Helping international graduate students make informed decisions about on-campus jobs

screenshot showing an interface from the prototype

As part of my MS in Human-Computer Interaction program, our team was tasked with designing to address a disparity. We chose to focus on a gap in access to information and resources for on-campus part-time jobs for international graduate students. This required us to build a deep understanding of the user’s context and barriers to make the process more transparent and accessible. Our design focuses on eliminating the uncertainty around the on-campus part-time job search.

My role

Research, testing, and design, as part of a team of 4. I conducted interviews, storyboarding, and designed the onboarding and job application wizard in the final prototype. Other team members:

  • Riddhi Jiotode
  • Siyona Michael
  • Tushar Sharma

Time period: 13 weeks

The Challenge

International graduate students often take up part-time work on campus to support their expenses, gain additional working experience, or integrate into the campus community.

However, they face unique challenges: navigating visa work restrictions, understanding fair work compensation in a new country, and making sense of the job search and application processes while balancing their studies.

IU is home to over 4,000 international graduate students. Doctoral students are offered assistantships but at the Master’s level, students often rely on an informal network of word-of-mouth and referrals to find and express interest for most on-campus jobs. This can create an opaque environment that prevents many from finding work that meets their goals.

How might we help international graduate students get the right resources and information to confidently make decisions in their part-time job search?

The Solution

We redesigned the part-time/student job search process to meet the needs of international graduate students who want to be more strategic in building relevant experience through on-campus work.

We prototyped the concept of a Career Path that helps students plan out what kind of on-campus jobs they want to pursue and find relevant opportunities and peers to guide them along the way.

Background & Process

Graduate students face a multitude of pressures, and one that came up in our initial research was that of finding part-time work to cover living expenses.

Many depend on part-time work to cover expenses or supplement student loan repayments. Balancing the life of a student, especially for those returning after a few years industry experience, can be jarring. Time is limited and the pressure of maintaining academic performance while finding work creates stress.

International graduate students specifically face further complications due to various visa requirements. They are allowed to only work a certain number of hours per week and can only work on-campus, further limiting their options.

Our research uncovered a few key considerations:

Students face financial stress, fatigue, and time management issues, often juggling multiple jobs for additional exposure, which can impact their academic commitments.

When finding on-campus work, students seek positions that not only fit their tight schedules but also align with their academic and professional growth goals.

International students must navigate additional visa work restrictions and make sense of fair work compensation, making it difficult to find work that most meets their needs.

Uncovering Differing Motivations

Initially the most striking idea seemed to be that graduate students find it hard to balance their academic and work lives. However, as we moved forward with our primary research methods of observations, interviews, and contextual inquiry we found that was not always the case.

We found that most of our interview participants were able to manage their time between work and education. There may have been some response bias at play here, however being a time-limited project, we did not have the resources to dig deeper into that aspect. Instead, the team went back to the drawing board (or affinity map in this case) to see what other aspects had come to light.

We had found that people took up part-time work for different reasons. Financial need was certainly one of them but some other motivations included meeting other people or gaining some marketable experience were also priorities.

We found graduate students were more career-minded and more of them wanted to utilize their time in the best way possible. That meant finding an interesting job that was on-campus, paid well, and would give them practical work experience that they could transfer towards their career.

An unexpected finding was of students who did not consider on-campus jobs to be of much use towards their professional goals. While motivations varied, a clear distinction emerged between students who work for extra income or career advancement and those who work for leisure or to utilize spare time, with each group having different needs and experiences with part-time work.

The commonality between the two types of students was that they were all looking for a particular kind of job to meet their specific needs, and were varying degrees of frustrated with the search, often being unsure whether they were making the most of their time in grad school with the on-campus jobs they were doing.

Decision making around on-campus jobs held a lot of uncertainty

Tying back to our idea of disparities in availability of information, we found that grad students, especially those who are international, were frustrated most with lack of information around (a) the availability of jobs that were of interest to them, (b) processes around applying and getting those jobs, and (c) making decisions on which part-time jobs would be the most beneficial to them.

Storyboarding possible concepts

In either case, we found students were uncertain and confused by the process of finding work on campus. We created a list of the following insights to address.


Students are unsure which job gives them the optimum balance of relevant experience and financial incentive.


The application process is cumbersome, sometimes unknown, and there is often no feedback available.


Many of the more in-demand jobs rely on personal referrals and in-person applications rather than formal applications.

To address these areas, we brainstormed possible interventions with the use of storyboarding techniques.

To help us work through the problem space, we utilized How Might We statements.

How might We:

  • Help students align their part-time jobs with their career paths?
  • Help students find jobs based on their financial needs?
  • Help students learn about jobs that are of interest to them in time?
  • Ease the job screening process for employers and help them find better pool of candidates?

Using these we created some storyboards to show possible interventions.

While storyboarding allowed us to explore different possibilities that were not limited to a website, through discussion on feasibility, given the nature of the project, we decided to incorporate them into a redesign of the online job portal.

Prototyping & User Testing

For our prototype and to test our ideas, we wanted to home in on only the key aspects students would need, given our learnings noted above.

As such we narrowed down our focus to the following primary flows:

  1. Quick onboarding and application process
  2. Recommendations for relevant jobs based on the student’s profile
  3. Comparison tool to help decide which job would be most beneficial

Through a combination of paper prototypes and Wizard of Oz testing with potential users, we gathered feedback on our concept.

Design Prototypes

On receiving feedback from the prototype testing process, we found there was an opportunity to build further on the metaphor of a “career path” to help students visualize and plan out the part-time roles they could do.

Below is a selection of some of the screens showing the key interventions we made as a result of our research.

Once users complete onboarding, their job preferences are used to create a recommended career path. This also lets them view other students who are following similar or same career paths to make connections.

The career path provides recommendations on which skills and courses might be helpful to get the user where they want to be. A timeline view helps users map out their time at university in terms of semesters, giving them more control over what kind of part-time jobs they do and how far they align with their goals.

Users can select and compare different available jobs along important criteria like time restrictions, remuneration, etc. The recommended job is highlighted based on the user’s selected career path and goals.

Applying to jobs is a shorter, much quicker process because information is pulled in from users’ existing university profiles, and doesn’t need to be retyped every time.

Reflecting on the Process

This project was a great introduction to the entire design process and gave me a good view on collaborating with other designers. It was a constant learning process, not just in terms of the design methodologies I learned about and put into practice, but also a reminder of keeping our own predispositions and real-world realities in check.

We began with a certain set of notions about challenges in work-academic life balance, but through the design process were able to identify a more relevant problem. After several rounds of iterations and changes to our design frame, we were finally able to narrow down to something that was in line with our initial aim and that could be addressed.

However there were some areas we could not implement, such as additional ways of learning about new opportunities. We explored this in our ideation but could not incorporate it into a feasible intervention. We were also not able to work on the employer’s perspective. Our initial research uncovered a large pain point there from the perspective of professors or other hiring managers for part-time work, but purposefully decided not to include that in our design space given the limited nature of the project.

Secondly the system of referral is rooted deep into the system, so instead of removing it and giving everyone a fair chance, we had to incorporate this as a feature into our application.

And finally, the legal limits on maximum working hours per week for international students on visas in the US is a policy area that we couldn’t address.