Career Preparation During Your First Year of Graduate School

Feb. 28, 2018

Your first year of graduate school is a very exciting time full of new experiences and opportunities. It may seem like you will be in graduate school forever, but time will pass more quickly than you think. It's important to start thinking beyond graduate school about your career, even in the early stages.

How can you start your graduate school experience in a way that sets you up for a future career while balancing your responsibilities? Following just a few simple tips will keep you sane while working towards the future you want.

Try Out New Things

You never know if you don't try! Diversify your graduate school experience by getting involved in things you think you might be interested in. Serve on the leadership team of graduate student organizations or on committees about issues that you are passionate about. Look for opportunities to do internships or volunteer in science outreach, policy, or teaching. You can find these within your institution, but also look at regional and national organizations.

Explore Your Options

Begin some basic internet searching on available career options and look at postings on ASM's job board. Read about requirements for jobs that you are interested in so you can identify weaknesses you may have and steps that you can take to become qualified. Researching your options will give you a clearer picture of what you want to do in the future.

Know Your Fellow Students

Start your graduate career off on the right foot by embracing opportunities to get to know other graduate students. Get outside your lab and make friends within your department and even across departments. Start making contacts with graduate students in different organizations and committees. Connect with senior graduate students to bounce ideas off in a low-stress environment and talk about career exploration and preparation. They may provide valuable advice and become important contacts in the future. Getting diverse viewpoints will make you a better scientist and a team player.

Take Advantage of Professional Development Activities Early

If your school has professional development workshops, don't wait until your final years to attend. Go to all the workshops you can on things like resume development, networking and presentation skills. These things are useful both for your career and for graduate school. Look into what your department or graduate school might provide and take the initiative to suggest presentations that you are interested in. Going to these meetings or taking the time to seek out resources on your own will give you more time to develop and refine your skills.

Have Discussions About Your Career

Speak with your advisor about your career plans, but don't stop there. You can also seek advice from other professors in your department and from your university's career center. Be up-front if you are seeking a career outside of academia and they can point you in the right direction. Also, connect with professionals in careers that you are interested in on LinkedIn and ask them questions about the field. The more informed you are about the career you want, the better you can prepare. Also, take advantage of going to seminars and conferences. Strike up conversations with guest speakers in diverse fields - you never know when you could make an important contact or get valuable advice. This will help you focus your career and make connections that will be helpful in the future.

Keep It Balanced

Classes, teaching and research are plenty to keep your schedule full. Career preparation may seem like it can wait until the end of graduate school, but you may not be competitive for the career you want. Set aside a small part of each week to do things like attend professional development seminars, talk to advisors about career paths and contribute to organizations. Put career exploration in your schedule and stick to it on a regular basis. This will help reduce your stress later in graduate school.

To explore job postings, check out ASM's Job Board, Career Connections.

Author: Alexis Carpenter

Alexis Carpenter
Alexis Carpenter is currently a Ph.D. student in microbiology at Kansas State University.