Something that’s been coming up a lot lately in my life is how do you prepare for a career in academia. There’s a lot of information out there for the actual application process, but what about before; what can you do during your graduate career to make your future application stronger?
So I thought I’d share a few ideas that have come out of recent conversations with faculty and post-docs in my department.
1. Be proactive about learning. Many departments/groups have speakers and/or paper discussions, take advantage of as many of those that you can. In addition, you may find it useful to do a paper discussion with just other grad students (so that you can discuss and clear up things in a “safe” environment).
2. Build meaningful relationships with professors/speakers now. One of the professors in my group was complaining about how grad students/post-docs will converge on professors after they speak at conferences. This “cloud” of people do not generally come across as interested in the talk/topic, but rather as desperate for a job. It is better to talk to visiting speakers when they come to your campus (often they are there to collaborate, so its a perfect time to exchange ideas, even if you don’t feel qualified). Someone who has already met you in a non-job seeker situation is more likely to have a positive opinion of you come application time.
3. Take advantage of the resources in your own group/department. One thing that our group is currently organizing is a workshop for grad students about non-research considerations, presented by our own faculty and post-docs. Also, many post-docs have just gone though the job process and may be able to provide specific insight (plus they can be less intimidating than a full professor).
4. Look at what’s currently offered at your institution. Whether it’s improving your teaching skills, opportunities to present your research, or attending workshops and lectures; such activities are usually free and can be an easy way to build your experiences.
5. Make use of your professional networks. I’m going to point to SWE here, since it is such a great resource. We have free webinars, a career center, conferences, scholarships, etc. that you can take advantage of as a SWE member. I’m particularly excited about the upcoming WE12 conference in Houston; where you will get a chance to network, attend relevant sessions, take advantage of a huge career fair, and generally build your experience.
I hope this list inspires you to be more proactive in your own career development and I’d love to hear ideas from the rest of you.