Designing Your PhD with Pipe Cleaners, Mind Maps, and Drawings

As the academic year starts again soon for graduate students and postdocs, it can often be a hectic time especially for those who are planning to be on the academic job market, teaching their own courses, conducting research, and writing chapters of their dissertation, among other things. It seems that there is always more and more to do. Before the fall begins, however, it’s important to take a step back and reflect on the things that you’re doing and how they fit into your life overall.

This summer, my colleague and I ran a pilot interactive workshop called Designing Your PhD for around 25 graduate students with the goal of having students spend time to think about what work values are important to them, what skills they have, and what things they enjoy doing. Based on the popular book, Designing Your Life, by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, our workshop used the process of design thinking to help graduate students understand the career exploration process. The first stage of the design process involves understanding the user, which in this case is the student. Students had fun using pipe cleaners to visualize their concerns and aspirations about careers and used card sorts (based on the helpful assessments from ImaginePhD) to prioritize their top five skills, values, and interests. They also created mind maps that brought together different aspects of their lives (involving work, play, health, and love) and drew different versions of themselves that they can then “test” out as part of the career exploration process. We ended the workshop by discussing the MIND Career Exploration Road Map from UCSF to help guide students as they make decisions about their careers. It was by far one of my favorite workshops as we got to see what students created with their pipe cleaners, mind maps, and drawings.

If you didn’t get a chance to attend our pilot workshop, no worries! We’ll hold the workshop again in the future as well as with different departments and graduate student groups. Until then, however, make an appointment to speak with a Career Advisor about your career exploration plans. You can also check out some of these resources below so you can begin to reflect on your interests, skills, and values, explore careers that may interest you, and think about how you can design your PhD career in a way that you’ll find satisfying, productive, and rewarding: