Guest Commentary: Why Davis Needs More Jobs, a Graduate Student Perspective

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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.


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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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32 thoughts on “Guest Commentary: Why Davis Needs More Jobs, a Graduate Student Perspective”

  1. Ron Oertel

     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.

    Probably can “commute” 7 miles away, to the innovation center they’re going to build in Woodland (as only one of the possibilities).  Maybe West Sacramento, as well.

    Truth be told, there’s no way ARC would be built unless the profit was really going to come from housing. There doesn’t seem to be sufficient commercial demand on its own. (Same thing is true regarding the Woodland site.)

    Of course, anyone working there (or at any other site) is not going to have “exclusive access” to jobs. (That’s a reason that there’s 4,340 parking spaces proposed at ARC – partly to accommodate inbound commuters. Not to mention the housing, which is also available to anyone – including current students, those commuting to other locations, etc.)

    1. Richard McCann

      And how does pointing to cities in Texas and Florida solve the skilled jobs balance problem in Davis? This article is irrelevant to the discussion–we will UCD here for a long time, and students, staff and faculty will be looking for jobs for their partners who are likely to have similar educational backgrounds. (You’r also ignoring the study I posted not that long ago pointing out how high earning jobs were agglomerating in a few select areas.)

      1. Tia Will

        The situation Ms. Chodur describes has been in existence for at least the past 30 years and I suspect probably as long as UCD has been in existence. It was the same when my then partner & subsequently husband lived here while I completed medical school. Ultimately, like many other couples, we had to seek interim jobs in other areas and eventually succeeded in our goal of returning.

        While ARC may provide some temporary relief, it will no more be a panacea than expecting that the Cannery was going to have a significant impact on Davis’ overall housing issues, only to have developers run ads in the Bay area for relatively inexpensive housing in Davis.

        I put in the second paragraph as an analogy, not as an avenue for changing the topic.

        1. Bill Marshall

          Augmenting, not arguing…

          Our experience was similar to Tia’s… two students who got the (lowly) BS degrees @ UCD… in the mid ’70’s, we had to return to the Bay Area to find jobs, where we felt comfortable getting married… and rented apartments…

          We had both sought employment in Davis, Sacramento region, but between the recession/inflation, other factors, it was not a good time/place fit for newly minted engineers or educators/teachers…

          Took 2.5 +/- years for us to return to Davis…

          Anyone who expects to attend UCD, get any level of degree, and remain, with guaranteed local employment… guess they missed “Reality 104” in their class schedule… I do sympathize with those who grew up in Davis, went to UC Davis, and had to migrate when they didn’t want to… but we came from the Bay Area, wanted to stay, but couldn’t… for a while…

          We made rational decisions, took our chances, and worked out fine.

           

  2. Matt Williams

    [edited]
    In my opinion the article does an excellent job of illuminating the challenges that UCD grad students and their spouses face.  What it doesn’t address is the solution to that problem.  Let me illuminate that shortcoming with a few questions.  (1) How many Nutritional Biology companies are the developers of ARC (or the City of Davis officials) talking to about locating their Nutritional Biology companies in Davis?  (2) How many Nutritional Biology companies has UCD included in its last three press releases of startups spawned by UCD?  (3) What proportion of the companies that have been in those three annual press releases have come from the main Davis campus? (4) What proportion of the companies that have been in those three annual press releases have come from the Sacramento UCD campus?  (5) How often have senior UCD Research leaders been standing shoulder to shoulder with the developer at a public meeting when the subject of meeting is the creation of the type of jobs the article discusses?

    The problem is clear, and definitely needs to be illuminated, but so far the solution is an emperor with new clothes.

    The developer and UCD and the City need to present Gwen Chodur and all of Davis with at least a little bit of reality.  So far all they are presenting are promises, and those promises will not address in any concrete way, the challenges the article has illuminated.

    1. Don Gibson

      There were 14 companies in 2019 that we announced in the UC Davis press release and a quick review of these, 9 would very much use life science Ph.Ds. Yes, nutrition is a specific field but the skills you build as a Ph.D. can translate to many different applications. I received my Ph.D. in the genetics program but that makes me highly educated and qualified from everything from studying cancer to data science. My Ph.D. research was in tomato genetics but I founded a life science start-up in 2014 working on seafood sustainability. The tools in one field like nutrition are the same in most life science fields.

      What people may not realize the people creating new ideas and innovation are often the graduate students themselves. We have diverse skill sets, creativity, and young to come up with new ideas. If people in Davis really care about sustainability, we need to realize that the scientific community needs a space to turn ideas on a notebook into a product.

      1. Matt Williams

        Thank you for that constructive input Don, and I wholeheartedly agree with your 9 of 14 assessment.  The logical follow-up question to that point is “Where will those companies prefer to locate those life science jobs, Aggie Square in Sacramento or here in Davis?”  That is a question that a collaborative unified answer from the developers, UCD senior administration, and the City needs be provided.

        I also agree with the rest of the points you have made about transferable skills.  The challenge Davis faces is not in the skills arena.  Thanks to UCD’s core competency we have an abundance of skills.  What the developer and UCD and the City need to collaboratively show us are some actual clothes for their emperor … in the form of actual jobs at companies that are willing to go on the record that they want to locate in Davis, rather than in Aggie Square (or elsewhere).

        It is time for the developers, UCD senior administration, and the City to walk the walk, not just spin the talk.

  3. Alan Miller

    This article is more than a little ridiculous in its arguments.  It’s not that I think Davis couldn’t use more professional jobs, of course it could, and it has always been that way.  But the commuter situation description is true all over the Bay Area – Sacramento mega-region.  When was it made a given that Davis for the majority of students is expected to be a landing place?  If you want it to be, then adapt and make sacrifices and it can be.  I didn’t demand that the City change for me so I could live here.  UC Davis is a place people go for an education, and most move away for their career(s).  Separate issue from creating a few more professional jobs in a business park.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

    1. Richard McCann

      I disagree. A key solution to addressing climate change will be minimizing commutes for HOUSEHOLDS, not just individuals. That means that we need to offer sufficient jobs within a locality to meet the job requirements for two-income households.

      Further, this article doesn’t discuss the problem with just graduate students–it’s an issue for faculty and staff as well. It hurts faculty recruitment. We’re willing to make changes for local agriculture, such as growth limits. We also should be willing to make changes for our largest employer, UCD.

      1. Tia Will

        Rich

        I would say the approval of at least 3 new housing projects aimed specifically at UCD students is a significant change. We knew the students were there and in need and accommodated them. If and when the university can demonstrate the existence of companies seeking space in the ARC, then a reasonable argument would exist for changing for them. Otherwise, it amounts to making real-world changes for a concept of what might or might not work well.

      2. Alan Miller

        That means that we need to offer sufficient jobs within a locality to meet the job requirements for two-income households.

        Climate change is a worldwide issue having to do with the atmosphere.  The impact of Davis on the Earth is so tiny, that any efforts made here should be to such efforts in much larger markets and countries.

        And as I said about more jobs . . . “not that’s anything wrong with that”.  Separate issue from what the grad student was saying.

  4. Ron Oertel

    And how does pointing to cities in Texas and Florida solve the skilled jobs balance problem in Davis? 

    It’s a “fake problem”, in regard to Davis.  (Highlighting fake problems to support development seems to be a “specialty” of development activists.)

    Davis already has access to “too many” skilled jobs, given its size.  That’s the reason that housing prices are already high, and is (also) the reason for the net inflow of commuters through Davis (to UCD).

    They’re also going to build an innovation center 7 miles away from UCD, in Woodland.  And even there, it apparently doesn’t “pencil out” without housing.

    Many of UCD’s jobs (including non-faculty jobs) provide substantial compensation and benefits.  You can see for yourself via the link below.

    Sacramento is also a major employer.

    The article I posted lists locations where jobs are plentiful, and housing prices are low. Exactly what some development activists claim to be seeking. (You’d think that they might “thank me” for bringing those places to their attention, instead of criticizing me.)

    Here’s the link to see the types of jobs are already available, at UCD:

    https://hr.ucdavis.edu/careers/apply?keywords=&Category_category_id=All%20Categories&format=json&MCampus%5B0%5D=&search=

     

      1. Ron Oertel

        What’s wrong with jobs at UCD, West Sacramento, and Sacramento itself, for example? Many people already use public transit to commute to downtown Sacramento – from Davis and throughout the region.

        And for those who think an innovation center is needed, there’s going to be one about 7 miles from UCD accessed via a relatively unimpacted freeway (as opposed to about 4 miles away, through town).  The same place where they’re building thousands of new houses, anyway. (Including at the innovation center, itself.)

        1. David Greenwald

          There’s nothing wrong with jobs at UCD – but they are a bit more limited because they are academic and so if you don’t have a PhD, it will be harder to get one.

