Career decisions for Ph.D. students

Career decisions for graduate students can be challenging, especially for Ph.D. students. There is often a presupposition that a good Ph.D. student would stay in academia and they might have wasted their time getting a Ph.D. if they want to go into industry afterward!

This dim outlook has put pressure on many graduate students and led to stress and anxiety. There have been many studies on graduate students’ mental health under the pressure of finding their place in the job market, one of which is the great paper by T. M. Evans et al, “Evidence for a mental health crisis in graduate education”.

What I would like to emphasize is that we should not let the fear of anyone’s judgment or the perception of a lack of opportunities define our future. Moreover, we should remember that leaving academia is not a failure! More important than focusing on our research is to develop self-awareness, and there are multiple resources out there that I will share in my future posts. With greater self-awareness, we will choose the best path for our career and thus we will invest our time on what we are truly passionate about which is going to result only in better outcomes.

To gain better self-awareness, we should consciously observe our experience during our life in grad school, and note the aspects we enjoy more. We should also appreciate that after all our hard work, we deserve to follow a career that brings us joy and comfort, and this is likely going to be different for each of us.

Some of us find the best place to satisfy our curiosity at university labs, while others prefer to experience a job that has a more immediate impact on society, or even a job with more family-friendly working hours. The only thing that we should be cautious about is that our choice is an informed decision based on self-awareness. Here are some steps to give ourselves the opportunity to explore more areas and make better decisions:

  • Throughout your Ph.D. you have the opportunity to complete various tasks. Tasks like collecting data, running experiments, data processing, programming, presentation, mentoring, and many more. Try to do them consciously, to figure out which category of activities are more enjoyable to you and try to focus on those.  Remember these tasks, and look for a career which allows you to perform these types of jobs, and will result in a more pleasant working environment for you.
  • Do research about the jobs out there in your field and try to gain some experience in them. There are many ways you can gain information about different professions related to your expertise aside from reading online articles and job offers. Try to maintain connections with people you meet at conferences, for example through Linkedin, so that they remember you when you need an advice. Talk to these connections, and ask them about their job experience.
  • Go out there and experience new career opportunities yourself. If possible, do an internship to see how you like the experience of an industry job. You can also volunteer or ask to shadow professionals in the industry, public policy, science communication, or other fields. Look for short programs and conferences that seek to expose graduate students to new areas of work.

This post was inspired by the article posted on the Nature website. If you enjoyed this post, please read the full article. Also feel free to leave comments below, or share your thoughts through email.



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