The Professional Development 20: Career exploration in graduate school

I recently went to a conference presentation on networking where the speaker Sally Ng recommended that you identify the 20 people in your field that you would like to meet. I tweaked Sally’s recommendation, and present to you a list of 20(-ish) people and resources which helped me in career exploration and professional development during graduate school. You don’t have to be struggling in your program to benefit from exploring alternative options and growing your professional network!

  • Your dissertation supervisor. Becoming more open and honest with my supervisor about my needs was a significant part of my career development over the past year! I would recommend having a chat with your supervisor as one of the first steps to take.
  • At least 1 supportive professor in the program. Your dissertation supervisor is ideally your biggest supporter within your program, but that often may not be the case. Even if your supervisor is very helpful and supportive, they can’t provide perspective on all the experiences or opportunities available to you because they haven’t lived multiple lives (typically). I had several informational interviews with professors with various experiences outside of academia and was connected with resources for program evaluations and starting a business.
  • At least 1 work colleague or supervisor in your current job. Your job is fostering certain skill sets which may help distinguish you in a later job application. And if that doesn’t feel like the case, what kind of conversation can you have with your supervisor to foster those skill sets? Bonus if your work involves your subject area.
  • A friend who is an expert in a field that you know nothing about. For example, I knew next to nothing about entrepreneurship, but I knew that my friend Vanessa is really passionate about it. She then connected me with the start ups organization on campus. People love talking about themselves and how they got to where they are (see this blog)! It literally takes a coffee for people to happily teach you about something they love.
  • Someone working in a career you had considered before grad school. Having long talks with friends in journalism solidified my decision to not pursue music journalism as a career.
  • A professional in your chosen field who is a woman of colour. See that it is done. Of course you deserve to be in this field. If it is uncommon to find someone who looks like or identifies similarly as you in your chosen field, look harder.
  • Someone doing something unique with the same degree that you will have. Expand your understanding of the flexibility of your degree. Check out the #postac (post academia) hashtag. For example, someone from my program went on to become a media consultant and provides psychological advice for reality television shows. That’s pretty cool.
  • Someone working in your field who does not have your degree. If anything, this can alert you to what aspects of your Masters or Ph.D. experience is actually unique, and how much that piece of paper matters for getting what you want.
  • Basically, talk to at least one person from each quadrant on this subject matter x sector diagram, courtesy of Jobs on Toast.

    People love talking about themselves and how they got to where they are (see this blog)!

  • A colleague who jumped ship. Knowing the breaking point for someone who was pursuing a similar goal as you can help you identify what may be a breaking point for you.
  • Career counselling on campus. Bonus if there are services geared for graduate students!
  • An alternative academic – someone using their degree for an administrative position on campus. (check out #altac)
  • A career coach. (For example, From PhD to Life)
  • Campus or community organizations which promote entrepreneurship. I was connected with the Pond-Deshpande Centre in Fredericton, which provides invaluable workshops and programs for free or a minimal charge. Whether starting a business is something that interests you, the skills learned (self-presentation and promotion, networking, creativity and idea generation) can benefit all professionals.
  • Beyond the Professoriate. This annual online conference helps graduate students envision fulfilling careers using the skill sets they acquired in their degree programs.
  • PhDs at Work.
  • The Versatile PhD.
  • Find your strengths using tools such as StrengthsFinder or SkillsScan.
  • Translate your oodles of experience and skills to a common language employers use and understand. Tailor your resume by using a plethora of online resources!
  • Your supportive person, whether that’s your partner, a family member, your psychologist/therapist, or a trusted friend. In a process which can occasionally shake up your own identity, having someone around to remind you that you are more than your career is so important!

Which of these people have you learned from? Who else would you include in your professional development 20? Share your experiences and wisdom below!

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