Perhaps you’re anticipating entering your first year of grad school or maybe you’re just starting your graduate career. There’s a lot to take in during your first couple years, but now is the perfect time to become the superstar job candidate when you graduate.
So you’re a new graduate student, and there’s years of possibilities for you ahead. If you want to make the most of your time in graduate school, however, you should really be planning for your endgame right now. Here are some more tips to help you land a great job when you graduate. To see Part 1, click here.
Diversify Your Research
Think of your research as an investment portfolio. Make sure that you don’t put all your eggs in one research project. If there is a long-term, high-reward project, make sure that you’re always working on it. Be sure to enlist lots of help, research assistants, etc. so that you have time to invest in other short-term, low-reward (but easier) research projects. If you have a blend of easy vs. hard, long- vs. short-term, and high- vs. low-payoff research projects, you can be sure that if things don't work out, you have something to put on your CV at the end of your graduate career. You also want to be sure that you have more than one or two research interests.
Take Advantages of Teaching
A lot of programs are really good at getting graduate students teaching experience. Some won’t let you teach undergraduates at all. Make sure that you know which type of program you are in, and capitalize as much as you can on teaching experience. Even if you’re interested in a strictly research career, you will probably still need some teaching experience. If you’re interested in a blend of teaching and research, you will need to have evidence that you are a competent instructor. Because of that, be sure to get your evaluations at the end of the semester. If you’re interested in going into an industry job, teaching is still an important skill on the job that employers are looking for (a.k.a. experience training others).
Learn New Skills
Perhaps your program emphasizes statistics, fMRI, lexical decision tasks, or Western blot methods. Whatever it is that your field thinks is valuable, learn the relevant skills in your field. You don’t want to graduate and have no experience doing some technique that everyone else in your field uses just because you never worked on a project involving those methods. Develop a research project or initiative if only to learn that new skill. This will impress potential employers and give you an edge over others who may not be as versatile as you in their methods.
Assess Your Goals Each Year
At the end of each year, look over your CV, or list of goals you hoped to accomplish. Always be checking that you’re staying on track. If you slipped in some area, create a plan of action for how you will meet that goal in the near future. If you have things crossed off your list, pat yourself on the back, and create a new to-do list. Maybe you wanted one publication by the end of your second year, and you were lucky enough to get two. Great, now make it to four publications by the end of your third. Always be thinking big!
Sometimes your goals may not match up with something that you expected. Maybe you had to switch advisors or you had a major health crisis. Be flexible, be realistic, and don’t beat yourself up if you didn’t get as far as you’d like. Whatever set-back you may have faced, however, be sure to always be thinking of contingency plans. Don’t just let grad school "happen" to you. Be active in the process, be positive, and most of all, enjoy what you do. If you’re not enjoying even some small bit about what you do, it’s time to rethink your goals and reformulate your plans. Remember stick with it, and you'll get that great job you hoped for! As long as you love what you're doing, you'll enjoy your job--no matter what it is.