The Early-Stage Ph.D.'s Guide to Summer

Sue Levine provides a menu of manageable career and professional development activities you can pursue over the next few months.

June 10, 2019
 
 
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Ah, summer. It’s that time when we tend to feel a little more relaxed and at ease and, here in New England, have warmer weather and extended daylight hours. For early-stage doctoral students, reduced classroom time or teaching-assistant responsibilities may give you some opportunities to be with friends and family, travel, or take a staycation. Yet while it’s tempting to celebrate the end of the academic year and take a bit of a breather, summer can also be a good time to explore the world of work and build your arsenal of transferable skills.

As a graduate career coach, I meet with many doctoral students who are within a year or two of graduating. They may be focused on obtaining a faculty position but are simultaneously considering other career paths. Or they may have decided to forgo a teaching position and are at a loss for what to do next. Many wish that they’d made time for career and professional development earlier in their academic program.

It doesn’t have to be all work and no play, however. Going to the beach? Bookmark some job descriptions to read while you are there. Taking a vacation? Check with your career center or search LinkedIn to find alums with whom you can conduct an informational interview. Staying local? Create a peer-mentoring group with classmates that provides an opportunity to practice and receive feedback on presentation skills. To get started, you can choose a task from the summer career development menu below and then hold yourself accountable for completing it.

Conduct one or two career exploration activities. A psychology graduate student I recently worked with was interested in pursuing UX (user experience) research jobs. She realized, from reading job descriptions and conducting informational interviews, that having knowledge of the UX research process was vital. She had a better understanding of that after watching some tutorials on LinkedIn Learning.

  • Explore ImaginePhD, which includes job families relevant to humanities and social sciences. Each job family contains related career descriptions and associated job titles. In addition, you can find resources for career exploration, building job skills, networking and applying. For scientists, myIDP includes career descriptions to help you research options.
  • Read various job descriptions and save those that interest you. Reading job ads can help you understand job requirements, determine if you need additional skills or articulate your interests and goals.
  • Research careers by conducting an informational interview with someone working in an area of interest to you. You can learn about their career path, job responsibilities and workplace culture.
  • Check out Stanford's “Design Your Life” YouTube channel.

Explore options for future internships or fellowships. Some suggestions include: Rand Corporation graduate student summer associate program, the Met summer internships for graduate students, American Statistical Association internships and training programs in biomedical sciences at NIH. Many have deadlines months before they start, so it’s helpful to be aware of applications dates and requirements.

Create or update your LinkedIn profile, including your photo. You should also:

  • Search jobs on LinkedIn to learn what skills and qualifications employers may be seeking.
  • Use the LinkedIn alumni tool of your graduate and undergraduate universities to explore jobs, employers and careers.

Consider applying for grants and fellowships. Do so even if it’s early in your program and you already receive full financial support. Many universities have a grant and fellowship database on their website. Here’s a small selection of other fellowships:

Explore where you might get published in the future. Even if you’re not even close to publishing yet, you can have a better understanding of what is published, and where, by critically reading publications in your field.

  • Read widely in your discipline. Ask professors for good journal suggestions for summer reading.
  • Study articles of interest -- not just for content but also for insight for your own future publications.

Work on your presentation skills. Presenting or teaching is a skill that is crucial to many jobs, both within and outside academe. You should practice presenting to refine your craft but also observe other presentations to learn how to make yours more engaging.

  • Create a group with other students in which each of you is responsible for presenting on a regular basis.
  • Take time to identify some upcoming local or regional conferences where you could present your work. (Calls for papers often have deadlines that are nine months to a year before the conference.)

Use your university's graduate student career resources. University career centers are open throughout the summer and university breaks. This is a good time to learn what resources are available to you and to have an initial conversation about your goals. If the career center staff members are aware of your personal goals and objectives, they will be able to offer more personalized advice and services. Many universities offer specialized career and professional development resources for graduate students. Some examples of online resources include:

  • Humanities PhD Project: Diverse career stories shared by humanities Ph.D.s -- conversation designers, curators, learning specialists and consultants.
  • InterSECT Job Simulations: An online platform that allows Ph.D.-level humanists and scientists, regardless of professional stage, to explore future career options.
  • Connected Academics: Preparing doctoral students of language and literature for a variety of careers from the MLA and the Mellon Foundation -- this site provides resources to help prepare doctoral students to use their humanistic training in a broader range of occupations.
  • “Carpe Careers” on Inside Higher Ed: Weekly articles with practical advice from members of the Graduate Career Consortium.

Explore teaching support resources at your university. If you will be teaching in the near future, start doing your homework now. Visit the center for teaching and learning. You can access training and workshops on topics such as pedagogy, educational technology or universal design.

Also, if you've taught before, and you know that you want to focus your career on teaching, use the summer to seek opportunities:

  • Find out if there are teaching opportunities in your department and how to apply for a position.
  • Determine if other local colleges and universities might hire you.
  • Explore online/remote instructor jobs.

Volunteer. Sign up at a cultural center, science museum, library, high school -- the possibilities are plentiful. Even a few hours a week can help you explore career options, gain additional skills and expand your network of contacts. Good sources of information include:

Broaden and extend your knowledge of digital humanities and digital literacy. Some helpful resources are:

Teach yourself basic coding using online resources, like Lynda.com, Code.org or the Programming Historian.

Broaden your knowledge of diversity and inclusion in higher education. The following provide relevant information:

In addition to helping you explore career options, many of these items are considered experiential learning -- which means you may be able to leverage them as marketable experience on your résumé. If you’re not sure where to start, meet with a career adviser to help you prioritize and leverage resources. And remember: it’s never too early to invest in yourself!

Bio

Sue Levine is associate director of the Center for Career and Professional Development at Brandeis University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and a member of the Graduate Career Consortium -- an organization providing a national voice for graduate-level career and professional development leaders.

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