Pioneer of Grad Career Development | Interview with Julie Miller Vick

Providing career counseling and career education for graduate students is an innovation of the last 20 years. Julie Vick Miller is one of the pioneers of the movement. After serving graduate students for three decades she has honed her advice.

Three things she advises graduate students, particularly those pursuing faculty careers:

  1. Develop your academic persona
  2. Take advantage of the resources at your university
  3. Learn how your university works

There is more about Vick’s contributions at the end, so let’s get to the advice.

1. Develop Your Academic Persona

Vick photo by Peter Tobia

Julie Miller Vick, photo by Peter Tobia

We all have different personas that we display in different settings. Friend, daughter, student, lover. As a PhD student you are becoming a professional. It is time to cultivate your academic persona.

Instead of thinking of yourself as a lowly doctoral student, step into the role of emerging scholar. You are an equal-in-progress. This is not like being an undergrad any more. (I describe this in my post Grad School is Hard.)

If you are shy or introverted, it might be easier to think of developing a persona, rather than trying to change your personality. A persona is like a costume you put on, but one that is authentic to you. It is a set of behaviors that are appropriate for the context.

There are three arenas in which you can cultivate your academic persona.

Relationship Management

Take charge of your relationships. Don’t wait for people to tell you what to do. Proactively initiate opportunities to meet (Dr. Deji Akinwande explains this in his advice on networking). Target people who will take an active interest and help you along.

With your advisor, in particular, be assertive in managing the relationship. Talk to people who have worked with this advisor. How can meetings be used most productively? Ask for the help you want and need. Keep track of the milestones.

Maintain Your Online Presence

We all have digital footprints. You want to be seen as someone who is smart, makes thoughtful contributions, is honest, writes well, and is kind and fair.

Avoid nastiness. If you participate in discussion groups, present yourself as thoughtful, rather than spewing out the first thing that comes to mind. “There is so much vitriol, it astounds me,” said Vick, who experienced this first hand as a columnist for the Chronicle of Higher Education since 1998.

She discourages students from participating in online forums when on the job market. Job-wikis can be useful to monitor, but be cautious about what you say. Too often bitterness gets displayed.

Remember that whatever you say is a public reflection of you. It won’t help your job search to be openly angry. You may be on the academic job market two or more years. People do get tenure-track job offers after several years on the market, but those people focused on making intellectual and social connections in their field, rather than succumbing to feeling worn down.

Keep your materials current. If you have a website, keep it current or get rid of it. Add new articles, talks, and poster sessions. Keep it professional. No pictures of your cat or wedding.

Likewise, keep your LinkedIn profile current. Many people will look for you online when you apply for a job, and LinkedIn will come up quickly. If you are looking for non-faculty careers, LinkedIn is even more important.

Make it right. If you do something online that you regret, do something about it right away. Acknowledge it and apologize.

Building a Network

Spiderweb. (Used under Creative Commons license from flickr user s9-4pr)

Spiderweb. (Used under Creative Commons license from flickr user s9-4pr)

Networking is not a dirty word. Networking means connecting with people, finding things in common, and sharing advice in both directions. You have to be proactive.

Seek out faculty (besides your primary advisor) at your home university and at conferences. Ask them for research ideas and approaches, and career advice. Keep track of people you talk to so that you can get back to them later. When you do publish a paper or get a job, be sure keep them apprised. Tell them, “You gave me great advice. I incorporated your suggestions.” Later they will turn to you when they have a student who needs your expertise.

Chapter Five of the Academic Job Search Handbook, Building an Academic Network, has more guidance. More on networking are in my posts Why Network, The Four I’s of Networking and Networking in Three Directions.

2. Take Advantage of the Resources at Your University

Universities are chock full of resources that are aimed especially at graduate students. Once you graduate, you will lose access to most of these opportunities, so take full advantage now.

Some skills will help now with your research and dissertation. The skills you learn can apply in future jobs, especially if you are looking for non-faculty career.

