By Beth Seltzer, PhD
2015–16 Connected Academics proseminar fellow
As a graduate student, exploring a range of career options can be exciting—graduate students may be drawn to the promise of increased social impact, a different lifestyle, or the empowerment that comes from having a wider range of options. But it can be difficult knowing where to begin.
The MLA Career Exploration Activity Packet is designed to help you work through some of the more common blocks and obstacles. The three activities walk you through the process of learning what you have to offer, thinking about what types of work are out there, and creating a plan for your next steps. While these activities won’t give you all the answers, they’re designed to get you thinking.
Each element of the activity packet addresses a particular concern that graduate students and recent graduates have about career exploration.
1. I know that theoretically I have useful skills, but I have no idea what they are or how to articulate them.
We learn an impressive range of skills during graduate school—the challenge is to identify what they are! The Skills Self-Assessment will have you rate your interest and experience in skills that many graduate students learn during their education, framing them in terms you might see in job ads.
The skills self-assessment is also a short, quick way to begin to figure out what sorts of tasks and activities appeal to you. If you love designing courses but could take or leave leading discussions, you probably want a different type of work from someone who loves teaching and interacting with students but dislikes giving conference presentations.
Don’t forget to include skills that you may have learned in “extracurricular” capacities. The graduate student conference you arranged, the volunteering you did with a community organization, and your work on a favorite side project all feed into your skills and experience.
2. I hear people talking about different types of interesting, rewarding work, but I’m not sure what jobs are actually out there.
In the Job Ad Analysis activity, you’ll read through a set of seven jobs from within the last few years, representing different types of work that people with PhDs do. (There are plenty of other types of work out there too.) Deeper reflection on a few of the jobs will help you break down what appeals to you about them and why, and what you find intimidating or causes you concern.
Adapted from a standard activity that the MLA uses with its proseminar fellows, this exercise can also help you look beyond jargon-filled job ads to see how careers match your experience. Unfamiliar terms like project management and cultural communication might not immediately resonate but may actually be things you do regularly. Academic skills and workplace skills aren’t as different as they first appear, but they are often referred to in completely different terms.
Seeing some jobs that really grab you can also help you think about skills you might want to build. Many graduate students have found it possible to integrate useful career experiences into their academic work by using their time strategically.
3. Okay, I know what I can do, and I’m beginning to see what sorts of jobs I might be interested in. Where do I go from here?
The Career Action Steps are designed to give you a blueprint for the next steps. You’ll set small goals to research a career or make contact with someone in a different field. We hope that your career exploration will be a clarifying and empowering activity!