While most graduate programs provide useful professional development workshops for academic-track careers, many students have less guidance in preparing for careers outside of academia. Here are some suggestions for how to think about and act on your professional development throughout your grad studies.
Professional development in the context of your studies:
- Thinking about grad school as professional development: Jennifer Polk provides advice on how "Grad school is part of your career, too" (2015, University Affairs). Thinking about and learning to frame the work you do during your years in school as work experience is important. She provides additional advice in “What can I do now to get ready for my career after graduate school?” (2016, Medium).
- Choosing your supervisor is really important to your experience during your studies in so many ways, including your growth as a research/ higher education/ communications/ ... professional. In "10 truths a PhD supervisor will never tell you" (Times Higher Education) Tara Brabazon offers advice based own her own negative experiences with advisors during her graduate school career and as a tenured faculty member. This advice is also useful for potential students looking at institutions and potential advisors for future studies.
- University service: GradHacker is an important resource for grad students. For instance, "Research, Teaching, and That Other Thing" (2016, DeWitt Scott) highlights the value of voluntary service work as a way to network and gain/ apply new skills.
- How to start networking: Networking doesn't have to be as daunting or 'schmoozy' as you might think. Check out Nana Lee's "Essential networking tips for graduate students" (University Affairs, 2016). You might also want to read our post on A guide to academic conversations. Conferences are a great place to meet other scholars who share your interests, but can be costly -- check out this ScholarStudio Session on finding funding for conferences.
As this piece in University Affairs argues, it is important to think about and prepare for your future beyond the university by engaging in alternative, non-academic career activities during grad school:
- Informational interviewing: Conducting informational interviews with people working in fields or positions that might be of interest to you is a useful way to start thinking about your own possibilities after your studies. These interviews are a way to network, to get a better idea of the kinds of skills a particular type of employer will be looking for, and think about whether a particular type of career would appeal to your interests and use your skills. Writing for Gradhacker, Katie Shives has great step-by-step advice for conducting The Informational Interview.
- Volunteering: Just like university service, volunteering can provide a way to network with people working in fields you might be interested in working in, and can help you build and apply skills/ expertise outside of the university. Volunteering can also be good for your mental health by connecting you with people/ causes that you find meaningful and drawing you out of what can often be the isolation of graduate studies.
- Skills training courses: You may also decide that you want to complement the skills you develop through your graduate training with other professional development classes, for instance in communications, project management, or entrepreneurship (which may be easier for potential employers to recognize than the experience and skills we develop throughout our education).
- In Canada, Mitacs offers a range of free workshops and skills courses, as well as other opportunities for students (and post-docs) to connect with industry and government partners.
- Similarly, mygradskills.ca offers students in Ontario skills building in Career Development, Communication, Entrepreneurship, Research, and Teaching & Learning through online modules (some universities in other provinces may also have access to these courses, e.g. University of Calgary and Dalhousie University).
- Public Libraries might also offer free or discounted access to e-learning courses to members. For instance, the Toronto Public Library offers patrons access to a number of e-learning platforms that offer self-study of teacher-taught courses on skills like introduction to statistics, graphic design, multimedia and digital photography, business writing, and even some languages.
- If you don't have access to free courses through your university, you can always check out this great list of 50 (Cheap!) Professional Development Classes Anyone Can Take (which actually includes some free courses).
- There are also new #altac websites popping up written by PhDs, like #alt-academy.
- Developing an online professional identity: Building a Digital Reputation should be an important part of your networking toolkit, but it can be challenging to maintain your professional identity as a grad student. Cultivating your professional identity online helps you to build your professional network. Moreover, a recent study has shown that actively managing your digital presence can significantly affect whether you are hired, and your starting salary. (This study shows that this is especially the case for women!) While there are now many social media sites that specifically cater to an academic audience (e.g. ResearchGate, Academia.edu, private professional and research interest groups on popular sites like FaceBook), Inside Higher Ed gives some compelling reasons Why Getting Twitter Matters in Higher Education. Savage Minds has a quick piece on Practical Training for the Digitally Il/literate Anthropologist (2013), and via GradHacker Katy Meyers offers 5 great tips on how and why to Manage Your Digital Identity, and Julie Platt discusses Being a Good Colleague with Social Media. If you're not convinced that 'serious academics' should even have social media profiles, check out The Thesis Whisperer's Niche marketing for academics.
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