Academic Job Search - The Career-Savvy Graduate Student

Perhaps you've just begun your graduate program, wonder what you've gotten yourself into, and want to know what may be out there for you if you stick to your plan of study. Perhaps you're mid-way in your path to the doctorate and wonder if academia is really for you. Or, perhaps you're nearly done with your degree and want to pursue some non-academic work options, but the inertia of your march down the path of the traditional academic job search leaves you feeling like it's just too late to do anything else.

Regardless of which description suits you best, you face a host of options beyond what can seem like the unending vagaries of a fickle academic job market. And while the non-academic job market isn't what it was during the '90's, there are still myriad opportunities for which it's worth preparing yourself.

Whether you're in the first or final year of your program, or anywhere in between, there are several conceptual and concrete steps you can take to maximize your employability in areas outside of traditional academic employment. Here are some steps you can take towards being a career-savvy graduate student:

Consider your conception of your graduate training:
You face a fundamental choice in how you view your own graduate training and in how you represent it to others. You can view your time in graduate school as either:

  • A progressively specializing process for a singular career path; or
  • A program of research, teaching, scholarship in which you develop a broad skill set that can qualify you for any number of career paths.

 

You may very well vacillate between these options throughout your time in graduate school - perhaps even over the course of a single day. But it's worth trying on both and asking yourself which feels more comfortable (and comforting) to you over the long term.

Plenty of outstanding PhDs are destined for tenure-track jobs, and shouldn't force themselves to think otherwise. However, plenty of others sense the desire or need to allow themselves some other options as they complete their training. Most importantly, adherence to either of these beliefs shapes how you use your graduate training and what it can do for you when you finish.

If you entertain the second option, then, consider these additional tactics:

Pay attention to where others who finish or leave your program are going.
Don't hesitate to talk to colleagues who are making choices that intrigue you, even if those choices appear to be divergent from your own career goals

Burn no bridges.
Stay in touch with former colleagues from any places you worked before entering graduate school (including summers). Reestablish contact with them if you've fallen out of touch. These people can be good friends and crucial first step in networking if you ever embark on a job search outside the academy.

Pursue other interests, as long as they don't slow your progress in or compromise the integrity of your work in your program.
Consider taking on independent freelancing, consulting, or volunteer work. As trivial as it may sound, find a hobby - buy yourself a watercolor set, take up boxing or belly dancing, or join a local hiking group. Well-rounded graduate students are invigorated graduate students; invigorated graduate students get more out of their programs.

Take advantage of all that Cal offers you.
Audit classes outside your field or department, or take some non-credit courses or workshops in anything from Intro to C++ to the Basics of Project Management.

Use your summers well.
Your academic schedule affords you the opportunity to try on new work opportunities each summer - which don't necessarily have to follow your field of study. Ideally, you can find a way to gain additional experience and support advancement in your program, but sometimes the best way to move forward in the fall is to come back having spent the summer doing something entirely different.

Come to the Career Center early and often.
There are counselors here who work specifically with PhDs and graduate students. We can help you develop a plan of action for shaping your graduate training at any stage of your program. We can also help you pursue part-time work or internship opportunities so you can test the waters of areas of potential interest to you.

Make strategic choices around whom you work with.
If you anticipate wanting to be flexible in where you go in terms of career after graduate school, consider the implications of working with an advisor or chair who is singularly academic in their understanding of what's an "appropriate" career path for a graduate student or PhD. Similarly, we're here to help you figure out how to talk to your advisors and committee members if your plans change once you've begun work on your dissertation.

In closing:
If you even remotely entertain the prospect or contingency of putting your graduate training to work in a job outside of academia, it's worth considering these fundamental strategic issues. But you should also know that adopting a broader understanding of what your graduate training is potentially qualifying you for need not come at the expense of first-rate scholarship and/or research. Deliberate consideration of where you want to head in terms of career will make you a more dedicated practitioner in whichever path you ultimately choose.

Finally, if your decision to come to graduate school was at all influenced by uncertainty around "what to do with yourself in the real world," don't use the years you spend in here taking refuge from that difficult question. Left unattended, it will likely be waiting for you when you finish. In contrast, the more you can use your doctoral or graduate training as a means of answering that very question, the happier you'll be. Thinking about and acting on what you want graduate school to do for you once you're done, and, as importantly, how you want to use it while you're here, will add professional clarity to the already extraordinary accomplishment of completing a program of graduate training at Berkeley.

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