Thinking about the future can be daunting, especially as PhD student who has multiple years before graduating and entering the workforce. As a student, you often hear of two tracks, academia or industry. Although this may seem pretty clear cut, there are a variety of roles and jobs within both of these sectors. Early on in my PhD, I realized I did not want to stay in academia. However, I had no clue what I wanted to do, and honestly I still don’t have it fully figured out. Despite this, I started doing some career exploration during my PhD that put me on a path I am excited about and narrowed down my options. I still have a few years before I complete my PhD, but I am looking forward to the future and a career outside academia. Starting down the path of career exploration during a PhD is not easy, but I hope to share some tips that make it manageable andexciting.
Take advantage of resources at your school and online
Many universities and foundations offer career development tools and seminars amongst other helpful items. When I first started my PhD, I joined Beyond the PhD, a group focused on exploring careers outside of academia. Now I help manage content and events for the group. Along the way, I have learned about many professions and have been able to connect with professionals in fields I am interested in. Getting involved or attending career events is a great first step when you are in the early stages of career exploration.
Make a list of things you like and don’t like doing
One of the best pieces of advice I got early on in my PhD was to keep a list of things I like doing and things I don’t like doing. As I’ve developed my skill set as a PhD student, I quickly realized that there are things I love to do, things I can tolerate, and things I never want to do again. For example, I love writing and science communication, and these are skills I have continuously worked on. One the flip side, early on in my PhD I developed a severe mouse allergy and decided that a career at the bench working with rodent models wasn’t for me. Knowing what you enjoy working on and what you do not can really help narrow down options when looking for jobs later on.
Keep track of titles and roles you could see yourself in
Another great piece of advice I received was to keep track of titles and roles I could see myself doing after I graduate. Now, when I come across a career that resonates or seems interesting, I write it down to consider later. Sometimes, I will look up job postings for that role and the skills required for that opportunity. I currently have a running list of roles that I can now refer and add to as I continue to grow and learn during my PhD journey.
Networking and talking to people is one of the best ways to explore your options. You can learn about different roles, companies, and professions just by having a conversation or sending an introductory email. It is a great way to learn about new opportunities and make connections that may be beneficial when you are job hunting later on. Many schools and professional organizations offer various events or seminars to grow your network. Additionally, you can use your current network to connect you with other individuals who are working in fields that you may interested in.
Track your skills
It’s important to recognize the skills you have and ones that still need development. It’s also good to track this as you are continuing on your PhD or academic journey. Some skills might be obvious such as proficiency at certain techniques, assays, or programs. However, make sure to also record and develop soft skills that are arguably just as important as your ability to run an experiment. Soft skills are often translatable to many roles and can include things such as writing, presenting, communication, leadership, and the ability to work with a team. By understanding your skill set and areas where you excel or need development, you can then easily share this with potential employers or mentors.
Make an IDP
An IDP or Individual Development Plan, is a resource available to students and researchers. The IDP concept is commonly used in industry to help employees define and pursue their career goals, but it is also great for those doing a PhD or post-doc. The IDP provides exercises to help you examine your skills, interests, and values. It is a great and informational tool that can help with setting strategic goals for the future and understanding your strengths and weaknesses. More about IDP’s can be found here https://myidp.sciencecareers.org/.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help!
Besides talking to your PI or mentor, feel free to reach out to us at Beyond the PhD (firstname.lastname@example.org) or find us on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/company/academia-industry-opportunities-group/?viewAsMember=true) or Twitter (@aiog_ct) for answers to career questions, career seminars, blog posts, and more!