Climbing the Lattice
A new program helps graduate students find many paths to career success.
Laura McAndrews can boil down the Graduate Student Leadership Development program to one central insight: Your career is not a ladder. It’s a lattice.
A ladder leads inevitably toward one point. “With a lattice you kind of go anywhere and everywhere,” she says.
For McAndrews, a former fashion executive who is now a doctoral student in textiles and apparel management, that observation is an inspiration — and a relief — because it frees her from thinking that her career options can culminate only in academia.
Helping graduate students recognize and develop the range of skills they bring to the job market is the purpose of the leadership development program, which launched in January 2014 across the four‐campus University of Missouri System.
Five graduate students from each campus meet twice a semester at one of the campuses. They hear speakers, tour business incubators and participate in professional development exercises. The MU students also meet weekly in sessions that are open to more than just the five program members.
“The idea is that they know what skills they have, are confident in what they have and can market that,” says Robin Walker, director of professional development for the MU Office of Research and Graduate Studies. The program is funded for three years with seed money from the system.
One exercise the group did early on was a 360‐degree evaluation in which students had their peers and bosses from work, school and other spheres of their lives anonymously evaluate their abilities. “What I’ve learned has been so personal — I’ve learned who I am,” McAndrews says. “It’s the most valuable information anyone could ever get.”
McAndrews will graduate in May and would like to find a job as an assistant professor. But she knows the skills in research and communication she has developed as a graduate student would serve her well in many jobs. “I have more doors open to me than ever before,” she says. “And I have the program to thank for that.”