Prep 101: Mapping Your Plan B (part 1)
We often hear from Phd’s who enter the non-academic job market that they wished they had done things differently while in graduate school. In the first installment of our 4-part blog series, we provide you with advice on how to kick start your Phd non-academic career prep to avoid having last-minute regrets and to be competitive on the job market if you end up having to seek employment outside academia. From the first year to graduation day, we’ll discuss steps you can take along the way to make sure that you are adequately prepared to find a job that honors the sacrifices you made to earn your Phd.
One thing is for sure. Whether you see this as your plan B or an exit strategy, you should use the time you spend in graduate school wisely.
Phd non-academic career prep: YEAR 1
While you must and should focus on your classes, make sure to think of this first year of graduate school as an opportunity to demonstrate that you are not just a loner, and that you know how to contribute to your class, department, and school.
- ADD VALUE. First and foremost, excel at being a graduate student. Master the skill set you need to possess to succeed and stand out in the classroom. Look for opportunities to go above and beyond. Turn your papers early or on time, ask smart questions, and most importantly don’t hesitate to admit to professors, peers and staff that you don’t know something. Modesty goes a long way!
- ENGAGE: Once you have become familiar with your professors and peers, take part in graduate student activities of your department: student publications, prospective student day, graduate student conference, etc. While you might be extra-busy with your classes, and your free time might be limited, make sure to join in the activities, even if just as a silent observer.
- STEP OUT: Find out as much as you can about your university. Get to know people and organizations beyond your department. Attend meetings and events open to non-members of organizations that might interest you. Sign-up for listservs, newsletters, follow organizations and student clubs on social media, participate in discussions on online forums, and join campus-wide organizations that are in alignment with your convictions and interests.
- GET YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA ACT TOGETHER: Do you have Facebook and Twitter accounts? If not, it is important that you do. While you might want to keep one platform to interact privately with your friends, use the other one to widen your reach beyond your immediate social circle and university (we highly recommend Twitter). Then, connect with other graduate students across the US and worldwide. Make sure to follow organizations that are especially geared towards Phd students. Connect with graduate student professional development organizations and blogs, keep an eye on altac and postac hashtags, and follow thought leaders in the field.
- FIND A MENTOR: A wise and experienced mentor can give you valuable information on how to navigate the department, and university at large. He or she can provide you with constructive criticism, and informed advice on ways to become more active and more integrated to your department and university life.
Bottom line: use your first year of graduate school to establish a solid reputation for yourself in your department and university, and start viewing your Phd as an intricate part of your professional development.