2017 Smart cohort
2017 Smart cohort.

There was a time when a large proportion of graduate degrees led to careers in academia. As most graduate students will attest, that’s no longer the case. Now holders of advanced degrees are just as likely to find work in research, commerce, nonprofit organizations, start-ups, or any number of other sectors.

Many graduate students, however, have no real experience outside the halls of academe. Some are even unclear on where their years of study can take them vocationally. Today’s graduate students are faced with more options — and more competition — than ever before. It’s often a daunting prospect to make the leap from the university to the larger universe.

We recently spoke with a donor we’ll call Abigail, a Cal alumna who’s made generous gifts to support Berkeley’s graduate division professional development programs. Her 1978 degree in bacteriology eventually led her to a successful career in the fields of life sciences and health care. And she became a major donor to Berkeley as soon as she was financially able, in her early forties. Berkeley’s grad students “have very strong intellectual abilities, and are very capable at problem solving and data analysis,” she says. “I affirm to them that what they’re learning is valuable in many ways in the world outside of academia — it always has been, they just haven’t known it.”

SMART teams present their projects to the group.

Abigail looks for opportunities to provide what she calls “conceptual money,” and she sees professional development programs as an area where her funds can have enormous impact. “Dean Doyle has told me about her vision for several specific projects that wouldn’t have been realized without private support,” she explains. “What she outlined has always been very compelling and, over time, I’ve been able to fill the financial void and make these programs a reality.”

Specifically, Abigail has supported a grant-writing boot camp through The Graduate Writing Center that helped 77 graduate students find research funding. She was an original supporter of the Student Mentoring and Research Teams (SMART) program, which enables doctoral students to create mentored research opportunities for undergraduate students at Berkeley. And her gifts have helped to create the new D-Lab, which is providing rich access to research in data-intensive social science. It features cross-disciplinary resources for in-depth consulting and advising, access to staff support, and training and provisioning for software and other infrastructure needs.

“When I meet with Berkeley students, I’m always impressed with how diligent, dedicated, and sincere they are about their work,” Abigail says. “They shouldn’t have any doubts about their abilities or their qualifications for funding. I tell them, ‘Of course you’re going to be successful. You’ve already made it to Berkeley, so you’ve clearly got what it takes!’”

Berkeley’s Graduate Division couldn’t agree more, which is why its Graduate Professional Development (GPD) program supports all of Berkeley’s graduate students as they explore career possibilities and hone the skills needed to attract future employers.

Abigail occasionally visits campus to visit the programs she has supported and meet with faculty to discuss additional opportunities for future funding. “It’s so gratifying to know that I’m helping to further Berkeley’s educational endeavor,” she says. “It’s worth every dollar I can commit. I’m also fairly evangelical with my peers about supporting Berkeley — why not?  It’s a world-class teaching and research institution!”


Check out the Professional Development Guide and other resources of benefit to graduate students. For assistance, please contact the Graduate Professional Development office at gradpro@berkeley.edu.


Categories: December 2017, Headlines
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About Kirsten Mickelwait

A proud third-generation Cal alumna, Kirsten is a Bay Area-based writer who regularly produces content for colleges and departments across the Berkeley campus. Particular passions are higher education, health care, climate change, and the arts. She fondly remembers her days in Wheeler Hall as an English major.