UW Graduate School

November 2, 2017

Exploration and Action: Keys to identifying your next steps

We often talk with postdocs about steps you can take to plan for your future. Before jumping into goal setting, investing time in assessment, reflection, and exploration can help assure your goals are aiming you in the right direction. We have promoted a few self-assessment tools in the past (myIDP and Doug’s Guides). A new tool from the Graduate Career Consortium (ImaginePhD) has enhanced capabilities and expanded “job families” that help you match your skills, values, and interests with a wider set of options.

Take time to invest in your future: Roughly five to 25 percent of your time (one to 10 hours) should be focused on your future. Whether you spend that time in self-assessment, sector exploration, informational interviews, grant writing, writing YOUR publications, or on your independent research, it is critical to your future success that you take a few hours each week to build and plan your career. This goes for brand new postdocs as well as those of you in your fifth year — it is never too late or too early to start.

Assess where you are: Set short term (three-month) and long term (three-year) goals. The new ImaginePhD website has a very helpful planning tool called “My Plan”. They have listed numerous potential goals for career, skills, funding, and personal development directions. You can drag and drop to give yourself actions to take each week,  month or year. It can be modified and updated. The best goals are SMART: specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and time-sensitive. This means you have to revisit them regularly — ideally with a conversation partner, who can be a peer, your faculty advisor or a member of your mentoring team.

Make a plan: The tools mentioned above can help you take stock of where you are now, and this includes not only your skill sets and experiences, but also the nature of the work you enjoy and work environments where you find yourself thriving. Choose one or all of the tools to help you think about where you are — it can change from day to day — and then use this feedback to help you make an informed plan. You should consider additional skills or experiences you should gain during your postdoc and which sectors or kinds of roles you should be exploring for your next career phase.

While designed for people from humanities and social science backgrounds, the improved interface, expanded options, and tailored planning that is available through ImaginePhD makes it worthwhile for postdocs from all disciplines. Give it a try and then give us feedback. Let us know if it is working for you.