Here are some of the services you can probably find:

Career services centers are great to visit early on as a grad student. See Using the Career Center for the wide variety of resources at most career centers.

Teaching and learning centers teach pedagogical skills and the underlying knowledge about how people learn and what makes teaching effective.

Graduate student centers, sometimes part of the graduate dean’s office, offer graduate professional development and community-building activities, from dissertation boot camps to fellowship information to Three Minute Thesis competitions.

Counseling and psychological services usually offer on-going groups: stress reduction, women students, dissertation writers, and parents. Many grad students use one-to-one counseling to get through the inevitable rough patches.

Technology or computing centers housed in libraries or IT departments teach various technology-based skills, like course management, electronic pedagogical tools, data analysis programs, mapping, Photoshop, bibliographic management, and presentation tools.

Speaking programs can help you learn to give public presentations. Many people who are brilliant researchers are not confident about speaking and presenting. You can overcome your nervousness by practicing public speaking. (See more recommendations on communication in Prof. Deji Akinwande’s interview.)

If you used resources like these as an undergrad, you know how helpful they can be. Be assertive about finding out what is available and taking full advantage. More advanced students in your department can point you in the right direction, and then you can share what you learn with others. Don’t worry about whether your advisor knows about, or actively supports your participation. (Remember the 80-10-10 rule described by Peter Fiske at the PhD Pathways conference.)

3. Learn How Your University Works 

University of Bergen, Norway

University of Bergen, Norway

Students get micro-focused on getting through coursework, exams, writing the dissertation proposal, and so on. They are in their own little world. By participating in department-level activities, you have the chance to see how a university operates. Some students also participate at the school- or university-level.

  • Serve on a department committee
  • Serve as the student representative to the grad council
  • Help organize a speaker series; pick up the speaker at the airport, or go out to lunch
  • Participate in interviewing candidates for job openings in your department
  • Go to job talks. Assess what is effective in a presentation. Make new intellectual connections.

Context matters

Understand the context of your department and the school it is in. Is your department a big influential department or an emerging small one? Does it provide a lot of service teaching to the university, like stats or composition? Are there more undergrads, master’s, or PhD students?

How is the School organized? How are the disciplines divided up into departments: is film studies with English or communications or art? This is especially interesting for emerging or interdisciplinary fields. How is your department situated vis a vis other departments?

Understanding how your university works is a useful window into higher ed, but remember that each university is a little (or a lot) different. When you interview for faculty positions, investigate the institution before you visit. Understanding how it is organized can help you see how you could make contributions.

Learn the lingo (and what it means) when it comes to the wide variety of faculty appointments. Tenure line vs. fixed term. Different types of non-tenure line positions: lecturer, teaching, clinical, practice, and adjunct. For the interdisciplinary scholars: Dual, joint, secondary, and courtesy appointments.

How can you learn all of this?

 


ACJSHandbook coverJulie Miller Vick has worked with and on behalf of graduate students for over 30 years. In that time, she has seen many changes in the status of graduate students, student activism, and services for students, described in two overview articles for the Chronicle of Higher Education here and here. Vick has been a career advice columnist for the Chronicle since 1998.

The University of Pennsylvania has been a national leader in career services for graduate students. Mary Heiberger was hired in 1976 to work with grad students. In 1985, she hired Vick, half time, to expand services to graduate and doctoral students. She began working full time in 1999; assuming Heiberger’s role after her untimely death in 2003. Recently Vick retired, but retained the role of part-time Senior Career Advisor.

In the mid 1980s, Heiberger and Vick began compiling advice about navigating the academic job market into a 36-page booklet. The University of Pennsylvania Press asked them to turn it into a book, and in 1992 the first edition of the Academic Job Search Handbook was published; the fifth edition of this perennial bestseller was published in February 2016.

Vick also co-founded the Graduate Career Consortium, the professional organization for staff and administrators who provide professional and career development for PhDs and postdoctoral scholars. She and Heiberger convened the first meeting of 6 schools in 1988. The GCC now has over 200 members.


Published May 10, 2016.

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