Meet Fatimah Williams Castro, PhD

Career Services welcomed a new career advisor to our team in August.  Dr. Fatimah Williams Castro joins the graduate student and postdoctoral advising team in a part-time position, and has jumped in to all the new fall semester activities.  We asked Fatimah a few introductory questions, and below is the quick “interview” that resulted — I think from her answers it is easy to see why we were eager to have Fatimah on board.
— Rosanne Lurie, Senior Associate Director, Graduate Students/Postdoctoral Advising

What drew you to work as a career advisor for graduate students?
I believe that graduate students need greater access to career decision making and career planning tools. Most graduate students have made it to graduate school because of their commitment to the subject matter they study. With the time spent mastering bodies of literature, methods and approaches, it is easy for career planning to move to the back burner.

When I was getting my doctorate in Cultural Anthropology, I tried my best to get familiar with the world outside of my department and field of study and even do some applied work. I understand the demands on graduate students’ time and attention to excel in their graduate careers.

As a career advisor, I hope to streamline the career exploration and job search process so more graduate students are aware of the range of career paths available to them.

In what ways has your background prepared you for this work?
I have made two important career moves that give me first-hand experience with career decisions that graduate students and postdocs may be considering. First, I was awarded a postdoctoral fellowship after graduate school. This offer confirmed my place as a scholar and academician.

Later, when I began to explore expanded career options, I decided to try my hand at project management in the nonprofit and consulting fields. I enjoy this type of work as it has allowed me to use my analytic skills along with directly impacting policy and services. This second career area has also facilitated my access into the language and values of the millennial workplace, which I pass on to students and fellows I work with in Career Services.

I value the knowledge and skills that graduate students and postdocs bring to the job market, and believe in their potential to excel in any career path they choose.

What have you enjoyed so far, as you have gotten familiar with Penn?
It’s a joy to work with hardworking and dedicated staff. My colleagues in Career Services really enjoy the work they do to support student career transitions.

I was attracted to Penn Career Services for its leadership in the area of graduate and postdoc career development. While many university career services focus their energies and resources on undergraduate students, Penn also does a great job in tailoring career advising to the career needs of adult, advanced degree holders. Our presentations, programs, online resources and one-on-one advising are customized to graduate students and postdocs. My graduate school friends and I would have loved to have access to this level of support while in graduate school.

What are you looking forward to in the coming year?
I have lots of experience working with PhDs in the social sciences and humanities. This year I look forward to working with graduate students in design, engineering and the life sciences, and expanding my knowledge of career trends in these fields.

Summer’s here and the time is right….

Independence Day is a great holiday, especially in Philadelphia.  In addition to the fireworks and BBQs, I associate July 4th with the midway point of summer, which on campus starts after May’s graduation and ends with NSOs in late August. Here at Career Services, we are reviewing the outcomes of last year’s projects, focusing on next year’s program planning, and many of us are still seeing students for advising sessions each day. Summers are generally a time I like to use to catch up on reading including my colleagues’ excellent blog posts, which are filled with great suggestions and advice from many different perspectives.

The collection of entries below comes from several years of summertime blog-based wisdom — each includes good ideas for Penn students and recent graduates to think of summer as really productive time for their career, whether they are on campus or away, conducting research or working, getting some R & R, or continuing their studies.

Advice on making the most of the summer (you still have time!):

Advice on finishing up your summer in a proactive way:

Reflecting on your summer experiences:


A Walk on the Wild Side: Love What You Do

lou-reedFor a while, I felt a little self-impelled to write Lou Reed kind of songs. I should have understood that a Lou Reed song was anything I wanted to write about.” – Lou Reed

Sglamour_women-of-the-year-maya-angelou-s-2009-speechuccess is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” – Maya Angelou

The two quotes above are from American artists and cultural icons who passed away very recently. Together their statements address an issue that is often overlooked: while at this point most graduates are used to hearing the advice “do what you love,” I think it is just as important to love what you do.

There is a lot to be said for focusing on the rewards that, rather than coming from external recognition, are derived from self-development, being true to who you are at any moment, and enjoying the person who is growing and maturing. You do not always have to know your long-term goals, or even “follow your passion” in order to like yourself, like what you do, and like how you do it.    It is hard to argue with Ms. Angelou’s definition of success.  When Lou Reed stopped limiting himself to what he thought was the Lou Reed sound he found authentic appreciation for his own work.

To me, “love what you do” isn’t an exhortation to find something you love, but suggests that whatever task you take on, whatever role, you have the opportunity to make it yours. A job, project or career path has the potential to provide a measure of fulfillment if you look for the aspects of it that you appreciate. You can focus on what would improve it, and work towards making change. Or you can find that a job, even one you don’t want to do “forever,” might give you more insight into who you are and what matters to you.

