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Lead from where you are

Traditional views of leadership suggest that you need a title or status to be a leader. However, true leadership can be seen at every level of a team or organization regardless of title or status. Consider this: are you stepping into your full potential as a leader during your time as a postdoc? Leadership skills are always at the top of the list for any sector in jobs you may be seeking, inside or outside academia. We share insights gleaned from top leaders visiting UW throughout the quarter as part of the Husky Leadership Initiative (and yes, we want to have a postdoc contingent in this next year!)

Purpose: Start with your “why”. The “what” you are doing will change and evolve over time and with different opportunities. But the central purpose to your work, and how you engage with it, will be what opens doors and draws others to you.   

Be curious: There is evidence to show that starting a conversation from a stance of inquiry opens a conversation. This is far more productive than a judgment or accusation, which can close down or narrow a decision. It is more likely to get you where you want to go, and will leave the person with positive regard for you rather than resentment.

Vulnerability: Rather than being a weakness, rumbling with your own vulnerability is one of the most courageous acts there can be. Developing awareness of your vulnerability, rather than guarding against it or pretending it isn’t there can help you to ask for the help you need, seek contributions from others and work toward genuinely co-creating solutions.

Conflict as generative: We often talk about “normalizing feedback” – where everyone has an opportunity to reflect on what’s going well (specifically) and identify a place we can improve. The challenge is transitioning from a culture where conflict has been toxic (judgmental, personal, emotional) to one where it can be healthy.

Superchickens3 don’t win. All of this may seem antithetical to the traditional academic and grant-funded environment we find ourselves in, where competition is the norm. However, research on effective teams and innovative leaders shows that competitive environments become places where people perform at much lower productivity levels: because they are scared, under pressure and not sharing ideas that may grow creative solutions.

Take a moment and reflect on your own teamwork and leadership style. It does not mean being the most charismatic, outgoing or decisive person. Genuine leaders are humble enough to know they do not hold all the answers; they are curious to know what others can bring to the problem or mission at hand. Whatever role you play within your group, you can ask thoughtful questions, invite others to speak and share, value contributions of others, and provide guidance in shaping team or project direction. We believe in you and see you as leaders everywhere throughout our UW ecosystem — thank you.

And thanks to the community leaders who came forward this quarter to generously share their insights about leadership, and the Husky Leadership Initiative.

Deep dive: 

  1. Brene Brown, Dare to Lead. Random House, 2018
  2. Amy Edmundson, Building a psychological safe workplace.
  3. Margaret Heffernan, Why it’s time to forget the pecking order at work. (Opens with the superchicken example if you want to learn more!
  4. Simon Sinek, Start with Why.

Networking is Relationship-Building

In past newsletters, we have encouraged you to build your network of support. This includes growing mentorship connections with peers, faculty and university staff, as well as developing your network of professional, social and community support off campus. Yet we often hear from graduate students and postdocs that although they know that building networks is crucial to success, the “how” isn’t readily apparent at times.

Below are some ways for you to consider networking as a process of relationship-building:

Relationship-building. Networking is about cultivating relationships (short- and long-term); it’s not just a means to an end so you can land an internship, job or access information about upcoming research or professional opportunities. If you approach networking solely as a means to fulfill your own goals, the connections are less meaningful and they will be harder to sustain. Focus on connecting with people you are genuinely curious about, and let the conversations unfold.

Mutuality. Approach each networking relationship through the lens of reciprocity. For example, just as you hope to learn wisdom and insights from individuals who work in fields that pique your interests, individuals within your network can be inspired by your passion and curiosity. If you have questions, you can trust that others do as well. Even experienced mentors need to think through intellectual or work-related questions, and they can arrive at new understandings by learning from your talents and capacities as a mentee.

Cohort mindset. Think of networking as a lifelong process, where you increasingly make connections within a social web of intellectual, professional and community-based relationships. Growing your network decreases your isolation while optimizing your peer and mentor support. For example, depending on where you are now, you may form a writing group, or career exploration group, so you do not have to pursue these typically solo activities in isolation. Over time, opportunities for you to pay-it-forward will undoubtedly open up.

