Phd Career : 5 Tips to Keep Your Priorities Straight in Grad School

If you’re considering taking the alt-ac route, you probably heard that transitioning out of academia does not happen overnight. A successful Phd career switch requires some preparation. Professional schools have taken this reality into account. Since more than 60% of incoming students are looking for a career change, professional development activities and workshops start on orientation day. Why? Simply because it takes time to build new professional networks, and define new career goals.

Due to the current state of the academic job market, today’s Ph.D. programs have to face a similar reality: the vast majority of incoming students are Phd career switchers. The only difference is that most of them are unaware of it. Although most incoming Phd students enter their program with one job in mind, they will either have to stay in academia or leave.

Yet, doctoral programs are still reluctant to provide students with proper support in their post-academic Phd career development. Too many recent graduates are condemned to crawl on the margins of academia. If you’re currently pursuing doctoral studies, the only road to survival is to take your future in your own hands. If you want to find employment post-graduation, you will have to look at the time you spend in graduate school under a different light.

Here are 5 tips to keep your Phd career priorities straight while in graduate school:

  1. DETERMINE YOUR GOALS AND PRIORITIES: What is most important to you? Writing the best dissertation ever written, or getting a job? We think that is it not a question of either/or. You can be successful in graduate school, and prepare adequately for a non-academic job market. However, you also need to remind yourself that your chances of not getting the tenure-track job of your dreams are higher than what you’d hope they’d be. This realization should serve as a guideline on how to manage your time.


  1. BALANCE AND CALIBRATE YOUR EFFORTS: Having goals that compete for our attention is normal. A happy life is in many ways a balancing act. Focusing all your attention on one priority means that others will suffer. While having all your eggs in one basket will delight your adviser, professors, and dissertation committee, the rewards of their recognition are merely momentary. The sad reality is that once you’ll have your Ph.D. in hand, all this flattery will remain ignored by the rest of the world.


  1. COME TO TERMS WITH THE FACT THAT YOU CAN’T DO EVERYTHING: There are only 24 hours in a day. You might want to achieve a certain level of success as an academic-in-training that you simply won’t be able to attain. In its current state, academia is not set up for you to become the next Jacques Derrida before you graduate. Make your peace with it.


  1. STAY POSITIVE: Keep away from the negativity bias of the academic work culture. Enthusiasm is critical to setting priorities. If you’re not excited about your goals, you may end up getting 0ff track. Keeping your priorities and goals is very difficult without a decent dose of enthusiasm. KEEP YOUR EYES ON YOUR FUTURE. Although your present is hard, bear in mind how great you’ll feel once you have a rewarding job in a city you like with a decent salary.


  1. TREAT YOURSELF: It’s important to reward yourself for following through with your goals. Take some time out to reward yourself for a job well done. You deserve it!


The message here is pretty simple: if you’re serious about your goals, and you want to become an active member of society whose work is recognized and appreciated by others, you need to do some work on yourself every single day, no matter how tired or burnt out you are. Start with a minimum of 20 minutes a day on your own non academic professional development. Do it yourself! In no time, you’ll find new insight that will help you grow and thrive.


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