UW Graduate School

May 21, 2020

Career advice during COVID-19

As we anxiously await the termination of our current Stay Home, Stay Healthy order, the realities of a changed work environment and altered research expectations have clearly hit home. In recent weeks, we’ve heard of the dire predictions of budget shortfalls – within the School of Medicine, across the UW campus, and within our community. Unfortunately, the financial impact of our Stay Home, Stay Healthy won’t be fully realized for a number of months, if not years. More importantly, it will be quite a while before we return to an environment even remotely resembling our pre-COVID memories, especially as it relates to our research setting and UW in general.

Just as the full budget implications are currently unknown, the COVID-19-related impact upon future job prospects is also unclear. Recruitment for many positions, both inside and outside of academia, has been put on hold, at least temporarily. In fact, even what a ‘workplace’ constitutes (offices, shared spaces, flexible work-from-home policies, etc.), will likely be different in the coming months and years. However, while it’s not comforting at the moment, please trust that not far into the future, the draw for highly trained scientists and researchers will return. Your experience as a UW postdoctoral fellow will prepare you for these jobs. You need to make sure that when the time comes, you are ready to be successful.
We encourage you to acknowledge the uncertainty and stress associated with the current situation. However, if you’re able, temporarily place your negative feelings aside and consider the following steps in planning for your future.

  • Reflect: Take a moment to assess where you are and where you want to go. Review and update your Individualized Development Plan (IDP) – or create one if you don’t already have one (see myIDPImaginePhD, and OPA’s framing questions). Assess your current skill set and determine how you’re going to fill any gaps as you prepare for your next career stage. Once you’ve updated your IDP, be sure to have a discussion with your mentor team to get support, guidance, and advice.
  • Prepare: Whether you expect to pursue a non-academic or academic career, you’ll need to prepare a resume or curriculum vitae. In addition, you may be asked for additional application materials (e.g., a cover letter, writing samples, teaching & research statements, etc.). Take the time now to create or update these documents and ask your peers and mentors for constructive feedback. Also, consider polishing your supporting materials so you’re ready to simply tailor them for specific job opportunities in the future.
  • Network: Reach out to your mentors and peers to learn about different career options. Allocate some time to update your LinkedIn profile, and then connect with peers at different companies and employment sectors. Remember, all it takes is a shared experience to be virtually connected (e.g., connected to a common person, attended the same graduate institution, have a shared interest in a topic area, etc.) – then it’s up to you to make the first request to connect. Once virtually connected, start a conversation to learn more about their career path and their current job (e.g., an informational interview). This expanded network will be extremely helpful when you formally enter the job market.
  • Focus on your development: In addition to resources listed on the UW Office of Postdoctoral Affairs, many of our peers have made their career and professional development resources available to the broader postdoc community. We will be highlighting some of these in the coming months. In the meantime, feel free to explore:

We understand that now is an unprecedented and difficult time. But, if you do have the bandwidth (both emotionally and mentally), we encourage you to spend some time preparing for a prospective job opportunity. Invest in your future now, and your future self will thank you!