great time to practice without any major consequences.  Also, you might find an internship early that will lead to your future career.

Keep in mind, university will help you develop some skills, but getting a job and the skills need to both get said job and perform well at it are your responsibility.  Career fair is a small piece of this, but one you should not ignore.

Credits: photo titled: SNRE Career Fair; by University of Michigan School of Natural Resources & Environment 


CollegeQandA asks: How important are my grades?

How important are my grades?

Package with eggsI’m from Canada and I like to say, “we grade eggs, but we assess people to give them feedback on their learning”.

I, personally, think public grades as a measurement device of people is a bad idea.  Of course, I’m one of those weird people that is focused on this idea of learning.  From my perfect world perspective, I think that grades can be a summative indicator of your performance on an assessment(s).  As a private feedback measurement a grade is useful in helping the learner have a summary indicator that shows their performance on learning.  The summary grade with detailed feedback on what other aspects of the task that need to be worked on is a useful way for the learner to try and move forward.

Forget your utopia, how important are grades

In a credentialist (not sure that’s a word) based society, grades are important.  The reality is that grades are used by institutions to quickly evaluate people.  For example, a company with an entry level position might receive 300 applications for this job.  One simple way to filter these 300 candidates is to make a grade point average (GPA) mark and cut everyone who hits below that line.  This is needed since it is difficult and time consuming to evaluate all 300 people for a single position efficiently.

In many ways, we use grades as a quick indicator of how a person is performing in topic areas.  From a student perspective, grades are important since they impact what possibilities are available once completing a degree in particular for that first job.

Still important?

The odd thing with your GPA is it becomes almost irrelevant once you get your first job.  This is because your next job or promotion will be based on what experience you have at getting things done.  Or as I like to say, “Can you do things?”

The grade is a very poor measurement of your doing stuff ability.  However, if your job is taking tests, then it is a great indicator.

Going forward

So, yes, grades are important, but learning and doing is much more important for the long game.  The grade is a single measurement signal of how you have performed.  Going forward though, the portfolio is becoming  a more appropriate signal of your ability (and not just for artists).  In college, every major project you do, create, and build is a better signal that demonstrates what you can do.  This includes your activities outside traditional class and you should be curating a web presence to host this portfolio.

If your GPA is not as good as you need it to be, then not all is lost.  If you have a portfolio of what you can do, you can work your way into entry jobs at smaller and lesser (in the eyes of the public) institutions.  People who can learn and do things are valuable.  So, it’s not all about grades, but good grades tend to correlate to people who learn, work hard, and do things.  And that’s the chicken back to the graded egg.

Credits: photo titled: Eggs; by bunnicula


CollegeQandA asks: Should I go to graduate school?

Who goes to graduate school?

Should I go to graduate school? This is an important question to consider as you complete your undergraduate and try to plan out your career. We will take a few perspectives on the whys and why nots.

Clock with 3 replaced by word career

Rarely just because

Many people who I’ve talked to about going to graduate school include the answer, “just because”.  I, probably, should be included in this camp, but my other reason for going to graduate school was that a professor a respected and listened to told me to go to graduate school.  I, obviously, had a great plan for my future.  The trick here is graduate school can:

  • Cost significant amounts of money
  • Costs more money in terms of lost opportunity cost
  • Takes time
  • Is not a guarantee of being completed successfully
  • Might not impact your life goals

The first piece to choosing to go or not to, is to have some sort of plan on where and what you want to do.

Let’s start with the Master’s degree

In most cases, a masters degree is a financial end career total earnings the best degree to get.  Still, that does not mean you should just do the degree.  Also, this is general advice on the Master’s degree and there are a tonnes of factors to consider depending on your individual case including current debt, area of study, job market, location in the world, school to attend, etc.

The masters degree is an opportunity to spend one to three years delving deeper into academics via courses, projects, and in some cases, a thesis.  This additional depth means that you will improve your ability to think and do, and people who can think and do better tend to get paid more if there is demand.

One other thing I noticed when I did my Master’s was that I got to tackle problems that I wouldn’t have gotten a chance to work on until 2-5 years into an industrial career.

