Spring quarter is full for everyone, and we also know that many of you are in different stages of reflecting on your career goals. You may be thinking about what you want to do upon degree completion, starting an internship, preparing application materials, or deepening your expertise in a job you already have. Throughout this process, some of you have asked: “How do I initiate a conversation my faculty advisor(s) about my professional goals?”
Do your research. It can be anxiety-provoking to think about approaching your faculty advisor or mentor about your career interests, especially if those interests diverge from you becoming research faculty at a college or university. One of the best ways to initiate a conversation with your advisor is to be prepared beforehand. Here are some tips to help you gather the baseline information you need for that conversation: Assess your work-related interests, strengths, and values to develop a more holistic awareness of who you are as a professional. Utilize the UW Career Center’s comprehensive guide on building resumes and cvs, career advice, interviewing, and job searching. Understand how the skills you are developing in graduate school are indeed transferable across fields and industries. Peruse job postings (and volunteer opportunities) that resonate with your self-assessments, whether they are based in non-profit, industry, or government sectors. Research professional associations affiliated with the fields you are interested in, and contact their members via their websites or LinkedIn. Set up informational interviews with individuals from professional associations, or with employees from companies and organizations that you can imagine yourself working at–to grow your networks.
Get in the habit of career planning over time. The strategies noted above are part of a larger process of intentional career planning. This is a lot of work, but well worth the effort. Intentional career planning is necessary, if you want to move forward in both knowing and reaching your professional goals. Break your goals up into smaller tasks, and work on them for 30 min. to an hour each week. You will move forward one step at a time, rather than trying to tackle it all at once.
Develop and bring materials with you. When you do talk with your faculty advisor, you can bring a simple one page proposal of the career exploration you are engaged in, including sources you are researching and near-term plans for learning more about different options.
Prepare for different responses. You may reach out to one faculty advisor or several. In fact, we encourage you to meet with more than one mentor on your team to widen your potential for support. Practice role playing scenarios with a trusted colleague or friend, where you engage in a conversation about your career interests. Ask your friend to mimic the most unsupportive response to the most supportive response. Utilize these mock responses to gauge what your next steps will be. For example, maybe you find out your advisor has no interest in talking about diverse career opportunities with you but is still fully supportive of your intellectual and technical growth as it pertains to your discipline only. Whom else can you identify (within or outside of your mentoring team) that will advocate for your need to explore diverse career paths?
Help your advisor help you. It is highly likely that your faculty advisor was trained to be a teacher and researcher first and foremost, so they may not have the experience to guide you in exploring diverse career pathways. Share with them your knowledge of all the professional development resources you are accessing (networking, professional associations, social media, UW Career Centers, etc.). Forward them information about campus events, such as job fairs, the Core Programs community college careers panel, or workshops sponsored by the Career Center like How to Find a Job Outside of Academia for Humanities and Social Sciences PhDs. By doing this, you’ll be facilitating a reciprocal learning process about your professional development with your advisor.
All right, we’re totally rooting for you! Please feel free to follow up with us, and let us know if these strategies worked for you. And let us know if you have other suggestions.
Jaye Sablan, Kelly Edwards, Ziyan Bai
Core Programs, UW Graduate School