Adaptability. When you’re in the thick of setting and completing immediate goals, it can be difficult to think about where you plan to be in the next five years. Building and sustaining quality networking relationships can increase your chances of responding to future changes (stressful or otherwise) in your field or industry with flexibility, while decreasing your likelihood of making reactive professional decisions. If there is a tough problem you need to solve, individuals in your network can support you by offering multiple perspectives, lend you a compassionate ear so you can weather the storm, and keep you grounded by reminding you of your purpose.

Many thanks to Kemp Battle, Michaela Duffy, and Julia Freeland Fisher for consulting with Core Programs on ideas related to networking.

As always, we hope these strategies are helpful, and let us know what works for you!


Core Programs—Office of Graduate Student Affairs
UW Graduate School

Your Grad School Guide: Developing leadership skills

Hi, reader! We are excited to announce that going forward, this column will no longer be called “the Grad School Guru” and is now “Your Grad School Guide.” Our new name reflects that while the blog is written by a single, anonymous author, we are culling information from sources across the UW to provide you with the best advice and resources. 

Everything else will stay the same. When you submit a question anonymously to Your Guide, you can still opt to receive a personalized response that will not be shared with anyone else. The methods of submitting a question, the kinds of questions answered and our dedication to providing you with resources and support to thrive in grad school will remain the same. Happy asking! 

How do I get into a leadership position? I am returning to graduate school after nearly two decades in the workforce in assistant positions. I am ready to move upward in my career, if someone will just give me a chance. I am afraid that even when I graduate, I will still be seen as only qualified for assistant roles. Please help, any assistance would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!

This blog post was developed based on input from Dr. Bruce Avolio, Mark Pigott Chair in Business Strategic Leadership. 

Hi there,

Thanks for reaching out to your Grad School Guide! I am excited that you are looking to take on leadership roles in your work and I hope I can give you some advice to help you get there.

I have lots of tips and ideas in store for you, but I also want to encourage you to reach out to folks at your campus Career Center or an advisor within your department. They may have additional ideas that are more tailored to your needs within your discipline and career. I’ll list the contacts for the career centers at the end of this post. Your department’s website will have more information about your graduate program advisor or graduate program coordinator.

I asked Bruce Avolio, professor at The Foster School of Business and director for the Center for Leadership and Strategic Thinking, about what makes a good leader. Dr. Avolio says “there are successful leaders without these qualities, but the prototypical leader that most people highly respect have many of the following”:

Personal qualities:

  1. Open to new and different experiences and perspectives. Has a global mindset.
  2. Attitude: positive, hopeful, optimistic and humble.
  3. Authentic and has a strong moral identity. This means acting in a moral and ethical way and being just, highly self-aware of how you impact others, and transparent. Willing to take hard stands on important issues.

Orientation to work:

  1. Motivated to lead! This means you are interested in influencing others and spending the time to learn how to do so. Motivation to lead is usually a starting point for leadership.
  2. Work ethic: conscientious, proactive, resilient and efficacious.
  3. Able to suspend judgment and gather more data before coming to conclusions.
  4. Willing to sacrifice self-interests for the good of the larger group.
  5. Future-oriented in terms of goals and objectives.

Interactions with others:

  1. Empathetic and understanding. Can take other people’s points of view
  2. Builds trust and goodwill by being consistent and following through
  3. Uses positional power in socially constructive ways
  4. Intellectually stimulating and encourages others to see different scenarios, assumptions and different world views
  5. A good steward

Here are some of Your Guide’s ideas for developing these skills:

  1. Identify individuals you respect in current leadership roles and even previous leaders. Observe these people and read about them to see how they show up for leadership and how they treat others, what they focus on, their core values and beliefs, their role models and mentors, etc. (This task is directly from Dr. Avolio!)
  2. Practice being empathetic to a coworker, peer, teacher or someone else.
  3. Reflect on your morals and values. You may find journaling, doodling or list-writing helpful with this. Think about what you care about and how these values will inform your leadership.
  4. Take a class in active listening.
  5. Join a Registered Student Organization (see links below) and take a leadership position within the club. If you don’t find a club that suits your interests, start your own!
  6. Volunteer with a local non-profit in a position that allows you to flex your leadership skills
  7. Look for opportunities (formal or informal) to mentor an undergraduate student in your field.
  8. Read a book written by someone with a different background or identity from your own to broaden your perspective.

