By Gwen Chodur
I moved to Davis four years ago to start my Ph.D. in Nutritional Biology, but something became abundantly clear as soon as I moved to town – the only high skilled jobs in Davis are at the university.
Graduate students are often beginning to settle down in their lives with long term partners who are also likely to be highly educated. Yet a lack of a job base in Davis means our partners either have to work for the university or commute long distances to find suitable employment. Asking people to relocate to the other side of the country for their education is hard, but doing so with limited job prospects for a partner makes this much worse.
Faculty members and post-doctoral researchers face this problem too. To highlight one real example of how bad the job market is for highly educated workers: I know of someone who has to fly to find work for their skill set.
The husband of a UC Davis professor has a rough commute to get to their engineering job for a technology company in the Bay Area. He could not find work for a company that is a reasonable drive from Davis, so every morning he takes a plane from University Airport with three other people and flies to San Jose and back daily. Before he found the plane service, he would spend three nights a week at a hotel, away from his family.
Lack of jobs is not just an issue for partners of people affiliated with the university but can also worsen professional outcomes for both graduate and undergraduate students.
Internships in private companies for Ph.D. students are becoming commonplace. It gives us first-hand experience for research in private industry, where many of us ultimately want to work after our degree. Unfortunately, there are few companies in the Davis area, making many of us choose to skip doing an internship or to relocate during our program.
This same issue also impacts undergraduates. Lacking an employment base for internships makes it more difficult for undergraduates to be ready for this job market. There are only so many jobs that a university-based internship would be helpful for.
Lastly, innovation is part of the lifeblood of a sustainable future, and Davis is far behind its potential. Laboratories all over UC Davis produce amazing new tools and techniques to improve our sustainability, yet the basic research graduate students participate in needs to be translated into a product.
Graduate students are the key players in creating innovation on campus, and many spin-off their research into new companies. But in Davis, there is a minimal infrastructure to allow the ideas found in a lab turn into a product that can improve sustainability. Without a place to turn discoveries into products, these ideas are left in a notebook.
Aggie Research Campus would be an important stride towards addressing many of these concerns. It is estimated that more than 80,000 people commute from Sacramento to the Bay Area each workday. ARC would support thousands of jobs across multiple skill levels and generate substantial money in tax revenue. The site would include 850 units of housing, in a town that desperately needs them.
As a graduate student, I have come to realize how far Davis is behind its potential. The lack of jobs outside of the university lessens opportunities for graduate students and our partners, and limits opportunities for sustainable innovation. Hopefully, the approval of Aggie Research Campus will be a step in the right direction for our community.
Gwen Chodur is a PhD Candidate and member of Graduate Group in Nutritional Biology and the External Vice President of the Graduate Student Association.