Are You Coasting Through Graduate School? Don’t Wait to Find Your Dream Job

Are you a “Coaster?” According to Andy Spencer, on Science, coasters are graduate students who don’t think hard about what they want to do with their career. They focus, instead, on simply getting a degree, thinking that they’ll be able to figure out what to do with it once they graduate. “Coasters” hold a blind faith that there will be plenty of opportunities out there for anyone with a Ph.D. and postdoc.

This is a very dangerous assumption. Mapping out what you want to do and where you want to go in your career stimulates many burning questions about what it will take to get there. As you go about finding the answers to these questions, you will begin to build a solid base of knowledge and contacts. Before you know it, your quest for answers will have jump started a professional network … and networking is what will open up career opportunities! Blindly completing your coursework with no sense of where you’re headed, on the other hand, won’t bring you any closer to a dream job, dream postdoc, or the person who can help you get it.

If you’re currently a Coaster, begin thinking NOW about what you want to do in your “life after grad school.” Focus on doing what YOU want! Figure out what type of research you like and would be interested in doing for the rest of your life. Not only will that help you enjoy grad school a lot more, it will most likely play a key role in landing a permanent position you will love.

As you navigate your way through graduate school, the culmination of years of study might force you to consider two roads which diverge in somewhat seemingly opposite directions. Should I pursue an “academic” or “non-academic career?”

Just because you are pursuing a Master’s or doctoral degree does not automatically mean that you have to become a professor or ultimately pursue a career in higher education. To help you make a more informed decision or to help you negotiate a better starting salary take a look at the median faculty salaries for 2006-07.

A weak academic job market might encourage you to look beyond the ivory tower. After years of working on your thesis or dissertation you might come to believe that you are “Trained for Nothing”. However, you have acquired some marketable skills:

  • Work well independently
  • Manage a large project from start to finish
  • Outstanding research and analytical skills
  • Great professional presentation skills
  • Outstanding ability to Multi-task
  • Nonetheless, finding an academic job is not as simple as sending the perfect cover letter along with the perfect resume. Most academic jobs require a curriculum vita (instead of a resume), letters of recommendations, writing sample/s, copies of teaching evaluations, transcripts, and sometimes a copy of syllabus for a course that you have taught.

    Academic jobs are posted in cycles throughout the year, reflective of individual department resources and schedules. As a result, some of the most attractive jobs could be posted before the end of the year. So if you wait until your thesis or dissertation is finished to begin your job search, you may well have your Ph.D. in hand only to find your dream job has already been handed to someone else. You’ll be devastated to learn that the position was posted early and you missed the deadline.

    Be sure to read the December 2005 edition of FinishLine for information on how to best prepare for the Academic Job Market. One “must do” is to explore whether the scholarly and professional Associations for your discipline maintain job listings; depending on your current finances, it may be worthwhile to pay the Association membership fee if doing so can produce some good job leads.

    In addition, be a frequent visitor to the following periodical links, which include job listings of interest to scholars in all fields. (You can search by state and academic discipline.) Some of these links send daily or weekly updates directly to your email if you register with them. Registration is FREE and you can unsubscribe any time you like.

    The Chronicle of Higher Education/Career Network

    HigherED Jobs.Com

    Diverse Issues in Higher Education

    Inside Higher Education


    Nonprofits Professional Advisory Groups

    If you are interested in taking the road less traveled by PhDs consider reading Gaberiela Montell’s article on Finding a Non-Academic Job, in Chronicle Careers. She provides a list of Web resources where you might find useful information and job listings on a variety of alternative careers.

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