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Jason McSheene (Twitter @JasonMcSheene) is a Princeton University Molecular Biology PhD student and creator of the PhD in Progress Podcast.

Many graduate students are well aware that the tenure-track career path is no longer the “default.” Where a postdoctoral research position was once the expected norm, the current climate for stable academic careers after that postdoc has become increasingly perilous to early-stage researchers. Thankfully, this is no secret. To the contrary, it is the beginning point to many discussions and writings concerning the current state of PhD programs in context of a proper job training. There is a major downside to the “default tenure-track mindset”: learning about career paths outside of academia can be difficult when it is the only environment graduate students are exposed to. In response to academic isolation, many administrators, students, and bloggers (look up #post-ac and #alt-ac) work to assist PhD students in creating a smart career search. Here’s a list of a few resources that may help you in your professional development.

1. Career Services Office: If you are studying at a university, you most likely have access to a wealth of professional experience at your office of career services. There you can find counselors who specialize in helping students (undergraduate or graduate) along various parts of the job search. Many institutions provide help through mock interview sessions, resume/CV editing, and connecting with the alumni network. Your local career services office is also the most knowledgeable about premium resources paid for by your university. One example is the Versatile PhD, a large community dedicated to non-academic and post-academic careers across all disciplines.

2. myIDP: For those in the life sciences, My Individual Development Plan (myIDP) by Science Careers provides a great tool for evaluating your talents and values, then supplies potential career areas of interest. It is by no means comprehensive or definitive; however, I believe it is perfect for initiating the exploratory phase. myIDP also encourages that users revisit their previous evaluations regularly. Additionally, it promotes goal setting and assembling a “Mentoring Team” to achieve success in your career search. Overall, myIDP can be a fairly simple but effective tool in organization of your skills, thoughts, and contacts.

3. Academic and Professional Conferences: There are so many benefits to attending regional and national conferences, but they all require your initiative. First, your main goal for attending these as a student should be to present your work and to learn from others in the field. Communication is an essential part of anyone’s chosen career path. Once that focus has been made, you can concentrate on other activities that will also help your career prospects. Conferences can be filled with people of all experience levels and backgrounds, so reaching out and saying “Hello” is a vital step. You will have no idea what the stranger next to you in the coffee line knows about your dream job. And if learning about postdoctoral positions is your main interest, attending conferences is a must. This can be your first exposure to a future boss or research topic. If there’s a particular institution you would like to work at, try to find peers who do their research there and are willing to give solid, truthful comments about the institution.

Whether you’re interested in remaining in academia or prefer a non-academic job, take advantage of the resources available to you. Starting your job search early and with all the available tools will only help your prospects.

Which resource has been the most helpful in your personal experience? Please share it below in the comments section to help other readers.

[Image by Flickr user Frédéric BISSON and used under Creative Commons licensing]