Phew! There are a lot of ideas here, but if you pick only one and set an intentional goal to work on it this year, I am confident you’ll make astounding progress!

Finally, don’t be too hard on yourself! Starting grad school is a big, important step in taking more leadership roles. Celebrate the things that you are already doing to advance your career and put some trust in your process.


Your Grad School Guide


Investing in Career Exploration

Happy New Year, and welcome to the start of winter quarter! We hope you set aside time during the break to relax, to have fun, and to acknowledge the milestones you’ve achieved in grad school thus far, no matter how big or small. We know that the first week of the quarter can feel overwhelming. Even so, we encourage you to be proactive about career exploration and carve out just one hour (or even 30 minutes) per week to invest in your future.

Explore your options. Whether you’re just beginning to think about a career path, committed to landing that ultimate dream job, or considering a few professions — taking a step back to assess your professional skills and interests will help you affirm or concretely identify your options. Assessments can help you reflect on questions like, “Does the mission of the organization I would like to work for resonate with my values?,” “What am I looking for in a job or career?,” or “What skills do I bring to the job I am applying to, and what competencies would I like to gain if I were hired?” Below are just a few career assessments and resources to get you started.

– Self-Assessment: Values
– Identify Your Strengths
– Graduate Student Professional Skills and Competencies Checklist
– Career Preparation Toolkit for Grad Students and Postdocs

Expand your connections. One of the most important aspects of successful career planning is building your professional network. You can grow your network by meeting individuals at conferences, joining professional associations and attending social and community events. Individuals in your network are invaluable for a number of reasons. They can share first-hand information about what it’s like to work in their professions and industries. They can impart job search insights (e.g. You could ask them, “If you were entering the field now, what would you do differently to prepare for your career?”). They can refer you to potential employment opportunities that you can apply to now or in the future (note: Did you know that 70–80 percent of jobs are not officially posted anywhere?). Check out these informational resources on networking.

– Career Conversations (aka “informational interviews”)
– An Introvert’s Guide to Networking
– How to Network at Events

Embark on identifying and building your skills. Career exploration also entails being able to identify and develop your professional skills whether you are master’s or doctoral student. As outstanding UW graduate students, you are already honing a range of transferable skills that you can utilize in future careers. Take an inventory of the skills you have gained from past and current jobs and volunteer experiences so you can tailor your resume or CV for specific job applications. If there are skills you’d like to develop, and you can dedicate the time, consider being a volunteer or intern at organizations that pique your interests. If you haven’t done so already, join Handshake, the UW’s online job and internship database.
We hope these career exploration strategies work for you — and don’t forget to connect with your campus’ career center for additional support and resources.


Core Programs—Office of Graduate Student Affairs
UW Graduate School

Postdocs, Take Stock of Your Skills!

As the season turns to fall, it’s a good reminder to check in with how your career preparation is going. In past newsletters, we have shared tips and resources about career exploration, self-assessments, informational interviews, assessing readiness for academic careers and other elements that are so essential to the career preparation process. Regardless of your next job, it can help you to spend time reflecting on skills, competencies and unique strengths you’ve developed through graduate school and during your postdoc fellowship training.

You have developed skills that are valuable to your next employer, whether you are going into an academic career or seeking a position in other sectors. And you have developed skills and strengths whether you know it or not! It can help in your process, particularly if you are experiencing self-doubt or imposter syndrome when it comes to the job search (we all experience this!), to have a former co-worker or current team member give you feedback on what they see as your unique strengths and contributions to the team. Here are just a few examples of how accomplishments that may feel routine as part of your extensive training really are giving you great skills:

Completion of your Ph.D. or a postdoc project requires you to become skilled in project management, leadership and organizational skills. You are responsible for setting and meeting deadlines, reporting on results to your PI and mentors and building new collaborations as your project evolves and new questions arise. It’s also likely you’ve organized a department speaker series, hosted an outside speaker or helped to organize a conference. These activities reflect a range of skills that many positions in diverse sectors will appreciate.

