Saaga Leppänen/Adeola Akande Pierre-Noël.
LSE US Centre.
US Centre’s Master´s to PhD and Graduate to Professional online masterclasses are designed to support LSE master's students in planning and starting their careers. During the interactive online sessions, students get the exclusive opportunity to learn from LSE PhD Students who are conducting research on US-focused topics or to gain career advice from successful LSE Alumni based in the US. The aim of the masterclasses is to serve as taster sessions for master´s students to encourage them to start actively thinking about life after graduation.
LSE MSc students with an interest in the United States.
The move to remote working and more online based engagement as a result of COVID-19, gave the US Centre an opportunity to trial a new way of supporting LSE students: online career masterclasses, which were launched in July 2020. Prior to the launch of the masterclasses, the US Centre had run successful programmes for undergraduate and PhD students, which is why this new initiative was designed with master´s students in mind.
Before the launch of the masterclasses, the US Centre worked in collaboration with the LSE Alumni office in New York to create a list of potential alumni speakers, who were then grouped under the following areas of work: US Government, Economics & Finance, Technology, and Entrepreneurship. When the masterclasses were launched in July 2020, students were asked to express interest in these Graduate to Professional topic areas or for the Master´s to PhD masterclass. Potential speakers were only contacted after their topic area had received enough interest from LSE master´s students. When selecting speakers, specific attention was paid to diversity as well as to prioritising speakers who were early-career or mid-career professionals to ensure they would appeal to the student audience.
The online masterclasses received an incredible amount of interest from master´s students as within two weeks the US Centre received over 500 registrations of interest. The Master´s to PhD series was particularly popular, which is why the Centre decided to move ahead on organising the first session. The Centre had previously created a list of LSE PhD students who were conducting US-focused research which was used to identify potential speakers. Once a panel of three PhD students had been invited and a date had been confirmed, registration was opened for the masterclass. All students who had previously expressed their interest for the Master´s to PhD masterclass, were given priority at this stage. To encourage maximum interaction between the speakers and students, session sizes were kept small.
The first “Master´s to PhD” masterclass took place on the 21July 2020 and featured a panel of three PhD Students; Ariel Perkins (Department of Government, US Centre PhD Summer Research Grant recipient), Grant Golub (Department of International History, US Centre PhD Summer Research Grant recipient), and Rachel Zhou (Department of International Relations). The session was facilitated by a US Centre Staff member and LSE PhD student Charlotte Eaton (LSE International Drug Policy Unit and Department of International History) and had 10 student attendees. Following the success of the first session, a second “Master´s to PhD” masterclass was organised on the 30 July 2020 featuring PhD students Fabio Bertolotti (Department of Economics), Jacklyn Majnemer (Department of International Relations, US Centre PhD Summer Research Grant recipient), and Yonatan Levi (European Institute), Charlotte Eaton returned as the facilitator, 13 LSE master´s students joined this session.
The US Centre also collaborated with the LSE Alumni office in New York to invite LSE Alumna Victoria A Espinel to speak as part of the “Graduate to Professional” masterclasses. In the session, on 29 July 2020, Victoria discussed her own career journey, specifically her time working for the US Government, and answered questions from participating students. After the session, the attendees were also sent a feedback form as well as some additional resources on careers in the US and the LSE Careers services. All three masterclasses were organized online via Zoom for the sake of safety and accessibility.
The masterclasses harnessed the expertise of US-based alumni and LSE PhD students by providing a space where they could speak about their career journeys and have an honest discussion with current LSE students. Students were given practical advice on how to start their careers, in topics such as applications, mentoring, funding, how to select a workplace, and useful skills for a specific area of work. In addition to useful tips, the masterclasses also allowed students to get a glimpse of what specific roles entail as well as gave them a chance to ask questions from professionals who they otherwise would not have had access to. This approach was found useful by both students who were already interested on pursuing a career in that specific field as well as students who had not yet decided what they wanted to do after graduation.
Furthermore, the overwhelming number of students that have registered their interest, shows that not only are master´s students extremely interested in enhancing their career prospects after graduation but also that they feel that the masterclasses are a unique opportunity to do just that. This also reflected in the positive feedback from both master´s students and speakers. Attendees were particularly appreciative of the one-to-one interactive nature of the masterclasses which allowed and encouraged them to participate in the discussions.
Students have also expressed that the ongoing situation with COVID-19, made them feel particularly stressed about life after graduation, which is why the masterclasses had an important impact in encouraging students and making them feel more ready for the transition. The global pandemic was a reason why the master´s to PhD masterclasses also attracted students who had not previously considered doing a PhD but in the light of the situation were interested to know more about the process. Therefore, the masterclasses had a positive impact on master´s students´ by boosting their confidence and resilience.
We would like for the career masterclasses to become part of our student offering. We are currently planning to open registrations again and run more session in Lent Term 2021. We feel that supporting students and organizing these sessions has become even more important with the uncertainty that COVID-19 has created and will continue to create on the job market. While the masterclasses themselves are only open for LSE master’s students, we would like to start recording the sessions, with participants´ permission, so that we can share them to the whole LSE community and beyond.
The advice we would give to others is to create a list of potential speakers before starting the registration of interest process. This allows you to move forward with organising a session as soon as there has been enough interest from students. It is also beneficial to have multiple speaker options as many might not have the time to participate, particularly on short notice. We found that it was relatively easy to ask students to express their interest early and then at a later stage we encouraged them to register for the individual sessions, to account for no-shows we oversubscribed the sessions by approximately 30%. Finally, we would recommend trying to make the sessions as diverse as possible which is something that resonates well with the LSE student community. For example, while all our speakers were either US-based alumni or PhD students conducting US-focused research, we made sure there was diversity in terms of ethnicity, subject matter, and age.