        2. Ron Oertel

          David:  Have you looked at the UCD jobs available in the link I provided?

          Also, didn’t your buddy (Robb) get a pretty good non-faculty job, there?

          Personally, I didn’t count on Davis (or UCD) for a job, during my career.  Nor did I want the jobs to “come to me”.  Had I wanted that, I would have lived in Sacramento at the time. Same was true of just about all of my co-workers, who lived throughout the region (but worked in downtown Sacramento).

          There are some good non-UCD jobs in Davis (with more to come), however.  Even without ARC.

          What ARC would do is to create a set-up for more sprawl (even beyond ARC, itself).

          1. David Greenwald

            First of all, I didn’t say there weren’t non-faculty jobs at UC Davis. You need to look at what i did say. Second, Robb has a doctorate. Third, Robb’s job is not paid. There are some good non-UCD jobs in Davis, just not a lot . The point you keep making is that there are an excess of jobs in Davis based on the numbers of people in-commuting, but that point is misleading. Most (not all) of those jobs are UC Davis and most of them are academic.

        3. Ron Oertel

          Regarding Robb’s job, he’s not paid for this?  Also, did it require a doctorate degree?

          https://globalaffairs.ucdavis.edu/people/robb-davis

          The point you keep making is that there are an excess of jobs in Davis based on the numbers of people in-commuting, but that point is misleading. Most (not all) of those jobs are UC Davis and most of them are academic.

          It’s not misleading, at all.  In fact, I learned of the facts on this very blog (regarding a net inbound flow of commuters).

          By “academic”, are you claiming that most campus jobs require a Ph.D.? Also, how many is “not a lot”, according to you? (Have you even bothered counting up the number of vacancies in the link I posted?)

          And again, can you clarify why jobs 7 miles away, accessed via an unimpacted freeway (where they’re building literally thousands of new houses) isn’t “good enough for you”?

          Or, why you (and others) can’t move to where the jobs actually are, if you’re dissatisfied with the local opportunities?

          Again, this is a “fake issue”.

          You’d better hope that the fiscal analyses (which I assume they’re proceeding with, despite the absence of a firm proposal) promises that the streets will then be paved with platinum – even if the resulting traffic means that you won’t be able to go anywhere.

          [Moderator: You have now exceeded 7 posts on this thread. Thank you for your participation.]

        4. David Greenwald

          “can you clarify why jobs 7 miles away, accessed via an unimpacted freeway (where they’re building literally thousands of new houses) isn’t “good enough for you”?”

          For one thing, the revenue would go to Woodland, not Davis. There is a clear advantage to locating business in Davis that does not accrue from it being at Woodland, West Sacramento or UC Davis.

          I find it ironic that you complain that ARC would be a freeway development and yet you want people on the freeways to other people’s freeway developments.

          For another, why is it either/ or? Why do you believe the ARC would replace the Woodland Innovation Center rather than augment it?

        5. Ron Oertel

          If you’re going to continue challenging me and asking questions (after my 7-comment limit), then you should allow a limited response.

          Me:  “Can you clarify why jobs 7 miles away, accessed via an unimpacted freeway (where they’re building literally thousands of new houses) isn’t “good enough for you”?”

          David:  “For one thing, the revenue would go to Woodland, not Davis. There is a clear advantage to locating business in Davis that does not accrue from it being at Woodland, West Sacramento or UC Davis.”

          This is an entirely different issue.  Also, net revenue (fiscal “profit”) would be reduced by housing (either on-site, or off-site).  If the fiscal analysis doesn’t address this, you can be pretty sure that others will.

          David:  “I find it ironic that you complain that ARC would be a freeway development and yet you want people on the freeways to other people’s freeway developments.”

          I “want” no such thing.  They’re going to build the development in Woodland regardless of what I (or anyone else) has to say about it.  Unfortunately, there’s no Measure R in Woodland (although I suspect that the voters are more supportive of development in general, there).

          But it is true that Highway 113 is less-impacted than I-80. Probably a reason that this development was originally proposed on the site of WDAAC, before “migrating” a few miles up the same freeway.

          David:  “For another, why is it either/ or? Why do you believe the ARC would replace the Woodland Innovation Center rather than augment it?”

          Seems like there isn’t sufficient commercial demand for either development, let alone one of them.  That’s why they both include proposals for vast amounts of housing (to make them “pencil out”).  That lack of demand for commercial sites is also the reason that Davis is continuing to allow existing commercial sites to be partially or fully converted to housing – which is apparently much more profitable (especially in Davis).

