Why Risk Management Should Be an Intricate Part of Your PhD Career Plans

Pursuing a PhD is a long-term project that requires extensive time, energy, and money. As a PhD student working under a primary advisor along with other distinguished professors and researchers, it might be easy to give in to the illusion that comes along with being in close proximity to such power and fame: that the long-term project you are working on is not really your own.


In reality, your situation is the exact contrary. As the sole project manager of your doctoral studies, you not only possess the highly sought-after transferable skills that come with the position, but you are entirely in control of your future. In fact, the people you think you are working for are merely members of a team—YOUR team—tasked with producing a certain result: getting you a job.


Being a project manager also comes with responsibilities. Every project manager must understand that things can go wrong. In the current state of the academic job market, it is extremely important for you to acknowledge the fact that you might not find academic employment after graduation. The earlier you understand the role that risk plays in your doctoral studies, the more prepared you will be if things do not go as planned. This is the reason why planned clairvoyance and risk management should be an important component of your PhD studies long before you are far along enough to do anything concrete about such problems as they arise.


As a project manager, the worst attitude you can have is to ignore this risk by keeping it in the back of your mind, or by attempting to manage it entirely by yourself. So, how should you manage this risk?


  • Talk about it: By talking about your concerns with other people, including your peers, friends, and advisers, you are admitting from the get-go that certain issues might pop up in the future. Talking about your concerns, asking questions, and seeking advice is a great way to establish the support system you need and break away from the detriments of uncertainty that come with solitude.


  • Get prepared: Talking about the risk of not finding academic employment will lead you to create concrete PhD career plans and take action. It will also empower you with the sense that you are in control of the situation rather than being completely at the mercy of others.


  • Own it: Identifying this risk will also allow you to take a different look at your priorities. In doing so, you will come to reevaluate how much time, energy, and money you should invest in your dissertation in addition to examining the complex power dynamic inherent in the relationship with your advisor and other professors.


As your revisit your goals and set your priorities for the new year, keep in mind that your value is not determined solely by what you know, but by how you use what you to know to adapt to new circumstances. This process starts by asking for the help that you need to turn your PhD career plans a reality.

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

1 Comment
  • Clara

    August 11, 2017 at 3:26 pm Reply

    great article. I completely agree that departments have a tendency to downplay, or even conceal the risk factor to incoming graduate students

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