Thoughts on successfully finishing grad school and transitioning to the workplace

I recently graduated (May 2015) and have now been in my new job for a few months. I’ve made note of a few things I think helped me successfully finish my PhD, find a job, move across the country, and settle into a new life. While these may not work for everyone, hopefully they may help you discover some things that may help you in the transition.

  • It’s never to early to keep a research journal. I found that one of the most advantageous things I did for myself in grad school was write along the way. Many grad students write papers, but those tend to be much denser than the thesis or dissertation will ultimately be. I suggest keeping an electronic record of what you’re doing and why you chose to do it that way, including the assumptions you made and why you made them. You can then simply take this content and transform it into your thesis or dissertation and fill in the gaps as necessary.
  • Have a plan for applying to jobs. Know the typical timeline for your line of work — how long does it take people to get through whatever processing (e.g. security clearance) is required? I suggest creating all your job profiles and search agents a year before you plan to graduate. That way, when you see a cool job all you have to do is hit “submit”! This assumes that you want to start your job within a few months of finishing school. Also make sure that you have professors or rec letter writers lined up that you can simply supply their name when needed. (Make sure to let them know when you do submit their name, though!)
  • I HIGHLY suggest taking time off between graduating and starting your job. Especially if all you’ve ever done is be in school, it’s really nice to have this time. The amount of time depends on your personal situation. I also suggest using this time to take the vacations that you want to take prior to starting your job. Many companies will not start you off with vacation time and you have to accrue it, so take advantage of the time while you can!
  • Read your benefits package VERY CLOSELY. Saving for retirement is crucial. It’s so much better to start this savings plan as soon as possible so it grows as long as possible. Max out your allowed contributions, or at least make sure you put in enough for your company to match, if they do that.
  • Many grad students are used to living on a tight budget — keep this up! If you can continue to live on a modest budget, put the rest of the money into a savings or investment account and let those accounts work their magic. The money will build up fast!
  • Make an effort to get to know your co-workers. Schedule or set aside time with them to learn about their background and the project they’re working on. Networking is crucial in the first years on the job.
  • Be honest with your manager, if you feel comfortable, about what you expect to gain out of your first few years. They typically want to help you accomplish this, but they need to know how they can help you.
  • CRUCIAL: find mentors. Mentors in positions you aspire to; mentors in your work groups; mentors outside your work; mentors in SWE

Something I’ve noticed since I started my job (aka you’re not alone!): I feel guilty when watching TV during the evenings. I feel like I should be studying, working on a paper, or doing something productive. In fact, this relaxation is critical to recharging for another day at work. So, don’t feel guilty!

I hope these tips help you in some way! Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments!

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