Finally, I know many people who say they plan on doing their Master’s later.  This is possible, but in most cases getting paid and the prospect of doing a Master’s and being paid significantly less (if anything) is very tricky to do.

For the Ph.D. degree

In almost all cases, I think the main reason to pursue a Ph.D. degree is if you want to become a professor (or really think you want to become a professor).   I, highly, recommend you read The Professor is In before starting that degree to understand the nature of the faculty job world.  If you start with the basic idea that a Professor self-replicates by advising and creating Ph.D students, then you quickly see how a market with exponential growth doesn’t have positions for everyone in it and is competitive – Amazon.

If you have another reason to do a Ph.D, then as long as you see it as a means to get what you want then it is fine.  That is unless the reason is you want to be called Doctor; not worth the toil for such a title.

Credits: photo titled: Clock-career; by Flazingo Photos


CollegeQandA asks: Why do STEM fields seem better than other fields?

What is STEM?

Plant Stem

No, not plant stems or glass stems.  STEM is an acronym within education and industry for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.  And because these fields have beneficial economic links to each countries success (economy, GDP, etc.), training people with these degrees is being pushed to students.

I’m biased in the following discussion.  I have degrees in computer engineering, and I believe that my engineering degrees have helped me not only in my profession, but have provided me knowledge and skills that helped make me a better person.

Is STEM good? better?

Why do STEM fields seem better than other fields?  There is no good or better when it comes to pursuing degrees.  However, the reality is that from an income perspective and number of career based jobs linked that are linked to a degree, STEM based jobs have both higher starting and medium salaries and probabilities are higher that average performers will find jobs.  So you might perceive  that these degrees are better.

From an individuals perspective, I think your success and happiness are linked to your intrinsic motivation.  Do you want to work in your chosen area for at least the next 20 years of your life.  Are you willing to hate 8 to 9 hours of your day for compensation.  In some cases, those 20 working years are equal to or greater than the number of years you have lived.

Are STEM degrees harder?

The answer here is another yes/no.  For many students science, technology, and math seem hard and for that reason people get scared away.  Note, however, that becoming an excellent writer, artist, or all other so called “non-technical” person is equally hard.  Maybe being average is not hard, but because those other fields are more challenging to become employed in, you will tend to need to become excellent.

Many of the students I talk to who are pursuing engineering degrees have a similar fear or dislike for writing that is similar to their counterparts dislike of math and science.  The thing is, they’re all hard to become good at, and they all take time, grit, and pain to learn.  Also, success in a career requires more than just the knowledge you gain from a degreee.

Going forward…

Pick a field that you have interest in, you want to learn about, and you will seriously commit to learning in.  If you make a committed effort to learn something then you will find fascinating aspects within that field that will help you grow.  There is something to be said of picking a STEM degree because of the economic benefits of these degrees, but don’t think a single reason makes these degrees a good choice for you.

Credits: photo titled: Sunny Stem; by GollyGforce – Living My Worst Nightmare


CollegeQandA book review: The Professor Is In

Book Review: The Professor Is In: The Essential Guide To Turning Your Ph.D. Into a Job

The Professor Is In: The Essential Guide To Turning Your Ph.D. Into a Job book cover

The Professor Is In: The Essential Guide To Turning Your Ph.D. Into a Job by Kelsky is the essential guide to finding an academic position.  After reading the book, I wonder how I, actually, got an academic job in the first place.

The book is packed with information about academic jobs including the process both from the interviewee and interviewers perspectives.  Over ten sections that are an organized presentation of much of the information provided on her blog, the reader is presented with focused quality advice about the academic search.  Even if you have a great graduate advisor who is mentoring you to achieve your goals, this book is an essential read and resource for you.  Even in my current existing position, I believe the information in this book is invaluable in understanding the process.

I have now been on both sides of the academic job hunt, and the books insights are dead on.  I think I have recommended this book to every Ph.D. candidate I’ve met since reading the book.

Does this book relate to CollegeQandA?

