The fifth annual Beyond Academia career conference, held March 2-3, 2017 at UC Berkeley, offered a wealth of information, advice, and inspiration.
Hundreds of PhD students and postdocs gathered to explore a broad range of careers. The program included about 20 panels of PhDs working in non-faculty careers, a dozen workshops on career skills, and two keynote addresses.
Here are my five top take-aways from the conference.
How do you tell your advisor that you don’t want to pursue the faculty path? Or, at least, that you’re exploring other possibilities? Maybe you’ve decided you don’t like research. Maybe you don’t like teaching. Maybe you’ve realized that you need to be in a particular geographic area. Maybe you’ve calculated that your chances of obtaining a faculty position are uncomfortably low. For whatever reasons, you want to consider a wider array of options.
“The conversation” can be anxiety-provoking, even in fields with a well-defined “industry” option. The stakes feel very high. What if it goes badly?
“You need to assume that the demand for you will be less than you like and supply of people like you will be greater than you like. Act accordingly.”
That is the career preparation advice that Professor Rick Reis—known around the world as “Tomorrow’s Professor”—offers to grad students and postdocs.
Reis has a broad overview of graduate students’ professional development, particularly for academic careers. He has published the “Tomorrow’s Professor” e-newsletter for nearly 20 years. He has given a lot of thought to how grad students are prepared for faculty careers, and has a view of what is changing.
During our interview he broke down “Act Accordingly” into three specific pieces of advice:
- Start early and develop multiple options
- Think next stage
- Cultivate breadth-on-top-of-depth
Graduate school is the stepping stone to your professional future. It provides the knowledge and skills that will launch your career. Where do you think you are going?
You may have a very clear idea of what you want to do and how to get there. Or you may be considering a number of options. Or you might not have given the matter much consideration.
Whatever the case, talking with a career counselor can help you turn your dreams into reality.
An immunologist and science policy analyst, Dr. Kenneth (Kenny) Gibbs offers three pieces of advice for graduate students. These are his views alone and do not represent official views of the NIH or National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), where he is currently working as a Program Analyst in the Office of Program Planning, Analysis and Evaluation. His opinions were shaped in grad school and by his research on STEM Ph.D. and postdoc career decisions.
Kenny offers three pieces of advice.
- Remember that Ph.Ds. are beginnings not endings.
- Go to a school and work with an advisor where you can see yourself doing well as a person.
- Manuscripts (and theses) only get written when you write them.
A grad student’s best resource, outside of your department, might be the Career Development Center. You may be unfamiliar with the resources available to you, because you don’t think that they are for you.
Common misconceptions include:
- The Career Center is exclusively for undergrads on your campus.
- Your future is mapped out: grad school to post doc to faculty. So you don’t need any of the services of a Career Center.
- Services are only for those who are actively on the job market.
My goal with this post is to convince you to reach out to the career center on your campus soon. There is so much to take advantage of. Their services complement what is available in your department.