Something New for the Summer

by Julie Vick

For graduate students summer can be hectic and not the relaxing time from earlier years. Doctoral students may be teaching or TA-ing semester-length courses in five or six weeks, studying needed foreign languages or systems, participating in fieldwork, or designing and conducting lab-based research. Professional students may be interning with a company or not-for-profit to get a taste of their potential future work world.
Whether these warmer months find you doing “more of the same,” or doing something different and new to you, it’s important that you do a few other things:

  1. Take a break from the here-and-now to focus on the future,
  2. Do something fun and not related to schoolwork or career, and
  3. Do something for someone else.

Following those steps will help you to feel both prepared and renewed when summer comes to an end and the semester starts up again.

Do something for your future

  • Build and maintain your network
    • Reach out to previous employers, professors and others to let them know what you’re doing this summer
    • Identify people who do work that interests you and conduct some information interviews
    • Attend a networking event (or an event where you can meet new people) through your alma mater, employer, professional association or one organized for people in your urban area
    • Keep track of all interactions and thank/acknowledge everyone who talks with you and/or provides advice or information
  • Think about your plans for next year
  • What else will you do in addition to coursework?
    • Serve on a student group committee
    • Help organize your graduate group’s symposium series
    • Plan to attend Career Services programs and workshops and connect with a career advisor
  • If it’s your final year, when will you start your job search?

Do something that’s fun

  • Get away, even for just a weekend.
  • Do something physical. Perhaps you go to the gym everyday but try an outdoor activity. Being active outside – better still, being in nature –can rejuvenate you. Take a bike ride. Go hiking. Try canoeing or kayaking. There are bike trails and state parks closer than you think.

Do something for someone else

  • There are lots of opportunities to serve as a volunteer. If you’re not sure where to start, find out if there’s a volunteer activities coordinator at your institution. Just spending a morning helping to clean up an abandoned block, playing with a hospitalized child or reading to an infirm elderly adult can help you forget about the stresses in your life and bring some joy to someone else

Doing these things will renew you; renewing yourself will help you start the new school year off well.

“Summer’s lease hath all too short a date.” ― William Shakespeare

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?

Advice on the Academic Job Search

This is the time of year when many advanced PhD students, recent PhDs and postdocs are in the midst of applying for academic jobs.  The search process for a faculty position is spread over several months and the interviews themselves are 1-3 days long.   In addition to being a scholar with an exciting research project and strong teaching experience another tool to have in your toolkit is good information.  At one of our recent Faculty Conversations, Professor Susan Margulies, SEAS, encouraged those on the job market to look at these resources:

  • The University of Michigan Handbook for Faculty Searches and Hiring which includes a Candidate Evaluation Sheet.  It gives a sense of the kinds of questions candidates may be asked.
  • Stanford University’s Dual-Career Resources can help “complex” hires, meaning those who have a significant other with job/career issues that may affect the candidate’s decision making.

Additional resources on work-life balance and dual career couples can be found on the Career Services website at

Other advice from Professor Margulies and Professor Justin DiAngelo, Hofstra University to keep in mind:

  • Candidates should look up those who will interview them and know something about them.
  • When you give your seminar or job talk, know your audience.  At a teaching-focused institution it may not include people in your field because there isn’t anyone in your field there.
  • Keep in mind that everyone you meet at the interview, including students and the person who walks you from one place to the next, matters.  Their input on your candidacy will be sought.
  • As you put together your start-up request, think about what you’ll need for 3-5 years.
  • When the interview is over, make sure you know the next steps.  If no one tells you, ask.
  • Negotiating offers usually takes place over the phone.

Students and postdocs who are preparing to interview for faculty positions are encouraged to talk with a graduate/postdoc career advisor and schedule a mock interview.  Career advisors can also be a resource for negotiating offers.

Slam Dunk your Skype Interview

Many of the graduate students who come to Career Services to see me and my colleagues have Skype interviews coming up. Although some of these students use Skype to talk with family, friends and their significant other, the prospect of using it for an interview injects a bit of anxiety.

So here are a few tips to help you come across well in an interview via Skype:

  • Even if it feels non-intuitive, look at your computer’s camera, NOT at the person(s) with whom you are Skyping; otherwise it will appear to the other person(s) that you are looking down.
  • See what the space behind your chair looks like. Get rid of piles of paper, coffee cups and anything else that makes your environment look messy.
  • Make sure that you will not be interrupted by spouse/partner, children, pets, ringing phones, timers, email pop-ups and other “alerts”.
  • As you decide what to wear keep in mind that colors make the features of your face show up better than white.
  • If you use a microphone attachment or lavaliere microphone the search committee will likely hear you better.
  • Facing a window in the room diagonally may provide good light on your face and no reflection on your glasses.
  • Lighting can be damaging when it comes from behind your head because it can put your face in shadow. Test light levels at the time of day the interview will be to see if you can tell where the light is most beneficial for illuminating you during the conversation.
  • If you lose your connection, just call them back. (You could ask at the beginning or, in an email prior to the Skype interview, if they would prefer you to call back or have them call you, should you be disconnected.) It may be to your advantage to have your interviewer see you handling a problem.
  • Do a practice interview with a friend or schedule one with a Career Services advisor. You won’t regret it!

You Can Do It

Well, summer is half over and what do you have to show for it?  Have you accomplished any goals you set out at the beginning of June?

Earlier this summer I co-wrote How New Graduate Students Should Spend Their Summers in The Chronicle of Higher Education.  My co-author and I discussed many things that graduate students who are in the early stage of their graduate student career could elect to do during the summer to get them ready for the next year as well as to help them think about long-term goals.  I believe in articulating one’s goals regularly and revising them periodically and, at the same time, I think it’s important to make them very realistic and as doable as possible.

I am someone who always keeps lists.  One is of things that need to be done right away, another lists what needs to be done this week and a couple others are things to do within the next 6 months or if I find the time to do them.  I have these lists in both my work life and my personal life, and they help keep me going.  Some are real goals and some are just what “needs doing”.   Although I don’t always do this myself, I encourage students to keep track of the goals they’ve completed so they can note their accomplishments.

So, look back.  What goals have you met?  Pat yourself on the back and tell a friend or family member about those you have achieved.  Now, look forward.  There’s still six weeks of summer which is enough time to edit your list to those goals that matter the most, to develop a timeline for accomplishing them and then, to carry that out.  You can do it.