This book is about preparing to find an academic job. There is a loose relation to CollegeQandA, but for those of you who are considering trying to join the professorate this book provides a realistic and well thought out plan and execution for the process.  This is also a valuable resource for faculty members in their attempts to mentor their students.

I would recommend this book to…

This book is useful for anyone looking to apply and get an academic job. The details in this book are a treasure trove for job hunters, and every graduate student should own this book to understand the process. Arguably, you should read this book before pursuing a graduate degree to understand what the academic job market is like and how you might succeed in it.


CollegeQandA asks: Should the department of my major be highly ranked?

How good should your department be?

Should the department of my major be highly ranked?  Your department is a division within the university where your major (or minor) is housed and mostly administered.  In many cases, a department will determine the curriculum to earn a major, and will teach the classes in relation to that major.  For example, a physics undergraduate major will be part of the physics department.

Podium medals

What will rankings tell you?

First, what might be some good rankings to look at from a department perspective (as opposed to rankings for entire universities).   US news rankings is not a great source since the departments are ranked based on graduate ranking.  This means the main measurements are related to research output, and these metrics have little impact on undergraduate education.  LinkedIn’s career rankings is an interesting way to approach ranking your major since it measures departments in terms of career prospects of active alumni, and this would be the ranking system I might use.

Still, the limitation of rankings is that a few metrics are used to evaluate quality, and the relevance of those metrics are questionable depending on your case.  A better approach is to have an understanding of what majors are learning and where are they working afterwards (where LinkedIn works well).  Those two questions are more relevant to your individual case than perceived and measured metrics.

Another, it doesn’t matter, it’s up to you

From an undergraduate perspective, I feel that similar to choosing a college, how well ranked your department is has very little importance in your undergraduate degree.  However, if you know where you want to work (both job and location), then specific schools may serve specific markets.

Most state and provincial schools supply employees to local companies, and a few of their graduates will find their ways into top global corporations.  It is useful to look at your potential schools pipelines.  However, your first job is a first step that will lead to many other opportunities if you perform well.  Your undergraduate is an opportunity to learn and grow.  Any department at a good school will push you in this growth, and where you take yourself really depends on your efforts in learning and doing.

Credit: photo titled: Paola ESPINOSA y Tatiana ORTIZ, bronce, ¡Felicidades México!; by Marco Paköeningrat


CollegeQandA asks: Why should I go to career fairs?


Career FairIn “How do I pick a major?”, the goal was to look at majors and why or how they might lead to careers as well as pursuing your interest in college.  One idea to note is that universities no dot prepare you for a career.  Let me restate that, universities do not prepare you for a career.  University degrees show (to some degree – no pun intended) that you have an understanding of some of the basic ideas and solution/design methods within that field.  Professional degrees (engineering, certain business degrees, architecture, etc.) lead more directly to a career, but still these degrees do not prepare you for your career.

One of the many things that universities do is provide resources for your many possible needs, but you must choose to take advantage of these resources.  Universities and colleges have many resources and events that will help you prepare for your career.  In some cases, a major might have a coop program to help you get experience for your career.  I define a coop program as a degree in which on alternating semesters you will spend your semesters either in class or working in degree related experience, and the school may or may not help you find that company (most likely they help and have connections).

Other than coop programs, the majority of career preparation is put on your shoulders as the student.  You will need to go to the career center and learn about preparing your resume, interviewing, and how to network to find a good job.

Career fair

Career fairs are another opportunity in this preparation that happens during the academic year where many companies will come to your institution and directly recruit from the student body.

Regardless of which year of study you are in, which degree you are majoring in, and even if you are a graduate or undergraduate, you should attend every career fair at your institution.

Why?  First, because these companies are focused on students from your institution, which suggests that they like what they get from your school.  More importantly, the information you can learn from these events will help you understand what skills and people companies want, which can then be used to ask really big questions.  Why are these traits and skills desired?  How do those skills make money for that company?  What message does what I wear send, and how does that message relate to the economics in our world?  Do I want to be part of these types of money generating machines?  Will the goals of these companies align with my goals for the world?  Is my time given to this industry and compensated by money worth it?

Examining these questions in the hyper-impressionism world of a career fair will help you decide what your career might or might not be.

Go to career fairs in your first-year, and learn what they are about.  If you want to take a corporate path, then learn what it takes to land an entry job in these companies.  Find out which internships are available, and in the worse case, try an internship with a company to get a feel for how different academics and education is compared to various industries and the so-called real-world.  Learn what people do in a company on a daily basis, and ask does that sound like something you would be interested in doing.

Your life and career are shaped by you and your efforts.

Credits: photo titled: 14-03-06 Spring ’14 Career Fair (Edited) (124) ; by: Romer Jed Medina


CollegeQandA asks: How do I pick a major?

The big question rated number 1 for many

For high school students and even first year students, “How do I pick a major?” is the question.  A major is the area of focus, within academia, that you spend the majority of your 4 years of study exploring and learning about.  In many cases, we associate a major with what you are becoming in terms of your future career.

So, in some ways “how do I pick a major?” is the same question as “what do you want to be when you grow up?” that adults ask children throughout time.

My book takes a look at some of these ideas in more detail, but let’s define a few things here:

  • A job is trading your time (and skills) for compensation
  • A career is a path in a set of related jobs of with some goal of getting to a job where you do (mostly) what you want to do on a daily basis
  • A degree is awarded for completing the set requirements usually including a concentration in a major
  • A professional degree is a degree that is a credential step towards a career in a focused concentration
  • Vocational training is a process to teach you a set of skills customized for a specific job(s)

So how does that help you pick a major?

Universities don’t train you for a job

The first thing to truly grasp is you major is not necessarily your future job.  For example, a computer engineer major will start their career in a vast number of jobs that can include engineering work, sales, training, etc.  In other words, I couldn’t list all the jobs that someone who did a major in computer engineering does.  Even in one of my narrow research fields: Field Programmable Gate Arrays, the list of jobs which you need this major for easily goes over 100!

Therefore, we can not train you in a major for a job.  You will have to prepare for your career while pursuing your degree in your major, and yes, the university will provide great opportunities to do that (career center, career fairs, company visits, etc.), but that is not the universities primary goal.  It is up to you to shape your career.

A major is your opportunity to explore an area of interest (caveat economics)

Most of us have to worry about our future career, income, and financial stability.  The tricky part is how can you pursue what you are truly interested in while balancing the realities of your future career and your family situation.  There seems to be evidence that your major choice correlates to your family’s current financial status.

If I was allowed to choose what I was interested in when I was 18, then it would have been video games and basketball.  My parents, however, were not going to pay for my education if it did not include science, engineering, or math.  I was fortunate to find a compromise in computer engineering.  Was that a compromise?

As I’ve matured, I have come to believe that engineering can be applied to almost any other interest.  For example, if you like sports, then the mathematics, analytics, and modeling applies to understanding sports better in – see Moneyball or The Wages of Wins.   I’m biased towards my experiences in engineering and so is our economically driven world, but do we only need technologists?  I think any major can be applied to any interest, and you should leverage these connections in your pick, and take time to consider how you will mold your major into your career.  There are a common set of what we would call high-level skills needed in all industry – thinking, communicating, and doing.

I, also, think the key to picking a major is to find something that has a spark of inspiration and motivation for you, and you should have some aptitude in that field or be willing to work really hard to develop needed skills.  You need that drive to help get you excited to explore that something more deeply.

Finally, it’s not that big a deal

How do I pick a major?  The question scares all of us.  This decision will define your future.  Your parents hope you pick something that means you won’t live with them forever.  The country needs you to contribute to our bottom line.  Yikes.

Book : You majored in what

In many cases, however, it doesn’t matter that much.  If you have some motivation, curiosity, and interest in learning, then you will find a topic, professor, class, or hobby that starts you on your future path.  You Majored in What?: Mapping Your Path from Chaos to Career is a great book that will help you understand what seems to happen for at least half of us.  If anything keep your mind open to opportunities and learn what you can.