You are comfortable presenting your work, which is likely very complex and technical, to a variety of audiences. Through your training, you’ve learned to ‘read the room’ and present your ideas at an appropriate level. In a research group meeting, you can be very technical. Conversely, when describing your work to your family and friends, you likely use more generalities. You’ve learned to use the power of persuasion to convince funding agencies to support your work, for your committee to move you towards graduation, to set strategic visions for your project and to motivate other team members. These skills are invaluable both inside and outside of the academy.

You have learned to make progress even when not all of the information is known. The most exciting projects are the ones with outcomes that are unknown but once figured out, lead to new questions and avenues to explore. This requires comfort with ambiguity: the definition of a graduate and postdoc experience. Often times, the whole picture is unknown when you start a project, but you figure it out as you go along. Your ability to think on your feet, to manage stress, and to tolerate change is remarkable and should be highlighted.

A more expansive list of skills and competencies can be found here: (1) Professional Skills and Competency Checklist, (2) Core Competencies Self-Assessment Checklist, (3) UW OPA blog on transferable skills. By reviewing these common capabilities upon which employers evaluate applications, you can determine which skills you have already developed, and more importantly, identify those that need further attention before you feel fully qualified for a job. Also, remember that if a posting matches your skills by roughly 75 percent, it’s a good idea to go ahead and apply (see The Muse). Employers often identify all the traits an ideal candidate will have; however, most don’t fit the bill 100 percent. If you’re close, go ahead and apply! You are ready for your next professional adventure.

Debunking myths about tenure-track positions

This week, the School of Medicine hosted a two-day Future Faculty Fellows workshop under the leadership of Drs. Chet Moritz and Rosana Risques. The panels and workshops addressed all elements of a successful academic faculty application package, including how to negotiate your first position. For the 90+ postdocs present, one of the more confusing sessions was the “money panel” where we discussed all the different ways you can get paid to be a faculty member (regardless of title).

Dr. Kelly Edwards joined Drs. Moritz and Risques to describe the variety of arrangements they had each been through, from Acting Instructor, Acting Assistant Professor or Research Assistant Professor to Associate Professor with a 50% component with tenure, and full Professor “without tenure for reasons of funding.”

As you can tell, faculty positions come in a number of varieties, each with different characteristics and expectations. As shown below, the time spent at each early stage is limited. Acting appointments are optional, and are there to give you time and support needed to build publication and funding track records that will help you compete successfully for a permanent faculty position.

What’s tenure mean, anyway? It means the University is making a permanent commitment to you for your faculty position. However, it does not mean that there is guaranteed and permanent funding with that position. Each of our UW departments has different components to the salary — often referred to as “A plus B”. Part of the salary (anywhere from just 10% up to 50-60-75%) is covered by “hard” money from the department or University; for the additional “soft” money component, the faculty member is expected to cover it via grant dollars, additional teaching commitments, or clinical service.

In addition to tenure, each entry-level faculty appointment has different rights, responsibilities, and expectations. This is dependent upon your school and department, and by the Faculty Code. For example, some tenure-track Assistant Professors must provide their summer salary, usually from external grants. Similarly, some Research Assistant Professors are not awarded independent research space without external research funding. When you’re investigating a potential position, be sure to clarify the opportunities, expectations, policies and procedures for the given University and department.

Other myths we discussed included whether having a K-award or career award covering 75% of your salary was really the only way to start out as a funded junior faculty member. There are many other models, including being an active co-investigator with a diverse number of research projects and groups, even outside of your primary department. To be competitive for Assistant Professor positions, often “without tenure for reasons of funding” or even with tenure with expectations of a “B” or “soft money” component, the main thing is to show you are fundable and can compete with a variety of funding agencies. Having a diverse funding portfolio and a robust set of research collaborators can set you up for success, even in challenging economic times.

