Degree, working life and satisfaction

Reflections on the results of the university career monitoring survey

What is the most important thing in working life – appreciation, pay or type of work? I was left pondering this when I looked at the results of the university career monitoring survey. The survey did not provide an answer to this question, but it did reveal that two-thirds of the respondents at master’s degree level are satisfied or very satisfied with their career so far. If we include those fairly satisfied with their career, the share increases to 87%.

This is good, because work is such a big part of life that job satisfaction is one of the fundamental pillars of well-being.

What are the sources of job satisfaction? There are many: a good work community, sufficient pay, continuity of employment and appreciation gained for work. In this blog post, however, I will highlight the meaningfulness of work and the right tasks for one’s abilities.

For me, the experience of meaningfulness at work is one of the most important things in life. The work must be in line with my personal values – my work will not make the world worse, fill it with unnecessary material things or bad content or encourage overconsumption. I hope that my small contribution will help humankind move forward towards a more sustainable way of life, and I want the results of my work to do something good for nature.

It is also important to feel you are good enough at your job. You cannot and need not be great at everything you do, but everyone needs to experience success. A job that is too demanding is stressful and causes feelings of inadequacy, while a job that is too easy does not provide experiences of satisfaction and success.

Doctors and LUT graduates among the most satisfied

According to the results of the survey, those who are the most satisfied with their degree and career are doctors and dentists, who rated their satisfaction at 4.8 to 4.9 (on a scale of 1 to 6). Natural scientists are more dissatisfied: graduates from biosciences and agriculture and forestry, among others, rated their satisfaction at less than 4.

Differences between universities are small; most universities received a rating of 4.2 for their degree. Graduates from the Lappeenranta-Lahti University of Technology (LUT) were the most satisfied with their degree (4.6).

Check out the results for your field and university at Vipunen.

According to the career monitoring survey, 68% those with master’s degrees have permanent full-time jobs, while only 52% of those with doctoral degrees can say the same. Nevertheless, 90% of those with doctoral degrees are satisfied with their degree. It seems that doctors are satisfied with their job, even though a doctoral degree does not automatically mean a secure position in working life. Perhaps the years spent working on the dissertation have been meaningful and have developed the scientific mindset to the extent that doctors end up in jobs they like, even if the positions are not permanent?

During my own career, I have experienced triumphs, great dissatisfaction and moments of despair, but fortunately also periods when I have felt steady satisfaction and meaningfulness in my work. If your glimmers of job satisfaction are too faint and sparse, I want you to know that you have the rest of your life to increase your satisfaction. You may achieve this by changing jobs, studying in a new field or changing your attitude.

And if you are unemployed right now, then believe and trust that a good job will be waiting for you just around the corner!

Learning is working and working is learning, but working life training can also be developed

In the opinion of the career monitoring survey respondents, today’s university education provides a good basis for theoretical knowledge in the field, information acquisition skills, systematic and analytical thinking skills and the ability to learn and absorb new things. This is great to hear! In many ways, the Finnish education system is among the very best in the world and must remain so.

But there are also areas for improvement.

Working life requires skills that, according to the survey, are not sufficiently provided by university education.

For a decade or so, I have been training doctoral students at the University of Oulu in the scientific communication course, intending to promote the popularisation of science. According to my calculations, I have met about 500 people working on their dissertations. Although there have been dozens of experienced performers and talented writers among them, for most people the course is the first systematic contact with the world of communication.

When I see students’ eyes light up with realisation – they have the opportunity to influence the world around them through their research, which is why it is important for them to be able to explain their research in a manner accessible to the general public – I get a huge feeling of success and meaningfulness. I have managed to arouse in young researchers a desire to communicate their research to a wider audience and to address problems.

But since my scientific communication course is voluntary, it will not reach all the doctoral students, or a single master’s level student, unfortunately. Communication skills are important working life skills, like interaction, cooperation and negotiation skills. Just like any feature or skill, communication and interaction skills are more natural and easier for some than for others, but they are still skills that can be developed. I would like every university graduate to have taken at least one communication course before entering the labour market.

I recently wrote an article in a trade union magazine about labour market training in natural sciences and technology, including project management studies, among other things. The students all agreed that university education had not equipped them for project work. However, today’s working life is almost entirely based on projects, so is it not time to include a project management course in the curriculum of higher education institutions?

Based on the career monitoring survey and my own experiences, training in the following working life skills would be needed before entering working life:

  1. Project management: I know the basics of project work and master the most common project management tools.
  2. Presentation and oral communication skills: I can prepare a good presentation and know how to develop my presentation skills; I am ready to meet a media representative (press, TV, radio).
  3. Written communications training: I can write a good media release and blog post.
  4. Negotiation skills: I know the basic negotiation techniques and can justify and present my proposals convincingly.
  5. Self-knowledge and self-management: I know what I am like as an employee and as a member of the work community; I can plan my work and manage myself in expert work.
  6. Legislation: I am familiar with the main aspects of legislation in my field and the laws governing working life.

What working life skills would you add to the list?

Take a look at the results of the career monitoring survey and think about what you need to be satisfied with your job.

Satu Räsänen

The author is a Ph.D. with two master’s degrees, one specialist vocational qualification and pedagogical studies under her belt, a middle-aged science communication specialist/natural scientist whose unusual career path has included many things but not a single permanent job yet.

P.S. Good working life and job satisfaction also depend to a large extent on your supervisor’s managerial skills. Very few people are born leaders – for anyone else who aspires to a managerial position, I recommend leadership training.