Impact Blog

Empowering HDR student careers

July 2024

A blog by Dr Alan McAlpine for an upcoming Webinar on 23 July 2024—Conversations with experts – how to best support your HDR candidate’s career development and direction.

A Ph.D. is an exceptional training ground for future academic researchers and is vital for Australia’s research outcomes. However, it’s equally important to support Ph.D. graduates in pursuing careers beyond academia as it is just as important that we support the knowledge and skill development into our industries, government, and other non-academic employment pursuits. Graduate destination data (GDS, 2022) reveals that just under half of research students find employment within academia, highlighting the necessity for broader career preparation.

The Challenge for Supervisors

Supervisors often focus on preparing students solely for academic careers. Yet, with the diverse career paths of Ph.D. graduates, a broader approach is essential. Mantai & Marrone stress the need for Ph.D.-qualified individuals in various industries, noting the detrimental financial and psychological effects of high attrition rates among candidates if not supported properly.

Empowering Supervisors to Support Students

To effectively empower HDR students, supervisors should:

  • Encourage Self-Awareness: Assist students in understanding their strengths, preferences, and potential career paths beyond academia.
  • Facilitate Career Conversations: Engage in regular, unbiased discussions about career options, helping students explore various employment opportunities. Try to avoid direct advice-giving (telling).
  • Promote Professional Help: Encourage students to seek out their university career and other professional support services.

Practical Strategies

  • Mentors: Connecting students with mentors outside academia can expand their perspectives and networks, making them aware of diverse career opportunities. Mentors can provide valuable insights and introduce students to potential career paths they might not otherwise have considered.
  • Narrative Conversation Techniques: The tendency (strong desire) of the supervisor is to try and solve any challenge the student brings. Encourage students to articulate their experiences and aspirations and seek to utilise the student’s inherent strengths (“How do you usually approach challenging situations?”) to help solve the career issue at hand. Support the student to identify their strengths and potential future pathways.

Addressing Unconscious Bias

Academic supervisors may unintentionally bias students towards academic careers. Given the statistics of those who actually end up in higher education, it’s crucial to facilitate career development conversations about opportunities outside academia. By acknowledging and addressing this bias, supervisors can better support students in exploring a wide range of career options.

Advice to supervisors

To enhance career conversations, supervisors can:

  • Stay Informed: Keep abreast of the current job market trends and the skills in demand across various industries.
  • Encourage Networking: Advise students on the importance of building professional networks, both in and out of academic settings, and how to effectively engage with industry professionals.
  • Provide Resources: Share useful resources, such as career planning tools and job search strategies, to help students navigate their career paths.


Supervisors play a pivotal role in shaping the career trajectories of HDR students. By adopting supportive, student-centred approaches and leveraging theoretical frameworks, they can help students navigate the complexities of the modern job market and achieve long-term career success. For more detailed guidance, explore the recently published e-book chapter on Empowering HDR researchers career planning, which provides practical advice and strategies for supervisors to support HDR students in their career planning journey. Attending the up-and-coming webinar [insert link] with an expert panel is a valuable opportunity to support supervisors’ professional development in having conversations with their students.

By fostering a supportive environment and encouraging diverse career exploration, supervisors can significantly enhance the career readiness of HDR students, ensuring they are well-prepared to succeed in a variety of professional landscapes.

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