Advice from Your Peers: Penn Doctoral Students on the Job Search

Have you wondered how Penn PhDs are using Career Services in their job search efforts?  Each year, Career Services works with hundreds of Penn doctoral students and postdocs in their career exploration, planning and job search efforts.   We also conduct “Career Plans Surveys” of recent PhD graduates, to find out their post-graduation plans and to ask them to share their advice with current students.  Below are just a sample of the responses we have received very recently – each with some direct and doable suggestions for making the most of your time and the resources here at Penn.  These graduates, representing a wide variety of disciplines, utilized Career Services for doctoral students/postdocs as one component of their job search efforts. We encourage you take advantage of their insights:

Linguistics PhD (2012), currently a lecturer at a university in the United Kingdom:  
“I made heavy use of the Academic Job Search Handbook, the sample materials available on the Career Services website (and similar materials on the website of Berkeley’s Career Center), and one-on-one meetings with Career Services staff. I strongly think knowing how to craft a well-formulated research statement and cover letter helped me get a leg up, because I was short-listed for two jobs in departments where I didn’t have any close contacts, and I really think that was due to how I sold myself in my application materials. That said, for the one offer I did end up getting, I had three close faculty contacts in the department: so there is a large element of networking and luck in the process. But I do really feel that Career Services helped to demystify the process and show me how to write about my work in a promising and intelligent way.”

Sociology PhD (2012), currently a postdoc at a R1 institution:
“One of my committee members hired me for a project he is working on.  In terms of advice I’d give other students, I’d say develop ties with academic people outside of your committee, talk to people in your field, meet as many people as possible.  Also I would highly recommend using Career Services.  Although that’s not how I got this job, I had interviews thanks to the help I got from the career advisors at Penn.”  (Check out Career Services resources on the academic job search.)

Bioengineering PhD (2012) currently a consultant with an international management consulting firm:
“I went to Career Services first to get my first few concrete steps, which were to write a resume along with reaching out to alumni on PACnet (now called QuakerNet). The initial networking and research helped me determine which field I wanted to pursue first, so I could focus the limited time and energy I had on optimizing my resume and cover letter for that niche. I then went to Career Services about eight more times to hone my resume and cover letter, so I had a solid platform to apply to many jobs quickly.  After that, I reached out to anyone who would talk to me in that field to either get advice or do case studies.  Pithy advice: prioritize; get an outside coach who knows the process to let you know where you should focus your energies because you can’t do everything.” (Click here for information on consulting for PhDs.)

Communications PhD (2013), currently a postdoc at a R1 institution:
“1. Create a list of what you want out of a career, what you enjoy doing, what you are good at doing, and where you would like to live.
2. Networking throughout the entire time as a student is important to get to know organizations, institutions, or individuals who do similar types of work or research. This could be at informal meetings, lunch seminars, conferences. And it helps to inform your choices of courses, projects, and research topics during the program. Don’t wait until the last year to do this.*
3. Start about a year before the expected date of graduation to scan through position announcements that seem to match those in the list and get a sense of skills and responsibilities that are required.
4. Attend many of the excellent Career Services workshops; make appointments with the CS advisors along every stage of the job search process.
5. Keep in touch with your referees during the search process about your plans, outcomes from interviews, etc.
6. Before interviewing, talk to as many people as possible who are familiar about the organization e.g., alumni, advisors, or faculty.
7. Staying positive and keeping the search in perspective and balancing the search with other daily demands is really important too.
8. Thank everyone who helped you and gave advice along the way.”

View our suggested PhD career planning steps/timeline here.

Speaking of “thanks”…..  Career Services is grateful for all the doctoral students who fill out our surveys and take the time to share their advice with us on behalf of their peers.

Toast for the New Advisor Serving Penn’s Grad Students and Postdocs

Andrew Karas has joined Career Services as an Associate Director on the advising team that works with graduate students, postdocs, and alumni of graduate programs. Before joining Penn’s Career Services, Andrew taught introductory writing courses at Yale and Harvard. He holds an AB in literature from Harvard and a PhD in English from Yale. As an introduction, we decided to ask him a few questions:

What did you enjoy most about your PhD program?
I feel very lucky to have attended the program I did. Yale’s English department, and its graduate school more generally, is a collegial, stimulating, and well-resourced place.  A real standout for me, though, was my teaching experience. Working with eager, engaged students on interesting material: I’m not sure it gets much better than that. And it’s precisely that kind of personal engagement that I look forward to carrying over to my new position.

What drew you to work as a career advisor for graduate students?
I believe that the skills and experience acquired while obtaining a PhD or other advanced degree are applicable to a wide range of career options, limited only by an individual’s interests and passions. As part of my own career search, I undertook a number of informational interviews (and even some job interviews) in diverse fields. I ultimately decided that I wanted to remain a part of the academic community, and this position clicked as a way to build on my experiences and take on a new challenge.

In what ways has your background prepared you for this work?
My teaching experience is mainly in introductory-level writing courses, where I made extensive use of one-on-one conferences with my students to identify goals for their writing and concrete steps they could take to achieve those goals. Although the context and the audience are different in Career Services, the one-on-one engagement with bright, motivated people remains the same. Also, as I mentioned above, I’ve done a fair bit of both academic and non-academic career exploration myself, so I’ve “walked the walk” in that respect!

What have you enjoyed so far, as you have gotten familiar with Penn?
I’ve enjoyed getting to know my new colleagues in Career Services. They’re a really dedicated group, and together they bring a vast amount of experience, knowledge, and sensitivity to their work with students from across the university. I’ve also enjoyed learning some of the particularities of Penn’s unique culture (though I’m sure there are plenty more things I’ll pick up along the way). For example, my partner and I have tickets to a Penn football game later this fall, but I just recently learned about the tradition of throwing toast on the field after the third quarter. That sounds like something you really have to see to understand!

What are you looking forward to in the coming year?
Besides throwing toast onto Franklin Field? I am looking forward to meeting a lot of interesting, passionate people, hearing about their experiences and aspirations, and assisting any way I can as they take their next steps.