Exploring Professions In & Beyond Academia: For Ph.D. Students Across the Disciplines

Program Description

On January 17 and 24, 2023, the Center for International Relations & Cultural Leadership Exchange (CIRCLE) and Graduate Student Affairs in The Graduate School hosted Exploring Professions In & Beyond Academia: A 2-Day Career Symposium for Ph.D. Students. Participants were doctoral students in the sciences, engineering, social sciences, and humanities. Collaborators included the Career & Internship Center and the UW Libraries Research Commons.

Each day included:

– Keynote speakers
– Moderated panels
– Workshops
– Networking opportunities

Learning goals:

– Understand how to use a career self-assessment tool to identify interests, skills, and values
– Learn insights from guest speakers and panels about careers inside and beyond academia
– Gain strategies to assess a possible employer’s commitment to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion (DEI) practices
– Develop networking skills to build professional connections

Select Recordings

Video description: Keynote speaker Bill Mahoney, Ph.D. discusses professional development topics in Career Exploration & Planning for Ph.D. Students in Sciences & Engineering Fields. on January 17, 2023. Dr. Mahoney is the Associate Dean of Student and Postdoctoral Affairs in the Graduate School, University of Washington.

Topics include:

  • Planning for your future career
  • Transferable skills
  • Growing your mentoring team
  • Using an individual development plan: myIDP

Video description: Clip from keynote talk titled Career Exploration & Planning for Social Sciences & Humanities Ph.D. Students, with Bill Mahoney, Ph.D. on January 24, 2023.


  • Using an individual development plan: ImaginePhD
  • The rest of this presentation included similar themes as discussed in the video on Career Exploration & Planning for Ph.D. Students in Sciences and Engineering Fields. Please watch that video featured above to learn more.

Additional videos from this event:

Sharing Insights Across the UW Tri-Campus

Via our graduate student e-bulletin, a summary of event insights was e-mailed to all graduate students at our Bothell, Seattle, and Tacoma campuses.

E-mail Message: Exploring Professions In & Beyond Academia

In January, the Center for International Relations and Cultural Leadership Exchange (CIRCLE) and Graduate Student Affairs organized a two-day career symposium for Ph.D. students across the disciplines called Exploring Professions In and Beyond Academia. Many thanks to the Career & Internship Center and UW Libraries Research Commons for partnering with us. Each day included keynote speakers, presentations on career self-assessments, workshops on effective networking skills, panels with UW doctoral-level professionals working across employment sectors, and panels with faculty who shared insights on applying to tenure-track faculty positions. In this grad bulletin, we focus on the career exploration insights from the faculty panels and panels with professionals who have earned doctoral degrees.

Insights from the tenure-track faculty panels:

Applying to tenure track positions. Faculty positions at research-intensive universities are typically posted in the fall, with positions starting in the fall of the following year. Consider applying to at least ten positions (but not too many) at various universities and colleges; it’s a lot of work to prepare and tailor application materials for each institution. While it’s important to have a strong cover letter, writing sample, letters of recommendation, research statement, teaching statement, and diversity statement, different institutions may request additional documentation and have different page length requirements. In your teaching statement, propose new courses to show how you will contribute your unique scholarly expertise and interests to the new university or college. If you’re selected as a candidate, practice your job talk (and/or teaching demo) more than once. During your talk or teaching demo, imagine that the interviewing faculty are already your colleagues—to help you feel more at ease.

On academic work environments. Is developing and publishing scholarly work (e.g., at a research-focused university) your main passion, or do you want to work in an environment where there’s more time to hone your teaching practices (e.g., at a community college or liberal arts college)? Do you see yourself teaching in big lecture halls at a large university or in community college classrooms where the student-to-faculty ratio is much lower? Can you imagine living in the city where the hiring institution is located? What factors will you need to consider before deciding to relocate for a faculty position (e.g., partner, children, friends, community, etc.)? Finally, consider the student populations of the institutions you’ll apply to. Would you prefer working in classroom environments where the students are diverse or relatively homogenous?

Insights on working beyond academia from professionals with doctoral degrees (many of whom are UW alumni):

  • Whether you’re a current graduate student or a postdoc, use an individual development plan to help you to start planning your career trajectory beyond academia. Career self-assessment tools such as ImaginePhD (social sciences and humanities) or myIDP (STEM) are valuable resources. These tools are also applicable to master’s-level students.
  • Know yourself and brand yourself by creating a tailored LinkedIn profile or professional website. Customize the contents of your online presence so that you stand out to professionals in your desired industries and employment sectors.
  • Research the jobs in nonprofit, local government, federal, or industry sectors. This will give you insights on whether you need to learn new skills to pivot (e.g., learning a coding language or data analytic skills) career paths.
  • Graduate students naturally develop several transferable skills that they can utilize in nonacademic jobs: project management, collaboration, strong writing skills, analytical thinking, synthesizing large amounts of information, and public speaking skills, to name a few. Spend time aligning the skills you develop as a grad student with the preferred qualifications listed in job applications in your desired field.
  • Ask your advisor(s) if they know of people working in nonacademic careers to grow contacts in your professional network.
  • Be mindful that most people you reach out to for an informational interview want to talk to you about their jobs and career experiences. Tailor your initial email or LinkedIn message so that the person knows you are serious about networking with them. Remember that the purpose of the informational interview is not to ask for a job; it’s to learn about the person and their professional career choices and outcomes.
  • If higher pay is what you’re seeking, the annual salary tends to be higher in industry jobs.
  • Suppose you decide to work in the county, city, or local government agencies. In that case, your job can have a more direct and positive impact on your community.

We’ll be posting the recordings online in the near future. We hope you find these tips and insights helpful, and let us know what has worked for you.

Thanks to faculty panelists, Drs. Xu Chen (Associate Professor, UW Mechanical Engineering), Bianca Dang (Assistant Professor, UW History), Heather Price (Chemistry Faculty, North Seattle College), Tomas de Roche Rezende (Assistant Professor, UW Education), & Adam Steinbrenner (Assistant Professor, UW Biology).

Thank you as well to the Ph.D.-level professionals who spoke at the symposium: Drs. Spencer Cohen (Principal & Founder, High Peak Strategy LLC), Ismael Fajardo (Director of Performance & Evaluation, City of Seattle Department of Education), Xianyang Guan (Senior Modeler, WSP), Jesús Hidalgo (Graduate Program Advisor, UW History), Karla-Luise Herpoldt (Scientist II, 2seventy bio), Kristin McCowan (Director of Research Partnerships, Center for Community Education), & Adele Zhang (Project Manager for Global Talent, Walmart).


Graduate Student Affairs
UW Graduate School