Confused? Come talk with us at the OPA and we’ll be happy to answer questions and sort through the questions to ask as you are evaluating different positions.  Even as you are inquiring about job positions, it is important to explore what “tenure-track” means for that department or University. As you get into second visits and interviews, it can help to ask harder questions: what kind of start-up or initial period of support is available? What kind of support is there within the department or school for grants administration? What teaching opportunities or obligations are there with the type of position you have? What kinds of bridge funding are available, if needed? Remember, during the negotiation, the Chair is looking to recruit and support you at their institution. Ask for what you legitimately need, and work with the Chair to make the most complete package as you start your independent career.

Identifying your career interests: Phase two of three in the job search

Note: This article is the second in a series of posts about job searching. You can find the first post, on self-assessing your application materials, here.

The academic year has flown by, and some grad students are graduating and approaching an exciting new phase in the working world: others are continuing their education and looking for summer work in-between. But what if you don’t have a job lined up, and are unsure of how to get started?

Lucky for you, the Guru attended a workshop detailing an approach to the job search, taught by Caitlin Goldbaum, career coach at the Career & Internship Center. The following is an outline of the strategies Caitlin recommends for a successful job search. It is being published in three parts, corresponding to the three phases of the job hunt: (1) self-assess; (2) identify the work you are looking for; (3) assess the three core strategies for job hunting.

This week we focus on phase two: identifying the work you are looking for. Feel free to email the Guru with any questions, or comment below about any self-assessment tools or strategies that have worked for you. Happy hunting, grad students!

Phase two: Identify the kind of work you are looking for to help narrow your selection criteria and tailor your application materials.

Try these steps:

  1. Take stock of your top skills and strengths. These may or may not be related to your area of study.
  2. Identify what you are interested in. Again, this could an area you study or something else.
  3. Describe your ideal work environment — is it in an office or outdoors? People-focused or not people-focused?
  4. What do you want your day-to-day activities to look like?
  5. What is an industry you’re interested in?
  6. >What persuasive essay you are able to consider and write?

Note: Check out blog posts on the Career Services website to help you identify industries you may be interested in and narrow it down.

A few things to keep in mind during this phase (and always):

  • You don’t need to know everything right now.
  • There are a lot of ways to find satisfaction in your career: teammates, day-to-day activities, the mission of a company — think about different ways you might find satisfaction in your career, where your priorities lie, and be open to new information and experiences.
  • Your first job is not the only job you’ll have; most people change jobs six–10 times in their career. But your first job may help you figure out what you want to do and what you don’t want to do.

Have a grasp on your interests and career skills? You’re ready for the third and final phase of the job application process: assessing the tools for job hunting. 

Ask the Grad School Guru is an advice column for all y’all graduate and professional students. Real questions from real students, answered by real people. If the guru doesn’t know the answer, the guru will seek out experts all across campus to address the issue. (Please note: The guru is not a medical doctor, therapist, lawyer or academic advisor, and all advice offered here is for informational purposes only.) Submit a question for the column →

Self-assessment: Phase one of three in the job search

The academic year has flown by, and some grad students are graduating and approaching an exciting new phase in the working world: others are continuing their education and looking for summer work in-between. But what if you don’t have a job lined up, and are unsure of how to get started?

Lucky for you, Your Guide attended a workshop detailing an approach to the job search, taught by Caitlin Goldbaum, career coach at the Career & Internship Center. The following is an outline of the strategies Caitlin recommends for a successful job search. It is being published in three parts, corresponding to the three phases of the job hunt: (1) self-assess; (2) identify the work you are looking for; (3) assess the three core strategies for job hunting.

This week’s phase is self-assessment of your job search materials. Feel free to email your Guide with any questions, or comment below about any self-assessment tools or strategies that have worked for you. Happy hunting, grad students!

Phase One: Self-assess your job materials.

