Are Your PhD Career Goals as S-M-A-R-T as You Are?

In our previous blog post, we talked about how your role as the sole project manager of your studies should incite you to take account of the risk factors and other variables that might affect the completion of your PhD. While it is easy to get tunnel vision as you focus on your research and ignore the many changes that affect your trajectory toward the finish line, it’s important to understand that change is an integral part of the process.


This is why it’s important to take time to revisit your PhD career goals at least once every six months to ensure that they are aligned with the changes in the world around you. Not only should you be checking on your progress toward your goals, but you should also consider if they need to be adjusted. Are your career goals still relevant? How committed are you to your career choice? Finally, how might the current academic job market affect your commitment to your dissertation project?


Here’s a quick rundown of how you can ensure that your PhD career goals are as S.M.A.R.T. as you are. Your PhD career goals need to be:


Specific: We often set career goals for ourselves that are imprecise, which makes it nearly impossible to judge whether we may have reached them or not. What are your career plans? “Doing research,” “teaching,” and “writing” are not enough. What are your plans if you don’t snag a tenure-track position once you have graduated? You should be able to answer the “what,” “when,” and “where” behind your goals.


Measurable: You might have thought about expanding your non-academic network, but “meeting new people” is a vague statement. A measurable goal would be as follows: “I will attend four networking events this month and connect with one new person each time.” Having PhD career goals that are simple and concrete makes it easier for you to track your results.


Achievable: Suppose that you’ve thought about changing careers, and you plan on transitioning to a new career. What’s your timeline? If you plan to change career fields within 30 days after graduation, your goal might not be achievable. However, planning to attend six informational interviews over the next six months is a more achievable goal. Keep in mind that your PhD career goals should be well within reach if you don’t want to set yourself up for failure.


Realistic: While you may believe that you can do anything and that you have a variety of options, it is important to accurately assess your skills. Do you have the ability and commitment to reach your non-academic career goals? For example, you may want to switch careers, but are you willing to spend the extra time honing new skills while studying full time? It’s important to be honest with yourself and realistic about your abilities and levels of commitment.


Time Framed: Having a concrete action plan will provide your goals with structure. It’s a good thing to have a plan, but without a schedule (including a start and end date for any plans), there is no reason to take any action today. Having a concrete time table for your PhD career plans will provide you with the impetus to get off your couch and start moving.


While it’s important to stick to your career goals and track your progress, don’t forget to be flexible with your goals as well. Tweaking your goals after checking in with yourself every six months is key to finding happiness in your career and your future!


Need help defining your PhD career plans? Download our free Quick Guide to Career Exploration: Plotting Your Plan B in 6 Easy Steps.

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