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Photo of people in a life raftAshley Sanders is a doctoral candidate in the department of history at Michigan State University. You can follow her on Twitter at @throughthe_veil or on her blog, Colonialism Through the Veil.

In one of the worst academic job markets in history, many of us have been compelled to rethink our plans for the next year. Instead of starting that shiny new job, we are facing yet another year of being a grad student. If you’re in this position, know that you are not alone. There are hundreds in the same boat with you. Perhaps clinging to a life raft is a more accurate metaphor… At least that’s how it feels as we struggle to keep our heads above water and hold on to hope. So what do we do when all else fails?

We not only hang on for dear life, we also start paddling purposefully and find as many people who can help us as we can.

1. Find sources of funding to get through this next year. Talk to your advisor, the Graduate School, your department chair, and any other resources you may have on campus. There are often pools of emergency funds they can draw from to help you out.  Also look into side jobs that not only provide some needed income but also build sought-after skills for the careers in which you are interested. For instance, if you’re pursuing an academic job or one in editing/publishing, look for opportunities to work in your university writing center and/or post fliers around campus advertising your editing services. Talk to your writing center and librarians for additional ideas. If you’re interested in working outside academia, look for project management opportunities or part-time work in marketing, especially in digital/social media.

2. Make sure you have health insurance for you and any others who depend on you. As long as you are a student and registered for at least one credit, you should have access to health insurance through your university. If not, take advantage of the Affordable Care Act and check out the health insurance marketplace.

3. You may need to rethink your housing options if your income declines. If this is the case, you will also want to re-evaluate your budget.

4. Just as important as taking care of your basic needs, surround yourself with a support network. This is crucial to getting through tough times and the disappointment, embarrassment, and even shame that come along with them. If you have access to counseling services on campus or through a local organization, make time to talk to someone who can help you develop healthy coping mechanisms.

5. Clarify your career goals. Yes, I know you just want a job. You may even be at the point that any job that pays the bills and keeps you from flipping patties at McDonald’s would suffice. Combat that impulse. Conduct informational interviews  to find out what you need to do to make yourself the strongest candidate possible for the types of jobs that interest you. See also:

6. Work with your advisor, committee members, and any outside resource people you’ve identified to create a realistic, actionable, and detailed roadmap to develop necessary skills, expertise, and a strong portfolio. Look at this next year as a chance to polish your dissertation manuscript, shop it around to publishers, and spin out articles. If this isn’t necessary for your chosen career path, take that time to build your professional portfolio and resume. Also see Alessandra La Rocca Link’s post on developing your teaching portfolio.

7. Network. Check out Meetup for local networking events outside the university setting. Build your LinkedIn and profiles and networks, and collaborate whenever possible. You never know where those connections might lead! Also see Laura McGrath’s post on collaboration in the humanities.

8. Finally, self-care is critical. Continue to eat wellexercise, and sleep.  Talk, cry, vent, rage with trusted friends and/or a counselor. Make time for things that build you up, boost your confidence, and allow you to express your creativity. See also:

By staying on top of your physical, mental, and emotional well-being, connecting with your support group, and being intentional about your career preparation, you will soon find you are well-positioned to land that long-dreamed-of job. Keep paddling with purpose! I wish you all the very best in your future endeavors.

What questions and/or concerns do you have as a grad student currently on, or preparing for, the job market? Ask them in the comments section below.

[Image released by the United States Air Force with the ID 050808-F-1740G-010 used under creative commons licensing.]



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