Are You Going to the Career Fair?

By Yousef Okasheh I can’t tell you how often I heard this question in the weeks leading up to the Spring 2014 College of Natural Sciences Career Fair. My peers often answer these questions defeatedly, sighing, “No, have you even looked at the number of booths looking for chemistry/biochemistry majors?”

In contrast, I don’t recall hearing that answer in the weeks before my first CNS career fair in the fall of 2012. In that fair, there were enough booths looking for chemistry or biochemistry majors that it actually took me an hour or two to get to all of the ones I wanted to see.

Flash forward to the Spring 2014 CNS Career Fair, and you have a strikingly different story.

Out of the 147 booths in attendance reported by the Career Design Center’s website, only 5 booths were looking for chemistry majors, and 6 booths were looking for biochemistry majors . I was absolutely shocked; how could the Career Design Center justify calling the event a CNS wide career fair, when recruiters for such a large portion of the college (approximately two thousand students), were severely underrepresented? After exploring the preferenced major for each booth, I saw that, out of 147 booths, 138 booths were looking for computer science majors.

I discussed this concern amongst my fellow officers of the UT American Chemical Society. We felt responsible to stand up for our chemistry and biochemistry constituents and to provide them with better opportunities. Thus, we created a survey to ask the students about their level of satisfaction with the current status of the CNS career fairs.

After some revisions, we sent it out to every chemistry/biochemistry student at UT and waited for responses to come in.

“Please we need more companies or maybe we should change the CNS career fair to CS career fair.”-anonymous 

“It's not the CNS career fair it's the CS career fair. Good thing I decided to double major.” -anonymous 

“It is ridiculous to have a natural sciences career fair without equal representation among the majors. I will attend next year if the situation improves.” -anonymous 

“ I understand the financial and economical situations of numerous companies, but I feel that there has been quite a favoritism to computer science companies, as those are the easiest to find for these fairs. I haven't gone to the past 3 career fairs because of this. It is a waste of my time and a severe disadvantage to me, as well as my peers, who don't get the same opportunity from other CNS majors.”-anonymous 

“The handling of the career fair by the College of Natural Sciences is absolutely disgraceful. Yes, I am aware that there does tend to be more demand for computer people in industry….That doesn't mean that the College of Natural Sciences can host a career fair and call it the Natural Sciences career fair, but pay hardly any mind to those of us who make up the majority of the school.” -anonymous 

“Some of the booths that were supposed to also be for chemistry majors were not actually there looking for chemistry majors.” -anonymous 

“The CNS career fair I went to a couple weeks ago had no interest in biochemistry students. The ones that specified biochem majors were only recruiting computer science.” -anonymous 

“Please try to bring more chemistry related companies! It was kind of discouraging as a chem major walking around the last career fair.” -anonymous 

“… athenahealth advertised in the packet that they wanted chem and biochem majors, but the actual person at the booth said they weren't looking for chem or biochem majors. -anonymous

Needless to say, these comments from the chemistry and biochemistry students at UT were indicative of student opinion. 27% of the people that submitted a response to the survey (n=129) felt it necessary to voice their concerns or frustration.

According to some of the comments, there were booths that were advertised on the Career Design Center’s website that were seeking chemistry/biochemistry majors, but on the day of the fair, were not actually looking for them. A simple miscommunication between the fair organizers and the companies could have been the culprit for this misinformation. However, when the mistake results in the number of booths looking for chemistry/biochemistry majors cutting from five or six down to three or four, there is a real issue.

The results from the first part of the survey are shown: .

You can see that the last graph is quite shocking. The graph grants insight into how people actually feel and hard numbers on how well the chemistry/biochemistry students think the career fairs are organized. 80% of the chemistry/biochemistry students that filled out this survey said they would, at some point, look to the CNS career fairs for employment. Out of those students, 83% of them stated they would be dissatisfied, using the Spring 2014 CNS career fair situation as a case study.

Acknowledging the overwhelming evidence pointing to the underrepresentation of chemistry/biochemistry majors in the CNS career fairs, the counter-arguments need to be given a proper voice. A few of these notable counter-arguments are explored and refuted below.

Counter argument #1

“There is already a biotech career fair organized by the Career Design Center.”

This argument can stand with some ground and is an attempt at addressing the lack of opportunities at career fairs that biochemistry majors have. Anyone who has been to these fairs can tell you that most of the companies are actually looking for biomedical engineer, as opposed to biochemistry majors. More importantly, this argument doesn’t address the fact that there are still hundreds of chemistry majors who still don’t have proper representation at career fairs.

Counter argument #2

“The chemistry majors can just go to the engineering career fair.”

This argument is valid; they are indeed capable of attending engineering career events. However, at the Engineering Expo (run by students of the Student Engineering Council- who brought in a whopping 223 companies for their last Expo), the employers are looking for primarily chemical engineering majors, amongst all the other engineering disciplines.

Counter argument #3

“There is not enough demand for chemistry/biochemistry jobs out there, therefore it’s acceptable that there aren’t that many booths at career fairs.”

There is no doubt that a student graduating with a computer science degree is going to have a much easier time finding a job than someone with a B.S. in chemistry or biochemistry. That doesn’t mean there aren’t hundreds of chemistry/biochemistry related companies in Texas that could be recruiting. In Austin alone, there are 20 companies listed on thelabrat.com (a popular job posting website) under the category “Biotech, Pharmaceutical, Medical Device, and Chemical company jobs,” of which none were present at the Spring 2014 CNS Career Fair.

Productive question #1

“Acknowledging all these criticisms, what can we do to move forward and make these CNS career fairs more balanced and truly representative of the constituents of the CNS?

Ahh, yes, the question we’ve all been waiting for. To put it succinctly, the Career Design Center needs to put more effort and make more connections to bring in companies looking for chemistry/biochemistry majors. They could try to reach out to the many research groups at UT that have intimate relationships with specific companies and be more aggressive in their search. They could contact lab staffing agencies. They could reach out to alumni.

We could put the students in charge of organizing these fairs—it seems to work well for Cockrell. Why not put the people who want employment opportunities in charge of bringing companies in to offer them jobs? It certainly seems fanciful, but at the very least, there needs to be a student-led committee to oversee the general planning of career fairs. A collective of students, diversified by their interests and majors, could ensure that the college is looking out for the interests of the students.

The point of this article is not to try to dictate to anyone how to do their job. The point is to amplify the chemistry/biochemistry students’ voices about our CNS career fair experience. The statistics speak for themselves— the students have been given a voice to vent their concerns and frustrations, and the Catalyst has given us a stage for these voices to be heard.

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