Alumni to share insights on diverse career paths for graduate students

Graduate students and postdoctoral scholars from all Penn State campuses are invited to join Oct. 5 professional development conversation with alumni in person or online
people sitting in leather chairs having a conversation

The Graduate School has hosted alumni career development panels annually for several years. Pictured are participants and moderators in the 2022 event: Stephanie Danette Preston, associate dean for graduate educational equity and chief diversity officer, the Graduate School; Tiffany Knearem, Information Sciences and Technology alumna; Joslenne Peña, Information Sciences and Technology alumna; and Sarah Ades, associate dean for graduate student affairs, the Graduate School

Credit: Braden Ward / CommAgency

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — While pursuing bachelor’s degrees in both administration of justice and history from Penn State, Sharon Melzer was confident that she wanted to become a criminology professor. After pursuing this pathway for several years — including earning a master’s degree in public administration from Penn State Harrisburg and later securing a tenure-track position — Melzer connected with a colleague and soon discovered a second career interest: serving her country as a public servant with the U.S. Department of State. Rather than changing career tracks completely Melzer found a way to pursue both paths simultaneously. The experience taught her valuable lessons about how one can pursue and balance seemingly different career tracks and find deep meaning in multiple areas.

On Oct. 5, Melzer and four other Penn State graduate alumni will share their career experiences with Penn State graduate students during a conversation, “Keeping the Door Open: Preparing for Academic and Non-Academic Careers after Graduate School,” organized by the Graduate School. The event will start at 4:30 p.m. with a keynote and alumni fireside chat in Room 112 Kern Building on the University Park campus and online via Zoom. A networking reception will follow from 6 to 7:30 p.m. in the Kern Building lobby.

All Penn State graduate students are invited to attend and should register in advance.

The event is co-hosted by the Graduate School Alumni Society, the Office of Graduate Student Affairs, and the Office for Graduate Educational Equity Programs.

"In grad school, you select your topics and projects. In your career, you don't always have that autonomy. I hope my experiences will help students think about ways to develop their own," said Melzer, professorial lecturer, George Washington University.

Melzer will kick off the event with a brief keynote, “Why Choose: Reflections from a Dual-Track Career,” before the alumni fireside chat. Students can ask career-related questions to advanced degree alumni who have pursued careers in vastly different areas, including academia, government and industry. In addition to Melzer, panelists include:

  • Katie Bode-Lang, director of education and outreach, Office for Research Protections, Penn State, who received a master of fine arts degree in English from Penn State
  • Tanja Gruber, vice president for research and development, Origin Materials, who received a doctoral degree in biochemistry, molecular biology, and microbiology from Penn State
  • Christopher D. Renn, associate, FIFTEEN Architecture + Design, and adjunct associate professor, Temple University, who received a master’s degree in architecture from Penn State
  • Kyler Sherman-Wilkins, associate professor of sociology, Missouri State University, who received a dual title doctoral degree in sociology and demography from Penn State

"The stereotypical career path for graduate students and postdocs is to continue in their adviser’s footsteps into academia. We are seeing more and more students who would like to explore other career opportunities, but don’t necessarily want to close the door on an academic career,” said Sarah Ades, associate dean for graduate student affairs, the Graduate School, who is spearheading the event. "Connecting students with alumni who have forged a variety of career paths is one way we can help students think creatively about their future beyond Penn State."

For more information about this event, visit the Keeping the Door Open webpage.