LinkedIn and the ABD Graduate Student

by Ana Schwartz

abd_mugFor a Ph.D candidate in the humanities, LinkedIn might seem to be only remotely relevant. LinkedIn serves as a platform for connecting professionals, yet several important qualities of the academic profession don’t lend themselves to smooth representation in such a social network. Graduate research demands a highly specialized skill set that’s not often widely applicable and the networks cultivated in academia are often already close, occurring independently of a central platform—at conferences, through personal introductions, or perhaps on intra-disciplinary message boards. Anticipating future publication makes sharing samples of professional writing online a dicey proposition. Furthermore, academia boasts a unique culture of industry loyalty: tenure—or the pursuit of tenure—prevents great investment in alternate career paths, and in turn, diminishes the need to demonstrate a skill set beyond those taught in graduate school such as research, teaching.

Nevertheless, if we consider the growth of LinkedIn as a reflection of its possibilities, and its increasing flexibility across professional communities, there might be some utility in the social network. Career Services at the University of Pennsylvania offers appointments as well as walk-in visits during which students can work one-on-one with advisors to identify how LinkedIn, among other resources, can best supplement a student’s career goals, within the academy or otherwise. During a recent fifteen-minute walk-in meeting, Joseph Barber pointed out several important networking features that LinkedIn provides to help users represent their unique professional qualities. Cumulatively, these features—facilitating connections, showcasing endorsements, and providing tools for ongoing networking and social engagement—can be useful to research-oriented academics by facilitating professional reflection and self-assessment.

Profile-Based, Not Post-Based
LinkedIn is a social network that, like Facebook, and unlike, say, tumblr, is profile-based rather than post-based. Because LinkedIn prioritizes professional networks, the profile data used to suggest connections follows educational and employment history and can show how many degrees of separation exist between any two users. Although searches for other users must often be deliberate rather than prompted by the network, and because LinkedIn places high priority on public networking, there’s little point in making a profile difficult to find. And since a user often has to search out connections, the cumulative character of these connections can be a deliberate, if small part of a professional profile.

Demonstrate Expertise with Endorsements
These connections can become meaningful first, and most obviously, in leading to more connections, both virtually and in person. Second, they can be useful through the “endorsement” feature. LinkedIn allows users to request and grant endorsements regarding skills and expertise. These endorsements range from mastery of specific software (“Microsoft Office”) to facility in a broad skill set (“Research”). Over time, these endorsements appear in a graph that showcases the individual’s strongest qualities. Note that endorsements can be solicited. If a user considers herself exceptionally skilled in fundraising, for example, she might request endorsement in that specific facility by those familiar with her expertise. These endorsements can range from checking a box to writing a prose recommendation of another user’s strengths, a feature much like the letters of recommendation that often act as the currency of the academic profession. As a graduate student with teaching obligations, and thinking back to the first few letters requested by current and former students, this feature here provides useful insight into the sorts of skills and values that might be demanded by future employers of undergraduate students and advisees.

The Value of Groups
But LinkedIn also provides platforms to directly create connections, through shared content, through groups that create and organize communities, and through search tools to locate relevant individuals in the field. One of the most compelling features LinkedIn provides is a platform to repost content from elsewhere on the web, with a space for comments and conversation. These posts often take business and industry as their theme, but range over a broad spectrum of specific topics. Because they’re hosted on a professional network, the discussions that take place following these articles tend to significantly more thought-provoking than the general tone of conversation elsewhere on the internet. And because they take place within the platform, a user’s profile will link to recent comments, which highlights not only the topics that interest individual, but also point to his or her specific thoughts on the topic, as well as the quality of his or her participation, writing style, etc. Similar to the posts feature are groups, organized around industries and interests, where users can connect based on shared qualities but in a more general fashion, as well as interact in a more direct, if still exploratory fashion, with others. Content such as articles and job searches can be posted within groups, which range from “English Teachers Anonymous” to “Penn Swimming Alumni.”

