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October 1, 2009

View From Outside the Classroom

SA Logo Advising your students

Your students have a lot on their minds and they need your help!

This month Pitt hosted two major events that likely prompted your students to think deeply about their academic studies, internships, careers and futures. The Academic Rush Event, designed to help students choose majors, was held Sept. 22. And yesterday, the University hosted its Fall Career Fair at the Petersen Events Center. More than 2,000 students and 200 employers attended the career fair this year, including a lot of freshmen and sophomores. Many of these students have yet to declare a major and are looking for answers.

What can you as a faculty member do for your students when they approach you with questions about their majors or potential careers?

Anecdotal evidence suggests that students rely on faculty members, and particularly faculty advisers, for career-related information nearly as much as they rely on parents and friends.

When students approach you with these types of questions, it’s important to engage in a dialogue to gauge where the students are in the process and to encourage experiential learning.

Exploring career options

Begin by asking the students what they have done to explore a given career field. Some students may just be starting the process and are simply asking for a general overview of the field, while other students may have done extensive research and are ready to start planning their career path. Ask the students if they have taken any classes related to this subject and what their reactions were to the material. It is highly recommended that students take exploratory courses in a variety of subjects and fields. Even if a student is convinced this is the field for them, there could be fault in being too narrow, too early. So encourage students to explore other areas of interest.

By encouraging exploratory courses, you can help students gain better self-understanding, an important step in choosing a path.

It also is wise to suggest that your students speak with other students, such as upperclassmen or graduate students, who have done extensive study in their field of interest. Lastly, students should be encouraged to visit the chosen department’s web site, as well as any industry web sites related to the particular field.

If the students have several fields that interest them, the next best step is for them to research those fields. They can speak to professionals through networking, including informational interviews, or engage in job shadowing. Pitt’s Career Development Office (CDO) can help them identify alumni and other professionals who can assist with career exploration.

Experiential learning

Experiential learning is a key element in understanding the realities of a particular career field. In addition, the skills developed and insights gleaned provide students with tools they can apply later in their careers. Internships, volunteer opportunities and leadership experiences all help students gain a comprehensive understanding of career options.

The Career Development Office can help students prepare themselves for pursuing an internship by assisting with resume preparation, interviewing skills and job search techniques. Information on internships and other kinds of experiential learning opportunities is available from the Office of Experiential Learning (arts and sciences), the Co-op Office (engineering), the Career and Leadership Development Center (College of Business Administration) and the Office of Student Employment and Placement Assistance on the second floor of the William Pitt Union.

There may not be one easy answer to the question, “What can I do with this major?” Faculty members can be of significant assistance by asking students key questions, listening to students’ responses and explaining different techniques and resources available to them.

For a list of resources and web links, please contact me at

Marvin Roth is director of Career Development in Student Affairs.

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