Brady Krien is a Ph.D. candidate in English literature and an M.L.I.S. student at the University of Iowa, where he works as a graduate careers and fellowships adviser in the Grad Success Center. You can find him on Twitter at @BradyKrien and at his website.
As the fall semester wraps up at most colleges and universities, many graduate students are working their way through the mounds of work that accompany the end of the semester: the piles of papers to grade, the reams of data to analyze, the chapter revisions that they promised their adviser would absolutely, positively, 100 percent be in their inbox by the time final grades are due. Yet in spite of all this work, there’s also a light at the end of the semester tunnel, and many people are starting to think about next semester -- after a restful break, of course.
Another semester often brings exciting opportunities to learn new things, develop new skills and expand one’s CV. But this can also be overwhelming -- should you take a pedagogy course, apply for national funding opportunities, learn a new language, pursue outside work opportunities, work toward a peer-reviewed publication or take advantage of one of the dozens of other professional or personal development opportunities vying for attention in your inbox? Balancing these opportunities while maintaining your own personal well-being is no easy task, but there are a couple of approaches to strategizing your own scholarly, professional and personal development that are worth considering over the break as you (hopefully) relax, rest and recharge for the new semester.
Let Your Values Guide Your Decisions
In the midst of distribution and degree requirements, thesis specifications, and curricular mandates, it’s not hard to lose sight of the reasons that originally motivated you to pursue your graduate degree. Much of graduate education requires zeroing in on the details and intensively focusing on the task at hand. While there is value (and often even joy) in this, it can also easily become a drag if it becomes the only thing you do. That’s one of the reasons why it’s important to return to the big picture and try to make sure that the work you’re doing is aligned with your values. If this feels a bit fuzzy or if you’re feeling unsure about what your values are (or whether they’ve changed), ImaginePhD include a free values assessment that can help you think about and reflect on the things that are most important to you (as an added bonus, you can also explore how well various career options align with you values, skills and interests).
Your values are important tools in navigating the different options and opportunities that you’ll encounter throughout graduate school. Take a look at your weekly or monthly calendar and assess how well your values align with the way you spend your time. While it’s unlikely that you can eliminate grading from your weekly agenda because it doesn’t support your values, there may be things that you can either eliminate or revise to bring them into greater alignment with the values that inspire and motivate you. And as you’re pursuing new opportunities, try to select ones that will feed your values in some way while avoiding those that don’t. You won’t always be able to pursue opportunities or experiences that play into your values (nor avoid those that don’t), but you can often find ways to make the values you hold and the things you do align more closely. This can go a long way toward helping maintain the energy and motivation necessary to tackle all of the challenges that come with grad school.
Experiment With Options
My favorite part of graduate school has been the opportunity to explore new things. These have included areas of my research and teaching, but they have also included other opportunities on and off campus, including an assistantship working with graduate students on career and funding applications that led me to the weird and wonderful world of graduate professional development. A little bit of exploration is often necessary to help you understand where to invest your time and energy going forward. For instance, if you think that digital scholarship might offer some promising and exciting avenues to pursue your research, look for a few workshops to attend or poke through resources like The Digital Humanities Literacy Guidebook. Learning new skills or developing new career opportunities doesn’t have to be all or nothing, and it’s often useful to try on small version of opportunities or experiences before going for the full thing. Many graduate schools and programs are offering new internship opportunities, and these can be a great way to explore whether or not a career or professional experience would be a good fit. Sampling opportunities before committing to bigger ones is a great way to learn which pathways might work for you (and, just as importantly, which definitely won’t), and it can be fun. The worst-case scenario is that you learn a little bit about something new and about yourself. The best case is that you walk away with new skills or experiences and a better sense of your way forward.
The Goal CV/Résumé
If you already have a pretty good sense of what you want to do and where you want to go, it can help to think more strategically about how you want to get there. To do this, spend some time jotting down what the CV or résumé that you would need to achieve these goals would include. What kinds of items would it have on it? What types of experiences would it need to include? What skills or competencies would it need to demonstrate? Are there specific elements like publications that would need to be included? Sketch out the goal CV or résumé that you would (realistically) like to have when pursuing that next opportunity or job, compare it to your current résumé or CV, and decide what you will need to do to fill the gaps. Bridging these gaps between your current résumé or CV and your goal résumé or CV is one of the most concrete and direct ways to strategize your own development, and it’s a great way to ensure that you’re on track for your ultimate goals.
Regardless of how you choose to tackle your strategic development plans, it’s important to also talk your plans and goals over with your mentors. These will ideally include your adviser and/or other faculty members, and potentially also those in staff roles. Your mentors will be able to give you valuable feedback on the types of opportunities that you’re pursuing and possibly even suggest even better ones of which you weren’t aware. Talking your plans and ideas over with a trusted mentor (or mentors) is often the best strategy for planning your next moves.