Connect with Alumni
More specifically focused are the tools under the “Networks” tab, particularly the “Find Alumni” feature. This tool taps into the immense data that LinkedIn gathers from its users. Based on a user’s listed alma mater, and her connections, both personal and institutional, she might locate key individuals at one or two degrees of separation, and then sort them by alma mater, by industry, by specific skills or even location. Toggling categories yields smaller or larger lists of relevant individuals, whose profiles a user can often access (although not always, depending on the other user’s privacy settings and level of LinkedIn membership).  Based on usage of the resources named earlier—connections, content, groups—these new alumni connections might be present themselves as more or less relevant to my professional interests, and, vice versa, the archive demonstrating a given user’s own interests might bridge a connection between two otherwise distantly connected alums.

At this point, reflection and self-assessment becomes inevitable. A profile is by default visible to others and can shape a more vivid representation of one’s professional interests and qualities than can a resume alone. Through this frame, LinkedIn appears as a useful tool for discerning unique strengths—the combination of networks (connections), skills (endorsements) and knowledge (content). This is relevant to the ABD doctoral candidate in a number of small, but meaningful ways. Generally speaking, it’s a nice refocusing from the intense—and to some degree necessary –tunnel-vision attendant to research and writing. It reminds the doctoral candidate of a wider world and the possibility of other career paths. Specific to my own dissertation, it’s a useful though experiment about the way that media and genres shape personal representation of the individual, but you don’t have to be an doctoral candidate in English Literature to be reminded of the one of the greatest resources of the university—the diverse and intelligent people with which we’re surrounded with here at the University of Pennsylvania and the value of these colleagues to all disciplines.

Ana Schwartz is a PhD candidate in English Literature specializing in genre and seventeenth century American writing. You can check out her common-place blog hosted by tumblr at

Day in the Life: Software Engineer at a Silicon Valley Startup

Do you dream in code? Is Silicon Valley where you want to work after graduation? If you thought, “heck yeah!” or “…maybe…”, then you’ll want to follow @PennCareerDay on Wednesday, September 18th when Stanley Wang tweets about his day as a Software Engineer with BrightEdgestanley.  To learn more about Stanley, read his bio below and be sure to follow him on the 18th!

Stanley Wang graduated from University of Pennsylvania in May 2013 with a Masters in TCOM. Before that, he received his BS in Software Engineering in 2007 from Darlin University of Technology. When he started at UPenn, Stanley knew that he wanted to be a software engineer, so he took the majority of his classes in the CS department. He found classes like Network Systems, Computer Architecture, and Database Systems to be particularly useful for transitioning his skills to a real-world software engineering career.

While he had many options upon graduation, he chose to move to the heart of Silicon Valley to join BrightEdge, a fast-growing startup. Stanley liked the company’s emphasis on teamwork and fostering a collaborative environment, and he started at BrightEdge as a Software Engineer in July. He enjoys the challenging work like solving tough problems related to design and scalability.

In his free time, he enjoys the outdoor activities that the San Francisco Bay Area has to offer, like rafting and skiing.

Med School Interviews: When Too Much Practice Hurts


Many of you are thinking about medical school interviews this fall and are thoughtfully considering potential questions and how you might answer them.  Great idea!  However, it’s important to keep in mind that one of the pitfalls of medical school interviewing is sounding “too rehearsed.”  This can be a tough one because you want to be prepared.  Also, you may be feeling a great deal of pressure to make a good impression during your short amount of time with the interviewer.  Here are five ways being overly prepared can keep you from connecting during your interview:

  • You plan to tell the whole story.  In your mind, the story of how you became interested in medicine in high school, how you chose your major, how your shadowing experience affected your plans may seem vital to convey.  In an interview, a chronological tale of your journey to medical school is likely to become a monologue that takes a long time to relate and doesn’t invite your interviewer into a discussion.  Try to think more in terms of significant points or most pivotal experiences.  Offer interest and insight instead of complete autobiography.
  • You may sound canned.  The interview is the med school’s single opportunity to check you out in person and evaluate whether you will be good colleague and effective physician.  Many of the qualities they are looking for will be communicated non-verbally.  You can say all the right words and still leave an interviewer thinking you might not connect with other people well.  If you sound practiced, your interviewer may be left wondering about the “real you” and how you will function in uncertain situations.
  • You might not listen to your interviewer.  Sometimes an applicant will bring a mental agenda of talking points, determined to convey them during the short interview.  The interviewer’s questions might not be heard or unintentionally brushed aside, which can make you look like a poor listener.  It’s important to respond to the interviewer’s questions and interests in a flexible and spontaneous way.  Be prepared, but don’t be controlling.
  • You could react negatively or fall apart in the face of unanticipated questions.  Why is the interviewer asking all about my AMCAS essay?  Why isn’t she asking me about my research?  Be open to the questions and expect the unexpected.  Otherwise, you may end up making faces or flinching when you are asked something you didn’t think about in advance.  Of course, if you are asked inappropriate questions, report them to the admissions office or contact your pre-health advisor for guidance.
  • Lastly, you may lecture and pontificate.  It seems that the two areas that concern applicants the most are questions about their research and health care reform.  They imagine the interviewer grilling them about the science or expecting a thorough and detailed understanding of legislation.  In response, as soon as the topic is introduced, they are out the gate, rattling off information and facts in a way that is not conversational.  Sometimes it can come across as condescending or more often as if you are struggling to remember the answers to an exam.  Interviewers hope you know about your research and health care reform issues, but you are not expected to be an expert in the field.  You should sound like an informed future professional, but not necessarily like a professor, and be able to talk about your personal interests or concerns in these areas.

If you have more concerns about your interviews, you can attend a pre-health interviewing workshop or schedule a mock interview with a pre-health advisor (once you have scheduled a medical school interview).  Know that most applicants find their interviews very positive experiences and return to campus feeling good about their application and enthused about the process!

Labor Day

By Barbara Hewitt

Labor Day…the unofficial end of summer. (I know, given that classes started a week early this year, to some of you it might seem like summer is long gone!)  Wikipedia explains Labor Day as “..a celebration of the American labor movement dedicated to the social and economic achievements of workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of their country.”

labordayAs a career counselor, I think a lot about “labor” and what work means in the everyday lives of Americans.  Most of us spend 40 hours a week at our place of employment, lots of us many more than 40.  I spent the Labor Day weekend home with my father in upstate New York.  He is now 75 years old and long retired from being a New York State Trooper, a job he held for over 30 years. As a child, I don’t remember him ever being particularly enthusiastic about going to work, although he seemed happy enough to have a steady job with good benefits.  (The job market was not stellar in the Catskills even back then, so these qualities were definitely sought after in employment!)  I asked him how he had decided to become a police officer, and he said he entered the army after graduation and was assigned to be a military police officer.  When he left the army two years later becoming a state trooper seemed like the most sensible thing to do, given he was getting ready to get married and start a family he would need to support.

It struck me how different his experience of deciding on a career was from the experience of most of our students at Penn, who spend much more time preparing for a career – thinking about what would be fulfilling, pursuing classes and internships, and networking with alumni and professionals to make their dreams come true.  Attending an Ivy League institution such as Penn opens a huge variety of doors for graduates in all kinds of career fields, and the stress often comes just as much from choosing what to do as actually landing the job.  As I think back on my dad’s career, which was quite limited in terms of choices, I am grateful for the opportunity I had to attend college and graduate school, providing me with the opportunity to find a career that is truly satisfying to me.  While I enjoyed having an extra day off work for Labor Day, I appreciate even more the fact that I look forward to coming to work each day.  On this “day after Labor Day”, I wish each and every one of you the same good fortune in your life.