Context Is Everything

I am retiring this summer after nearly 27 years as a career advisor to graduate students and 36 years at the University of Pennsylvania.  I’ve had a wonderful career and have been quite fortunate to work with great colleagues in Career Services, faculty, administrators, graduate students and postdocs, as well as fellow graduate student career advisors around the country.

Retirement is a time when people are permitted — almost expected — to share words of wisdom.  I’m going to leave you with a few of the axioms and quotes that I both use in my own life and try to pass on to the students with whom I work.

“Context is everything.” 

Don’t just say, “I would like a higher salary.”  Instead, do some research and say, “I see that the salary range for new science writers (or whatever) in the Northeast is $__ to __.  Because my four years of graduate training required me to be able to explain complex systems to both experts and non-experts, and because I have experience with editing software (or whatever) very similar to the one your company uses, I believe my salary should be closer to $__.  I hope you will consider this.”

“Go out while the lights are on.” 

This is a twist on “quit while you’re ahead’ which often refers to getting out of something that is rewarding might go bad.   What I mean here is that when you’re doing something well and it’s being acknowledged by others that it might be a good time to move on to something else such as taking on a new project.  And for older workers, when possible it’s nice to leave while you’re very much appreciated.

“Never end a sentence with a preposition.”

While I personally follow the rule to not end sentences with prepositions I’m fully aware that the trend is to not care much about this anymore.  So read that phrase to mean that it’s important to pay attention to your writing.  So much of what we do involves writing and how you write emails and even Facebook postings says something about you and can be how people first get to know you.  Good writing makes a good impression.

“You are not what you know but what you’re willing to learn.”

That quote by Mary Catherine Bateson, a writer, anthropologist and daughter of world-renowned anthropologists, Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson, has been on my door for at least the last ten years.  I read it to mean that you should never be satisfied with what you know but always engaged in learning.

“The world does not care about what you know but more about what you can do with what you know.”

 This quote is from Thomas L Friedman, author and New York Times columnist paraphrasing Harvard education expert Tony Wagner and underscores something we discuss regularly with graduate student job seekers:  show employers what you can do with your skills and your knowledge.

And, finally:

“Each time I go outside the world is different.  This has happened all my life.” 

I have had this quote, by two American poets, Jim Harrison and Ted Kooser up on my bulletin board for the last eleven years.  It stresses the importance of being open to new possibilities.  Try not to make assumptions.  Appreciate that change happens constantly and embrace it.   Understand how your world of work is changing and be able to incorporate that understanding into your planning and your narrative.

By what quotes and maxims do you live and work?

Author: Julie Miller Vick

Julie Miller Vick is the Senior Associate Director in Career Services for graduate students and post docs.