Following Sara’s posts on post-PhD considerations and 20 alternative careers, I want to share the experience of some GSN students going through the post-PhD career questions in a group. So far I found this the most helpful way to work on that compared to all the workshops and career fairs, so I want to share the approach with you and really encourage you to try it out.

Struggling to find any idea of what to do after the PhD and having big doubts about staying in academia, I stumbled across the TEDx video by Nadia Jaber in which she shares her experience in organizing career development group with her peers. They found it very helpful and later on helped some other students to organize similar meetings. Eventually, they created a website with the advice and program for creating such a group.

I thought that this sounded like a plan worth trying, so I and three other GSN students ran such a career development group from September 2016 to February 2017. Below I will share some details of what we did and the testimonials of other members in hope to inspire you as well 🙂

What we did

We had bi-weekly meetings from September 2016 to February 2017. The program was roughly based on PhD ladder, but we also had some additions. In total we covered:

  • Deciding what to do (self-assessment, career matches, possibilities after PhD)
  • Skill building
  • LinkedIn – building and using your profile
  • Informational interviews
  • Resume
  • Interviews (including some mock interviews)
  • Networking – strategies, tips, how to make people like you
  • Mentoring
  • Discussed many small things like business cards, making use of career fairs, building contact database

Each meeting consisted of:

  • Sharing the progress (also based on the assignments from the last meeting)
  • Presentation on the topic by one of the group members
  • Discussion on the topic
  • Optional: if anyone of the group had done some workshop about career, we would share the experience and knowledge
  • Creating an action plan (for all and individual) – what to do until the next meeting

To support the meetings we created a Google Drive folder with useful resources and all the materials from the meeting and had a WhatsApp group to share information about the events or resources.

Why was it good for us

viktoriaFor me, these meetings, together with some other life events, were very helpful to see my passion and to believe that it’s is something I can actually pursue as a career. The passion proved to be organization and leading this kind of training and personal consulting for students 🙂 And the support of the group helped me to start making real life steps and stay on track with my business ideas, even when I had a difficult time with my PhD. It was also very good to have a little push from the group to do some small thing you always put aside, like making sense of my LinkedIn profile.

I’m very proud of what we’ve achieved with the core group of 4 regular participants, even though for every one of us the visible progress was to a different extent. But I could see that something very important happened to each of us – we are not scared PhD students anymore but rather people who know that their career is in their hands and life after a PhD is just another step on the way to discover and follow your passion.

I’m very grateful to the group for their support and lively participation! And I think it was very useful that we were our own teachers in this course – there’s no better way to learn something than to explain it to someone else 🙂

My recommendation for the other PhD students: start working on your career development now! It’s never too early. I’m convinced that anyone with a PhD will find a job with a decent salary, but in the real world it would be great if they all have a job they love. And it is possible, but will require you to invest time and work into achieving this goal.

It’s always easier to go through difficult steps with support from others, so use a chance to work together with other students. And I can really recommend doing it in a way similar to our approach – regular meeting with some specified program (It helps to sink into discussions, but also to keep making small steps forward).

If I can help you with organizing your career development group or you want to know more details about our experience, please feel free to contact me.

luisaLuisa Canhos:

These career development meetings were key for me to completely change the way I look into the prospects of my future career. The most important things I took from these meetings were that there is an immensity of opportunities for PhD graduates outside of academia (and plenty of cool, intellectually-challenging jobs), and that a good career path takes a lot of strategic planning, so it’s never too early to start taking some action. These meetings were very useful for me to start getting out of my comfort zone and facing the scary thoughts about what my life after the PhD should look like. It was really helpful to exchange experiences and valuable information with other people who are facing the same situation and it was really great to interact with such proactive people who gave me inspiration and motivation to take some action. These meetings gave me the first push towards identifying and pursuing my career goals and I’m really glad I participated in this. Special thanks to Viktoria for organizing this and bringing a lot of useful resources, well-structured plans, and helpful discussions to our meetings!

Two resources that were the most mind-shifting for me were the 80,000 hours article on career capital, which helped me a lot in my considerations for my next career step, and the Scott Jeffrey’s guide to core values, which was a great self-assessment tool.

My advice for other PhD students is: don’t postpone your career development any longer! Seriously, don’t wait until your defense to start taking some action for your next career step (be it inside or outside of academia, but especially for the ones who want to transition). Be proactive, inform yourself and look for support and exchange from your colleagues/fellow PhD students. Also feel free to contact me if you have any questions. Good luck and all the best in your career pursuit!

dianDian Anggraini:

First of, many thanks to Vika for organizing this career development meeting. The key take home message from the meeting is ‘CAREER DEVELOPMENT’. It was never meant to be a meeting on ‘how to apply for a job’. Career development is something everyone needs to constantly do, even after one gets his/her dream job. Why? Because things change, companies relocate, companies merge or get acquired.

In the back of my mind, I’ve always known that I have to start thinking about what I really want to do after finishing my PhD and really start working on it. BUT, I was hesitant. I did not know where to start or how to start, and I was even a bit scared to start. Fortunately, I have this meeting. It was very nice to exchange ideas with like-minded people and share tips and tricks to pursue the career that I want. Thanks to this meeting, I am now active on LinkedIn, I constantly update my CV/Resume, and I attend networking events on a regular basis. The world outside the ivory tower does not scare me anymore. This world is quite exciting really. Oh, and I learned about the concept of red ocean network vs. blue ocean network — very useful (you can read about it here).

Two resources that were the most mind shifting: ‘Networking for Nerds’ and ‘Lean In’ – both are great books. I really recommend them.

My advice: start early. And start to network with people OUTSIDE your academic circle. And have a positive attitude towards your own career development. Feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

eliEli (Ezhilarasan Rajaram):

I got into this for the people. I joined because Vika (Viktoria Korzhova) at the helm was serious and passionate about figuring out an approach to life after PhD. I am a little bit behind the other 3 and thought I had loads of time to figure things out. But, as Vika would tell you — it is never too early.

My biggest learning was the very first exercise, understanding my core priorities and values. This group made me really get down to the task and do it and not procrastinate. This snowballed into a lot of introspection and catalyzed many changes in my life. As you can imagine, you need to know yourself before you set off making big career decisions.

The regular meetings served as timely reminders to keep thinking about my priorities. Everyone chipped in with resources and tips. Luisa brought a lot of optimism and smiles and shared some very useful resources. Dian shared a lot of learnings from her very close friend, who successfully made a transition from academia to industry. And Vika organized everything, read a lot of books, spoke to many different people and kept us on our toes. Thank you all for making this bumpy ride joyous.

Feel free to reach out to me.

So, what can you do?

Whatever your career plan so far is – either staying in academia and pursuing the professorship or starting a new career as a baker – and especially if you don’t have any clear vision so far, I strongly recommend you to work on your career development in a team. Start with gathering some peers (3-5 people for a group is a good number), decide on a time of regular meetings (regular is important!) and make a plan of what topics you want to cover.

If you’re a  GSN student or live in Munich, feel free to reach out to me or other students from this post, we’ll be happy to meet and share our experience, materials and help you to kick off your career development group. If you think your group can benefit from having a slightly more experienced mentor like myself, please send me a message and I will do my best to help you!

If you live somewhere else we are also happy to help, just let us know what we can do for you.

We wish you a great career and a lot of fun while developing it! 🙂