Working with the end (of the year) in mind

Dr. Joseph Barber

In thinking about what careers you might explore when you graduate with your PhD, or once you finish your postdoc, it would certainly be helpful to know where others have gone before you. Those people who have made it through your programs before share a lot in common with you.

  • They had passion around a similar subject area.
  • They experience the same types of faculty support
  • They had access to similar networks of contacts and career resources
  • They faced much the same type of job market
  • They also wanted to find a role that would engage them intellectually, challenge them mentally, and support their continued professional development and personal lifestyle.

The career options they have pursued might be those that you would also find interesting. The skills they use in their careers might be similar to the skills you current use in your research. Traveling down well-beaten paths is not the only way to reach a successful career destination, but it can certainly be an effective one. This is especially true when people in these different career fields are willing to share their experiences and insights with you to help you come to a more informed decision about your career path, or to prepare yourself for a specific path more effectively.

Let’s review the different levels at which you can seek information about career options, and find contacts through networking to help you find some of the answers that you are seeking.

The Penn connection

Penn has a rich history of engaged alumni, and current students can continue to make marvelous connections with a wide range of professionals in different careers by making use of the Penn alumni searchable database – QuakerNet. This is not a resource for asking people whether they have a job for you, but can be a great place to make connections to help you learn more about what it is like to work in a certain role, in a particular company, within a broad industry, and so on. Simply by asking people what they do, and what skills they use to do it, you can absorb some of the language you might be able to use to describe your past experiences in terms that your future employer might better understand – to use their language to make your skills relevant. If you are looking for a New Year’s resolution, then make sure that you put “set-up more informational interviews” at the very top of your list.

By now, you have hopefully been exposed to the potential that LinkedIn can offer you in terms of making connections with people like you doing interesting and wonderful things in many career fields. I know some people are a little resistant to this resource for many different reasons, but if you just see it as a powerful career exploration tool, then it can help you overcome some of these concerns.

Look for LinkedIn groups organized by your department or school. Join the Penn Alumni LinkedIn Group right now (there are >30,000 people there already). Use the “find alumni” tool under the Network tab on your LinkedIn profile page, and look here for more information on how to set up your profile and make the most out of LinkedIn.

Career Services uses different approaches to keep track of where Penn alumni go once they graduate. You can look at our Career Plans Surveys to get some information on career destinations. You can explore the results of the 8-13 year out PhD alumni survey for additional information. The general data are always insightful, and the specific advice provided by alumni can be especially useful.

Penn & Beyond

Yes, it is the name of this blog, but it is also a reminder that there are resources beyond Penn that can be extraordinarily helpful. Are you a member of the Versatile PhD? Even if the prospect of seeking non-faculty positions seems unlikely, you lose nothing by joining communities of PhDs who have found interesting and diverse ways to use their academic knowledge and skills. Sign up through our online subscriptions page to access all of the premium content on this site, and use the “PhD Career Finder” tool to its fullest extent. The winter break is the perfect time for you to explore this resource.

Beyond Penn & Beyond

And here is some breaking news for the future:

The Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) today announced a new initiative to address the need for tracking the career pathways of PhD holders across broad fields of graduate study. With input from its member institutions, CGS will assess the feasibility of a larger project to develop and enhance processes for tracking the career pathways of PhD alumni of STEM, humanities and social science graduate programs.”

You can learn more about this initiative here and here. Who knows, you might be able to contribute your data to this initiative, or even find a way to play an active role in making this happen. You likely have the skills and interests to do so already!

Happy Holidays!

Author: Joseph

Joseph Barber is a Senior Associate Director at Career Services serving graduate students and postdocs. He has a PhD in animal behaviour and animal welfare, and continues to teach these subjects as an adjunct professor at Hunter College (CUNY).