  5. Ron Oertel

    I really like the following quote.  Coupled with the 1,000-plus point in the Dow today, you wonder where the economy is headed.  Then again, if it crashes, does Trump crash as well?  (Maybe not, if the crash can’t be attributed to him.)

    “Some startups are even laying off the robots.”

    https://www.sfgate.com/business/article/As-the-Startup-Boom-Deflates-Tech-Is-Humbled-15078764.php

    I also find the following article interesting, in regard to the Bay Area (and its pursuit of technology):

    “Bay Area residents — despite being swept up in an unprecedented economic boom — are growing ever unhappier with the place they call home.”

    https://www.eastbaytimes.com/2020/02/23/bay-area-dissatisfaction-rich-poor-young-and-old-unhappy-here/

    As a side note, has anyone else noticed that online news sources seem to be “clamping down” on unpaid access to articles?  (And not limited to the Sacramento Bee – which I believe filed for bankruptcy protection?)

    1. Bill Marshall

      Coupled with the 1,000-plus point loss in the Dow today, you wonder where…

      Clarification… freebie…

      The Dow is up 1000+ points since last year at this time… BTW

       

  6. Doby Fleeman

    Great article with authentic input from a stakeholder group rarely heard.

    The other voice rarely heard in these pages is that of the City Council or City Sfaff.

    Ron O. continues to promote his point that Davis enjoys a surfeit of jobs – but this misses the point entirely IF the subject is about how does the “City of Davis” and taxpaying “Community of Davis” produce and maintain a “fiscally sustainable” local economy.

    Sales tax revenues to the “City of Davis” are seriously, negatively impacted by our geographic isolation (surrounded by non-occupied farmlands and neighboring cities who have elected to pursue Destination Retail as their economic model), combined with the evolution of the city’s local population demographic – as both have morphed over the past fifty years.  Same is true of the City’s Commercial Property Tax base which is likely one of the lowest per capita rates in the state.

    So, if you don’t care about whether the partner or spouse of our faculty and graduate students can find a job locally, and you don’t care about the sustainability of the city’s finances – then fine, feel free to fight the good fight against equal opportunities for the next generation.

     

     

     

     

    1. Bill Marshall

      Same is true of the City’s Commercial Property Tax base which is likely one of the lowest per capita rates in the state.

      True for two main reasons… Prop 13 (and low turnover of ownership of the land), and the frequent use of a loophole in Prop 13… where ownership of the property is turned over @ < 50% each time, thereby not triggering reassessment…

      One of the good reasons for 'split-roll'…

      1. Doby Fleeman

        Bill,

        I believe you and Ron may be missing my main point.

        For a “research university host community”, Davis plays host to very, very few – particularly major – technology employers.  Davis is an extreme outlier in this respect.

        The accompanying loss of commercial property taxes revenues to the city (associated with this category of employer) is noteworthy – as is the accompanying loss of taxable retail sales associated with the routine purchasing patterns of such employers and their frequently well-paid employees.

        There has been no meaningful conversation in the community, nor on the Vanguard, about these two essential points nor their relationship to sustainable revenues necessary to support municipal operations.

        1. Tim Keller

          I agree with Doby.  We have been shirking our rightful role in the regional economy for decades.   I’m NOT okay with these demands simply being provided by woodland.  Its like saying “Why bother harvesting the fruit of my orchard.  My Neighbor is happy to steal it from me”

          We want the tax revenues, our local service businesses want the increased traffic, we dont want to require our spouses to work in a different city

          Being in a university town means playing to the strengths of that university – not treating it like an occupying army who must be resisted, and it seems that is the mindset of many of the traditional opposition to development in this town.

        2. Ron Oertel

          Given that the proposed Aggie Research Campus (ARC) has no connection with UCD (and is about 5 miles away from them), one wonders if UCD might be concerned about the revised name name for this proposal (e.g., the use of the word “Aggie”).

          Unlike MRIC or ARC, “Aggie” is actually associated with UCD.

          All the more confusing, given the name of “Aggie Square” – which is actually on UCD’s land (and is receiving additional public subsidies, as well).

           

           

        3. Craig Ross

          I wonder how they feel about Aggie Inn, Aggie Square Apartments or Aggie Animal Clinic?  Maybe you should call the Chancellor’s office and write a book report.

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