Consider each component of your application – resume, cover letter, LinkedIn, and possibly a portfolio – and ask yourself if you they are comprehensive, free of typos and formatting errors and updated for your next job search. Before you start the job search, you should:

  1. Have a strong resume that can be tailored to any job
  • A resume will be necessary for any job application
  • Create a new resume for every job. Highlight your experiences that prepare you for this position
  • Pull out keywords from the job description and try to capture your experiences through the lens of those keywords.
  • Use a variety of action verbs to describe what you did in each experience. Include information about the task, the actions you took, and the result of your work.
  • If your resume isn’t ready, here are a couple good places to start:
    • 15 minute drop-in appointments with the Career Center for resume (or cover letter!) consultation
    • The Career Guide (written by the Career Center) includes templates to help you with layout of your resume. Pro-tip: Don’t download a template from online (they’re dated), create your own in Word.
  1. Be confident that you can write a compelling cover letter
  • Most jobs require a cover letter. If it’s optional, do it.
  • The cover letter gives the employer a “more complete” story of who you are and what experiences have prepared you for the position .
  • A cover letter is a persuasive document. The first paragraph will include a thesis statement on why you are the best candidate for the position
  • The middle paragraph is where you tell a complete story about a past experience connected to the keywords in the job description.
  • The concluding paragraph is where you reiterate your interest, highlight why you are well qualified, and invite the employer to bring you in for an interview to discuss your qualifications further.
  • You’ll create a new cover letter for each job you apply for with different stories from your experience.
  • To answer on the question how to write my essay, just go and buy it, and you will save the time
  1. Regularly utilize LinkedIn for networking
  • LinkedIn is not required, but is highly encouraged: many jobs and industries look for this.
  • Having a LinkedIn allows you to control your online presence.
  • It allows an employer to see the full trajectory of your career.
  1. Have a portfolio that clearly showcases your best work, if-needed. Industries where you may need a portfolio are the arts, journalism, design, architecture, engineering.
  2. Feel comfortable interviewing. Need to practice some interview questions? You can set up a mock interview with the Career Center!

Feeling confident in your job search materials? Move on to the second phase of the job application process — self-assessment of your interests and skills! 

Ask Your Grad School Guide is an advice column for all y’all graduate and professional students. Real questions from real students, answered by real people. If the Guide doesn’t know the answer, the Guide will seek out experts all across campus to address the issue. (Please note: The Guide is not a medical doctor, therapist, lawyer or academic advisor, and all advice offered here is for informational purposes only.) Submit a question for the column →

Making a strong first impression when applying for jobs

There are multiple components to a successful job application, including a resume or curriculum vitae (CV), letters of reference and a cover letter. All are important, but you just get one chance to make a strong first impression and convince the reviewers to give the rest of your application materials a look.

The cover letter is the first opportunity you have to convince the hiring manager or your future boss that you are a great fit for the job. Even if you use primarily the same CV or letters of reference for many applications, it is always well worth the time to tailor and target your cover letter each time.

Regardless of sector, and whether requested or not, the cover letter allows you to connect specifics from your experience to the position and organization. Here are some tips for writing a cover letter that will help you stand out from the applicant pool:

  • Highlight and expand on some of the details listed in your CV or resume, but do not merely repeat what is already detailed there. The cover letter, or statement of interest, is the chance for you to bring your resume to life for a reviewer.
  • Use specific examples to convince your future employer that you are the right person to do the job. Similar to letters of reference, don’t simply list your skills and traits. Give specific examples on how you used the desired skills to successfully solve a problem or move a project forward. A detailed description will provide great insight into you as a person and a future employee.
  • Read the job description and personalize your letter for the specific job posting. Most readers can readily tell when you’ve sent out cover letters in bulk, with little effort to address the hiring organization and skills required for a particular job. When compared to a well-researched letter, the candidate with the non-specific letter will surely not be invited for an interview.
  • Your letter should include the skills and competencies outlined in the job posting. Many companies use computers to perform the first screen during the evaluation process. If your letter is not responsive to the job posting, then your application might be discarded prior to the start of the real evaluation.
  • Be concise. Hiring managers don’t have time to read long letters, especially when a single job posting receives hundreds of inquires. While providing enough specific details to stimulate excitement for your application and a more careful review, be sure to keep you letter to two pages (or one). The goal of a letter is to get invited for an interview, and there you’ll have the opportunity to expand at length!

As you start to think about your future job search, we encourage you to attend the Future Faculty Fellows workshop that takes place in June each year or check out the online guides provided by the Career & Internship Center. You can always reach out to us at the OPA with questions, or make an appointment to go through draft materials with you.