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Yang Wang PhD ’06 landed a position at Newton-based Solasta Corp.,which uses nanotechnology to improve the performance of solar power collection. (Photo by Frank Curran)

PhDs Find ‘Hot Jobs’ in Cool Employment Climate

Boston College PhDs are successfully launching their careers despite a difficult employment climate
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By Ed Hayward | Chronicle Staff
Published: October 22, 2009
They’re known as “hot jobs” – islands of workforce growth upon an otherwise stingy job scene. Across a sampling of disciplines, Boston College PhDs are successfully launching their careers in these areas – both inside and outside of academe – despite a difficult employment climate.

Some areas are driven by high-tech advances, others by shifting demographics in America and across the globe. For newly-minted PhDs, areas such as nanotechnology, green chemistry, gerontology, K-12 education, global higher education and health sciences offer growing job opportunities.

Provost and Dean of Faculties Cutberto Garza said the University’s PhDs benefit from rigorous doctoral programs and excellent faculty
advisors.

“Boston College graduate students are formidable candidates in an increasingly competitive job market,” Garza said. “They are astute
researchers, skilled teachers, and compassionate scholars who are indeed ‘men and women for others.’ It is a reflection of the strength of the University’s graduate programs and faculty that we see so many recent graduates enjoying success in a range of fields viewed as growth areas in the global economy.”

Bed Poudel PhD ’07 went from the lab of Physics Professor Zhifeng Ren to a start-up company commercializing nanotechnology devices based on the advanced thermoelectric materials first developed in Ren’s lab.

“It is an exciting field and it is growing,” said Poudel, the manager of thermoelectric research and development at GMZ Energy, based in Waltham, which uses nanotechnology to generate electrical power from the sun’s heat producing green energy. “It is interesting work and I think it has a good future. When you accomplish something, you feel like you have done something to protect the environment.”

Likewise, physicist Yang Wang PhD ’06 is also working in nanotechnology at a company with roots in BC research: Solasta Corp., a Newton-based start-up using nanotechnology to improve the performance of solar energy collection.

Work in a start-up entails long hours, but Wang says he’s in a perfect place: still firmly rooted in scientific research, but working to perfect an application that could ultimately changes the lives of people around the world.

“You’ve got to love what you do,” said Wang, who spent two years as a post-doctoral fellow at MIT prior to joining Solasta. “The time you spend in the lab is an opportunity to learn as well as to achieve something nobody else has done before. I get a lot of motivation from that.”

The job search for a PhD is somewhat different than the approach taken by undergraduates, according to BC’s Career Services Director Theresa Harrigan. As experts with a defined academic specialty, PhDs generally know which sector of the job market they are going to target – be it academe, the corporate sector or public service. The connections they make with faculty advisors and colleagues throughout their specialty can play a primary role.

“Doctoral students generally work with faculty, especially if looking toward academic positions,” said Harrigan. But not all PhDs are looking for professorships and the Career Center offers its full complement of services to job-seekers.

“When seeing a student, I help them with their CVs or resumes, depending on their job target,” Harrigan said. “We discuss effective job search strategies, such as identifying potential employers through Career Search, and networking with alumni. They have access to all the resources of the Career Center.”

Roberta Malee Bassett earned her PhD in international higher education from the Lynch School in 2005. She worked as an assistant professor at the University of Southampton in the UK before taking a job as a post-secondary education specialist with the World Bank in Washington, DC. She credits the role played by her advisor, Monan Professor of Higher Education Philip Altbach, who also directs the Center for International Higher Education.

Eben Cross earned his PhD in chemistry in December of 2008, focusing on aerosols – tiny airborne chemical particles – and their role in climate change. Since then, he has continued to conduct research in the lab of his advisor, Professor of Chemistry Paul Davidovits, and worked closely with collaborators from Aerodyne Research, a Billerica-based maker of atmospheric scientific instruments.

While Cross’ research might not fit neatly within the definition of “green chemistry,” he anticipates his field of atmospheric/physical chemistry will remain a growth area, given the ever-increasing focus on the environment.

“It is absolutely remarkable,” said Cross. “Any PhD in science wants to finish the program and have people outside of the field care about the research you do. I think my timing is impeccable. There is an enormous amount of interest in atmospheric chemistry because of economic, industrial and environmental implications, as well as the human cost implications of climate change.”

For some, that first post-doctoral position can happen close to home. Kate Gregory, who earned her doctorate from the Connell School of Nursing in 2005, is now an assistant professor in the school whose research focuses on maternal child health.
For others, like a pair of Lynch School of Education graduates, the new jobs took them far from Chestnut Hill. Marcelle Haddix PhD ’08 is an assistant professor of education at Syracuse, while Allison Skerrett PhD ’07 is an assistant professor of education at Texas.

For Bassett, the dramatic growth of higher education in developing nations, as well as expanding international efforts by universities in
America, Britain and Canada have her feeling like she is in an industry poised for explosive growth.
 
“It does feel like I have a ‘hot job,’” she said. “Five years ago, when I told someone my work involved international higher education, I would get blank stares. But it’s a very hot topic now and I feel like I’m working in a very exciting field, particularly here at the World
Bank.”

Ed Hayward can be reached at ed.hayward@bc.edu