Many trainees ask me questions about when they should begin looking toward their future and start thinking about their career options.
You will likely never completely stop thinking about your career options and preferences, but there are times when it absolutely becomes the dominant pursuit in your life. Transitioning from graduate school is certainly one of those times.
Whether you are thinking of heading into another degree program, pursuing a postdoctoral fellowship, or moving onto a position in industry or government, here are some tips to refer to throughout your journey.
1. You can’t start too early: You don’t need to focus on this full-time during your first term in graduate school, but acting on the next step 12 to 18 months before you need to take it is neither too early nor unusual. Graduate program and postdoctoral fellowship applications all require an early start, and you will need to work and prepare for those timelines. If the academic stream isn’t for you, you will need to allow yourself sufficient time to acquire job searching skills, such as interview preparation and resume building.
2. Take advantage of resources: The most important advice I can give you is to get to know the people in Western University’s Student Success Centre. The counsellors there have a great amount of experience helping students acquire skills and can also help them learn what areas of employment students are geared for. They are there to help — see them often.
3. Become self-reflective and know yourself well: You have to be honest with yourself. What makes you happy? What skills are you good at? What types of work gives you the most satisfaction? What are you priorities? Asking yourself these questions at the beginning of your search will help narrow down your options and put you on the right track.
4. Network, network, network: The experts tell me that 80 per cent of jobs are not really advertised anymore. Prepare a LinkedIn profile, and make sure you do not have anything online that you would not want a potential employer to find. Be professional, and never miss out on an opportunity to interact positively with people that could help you reach your employment goals.
5. Become resilient: Resilient people almost always become successful and accomplished because they are adaptable, determined and keep going no matter what. Resilience is also important because few people get to where they want to be right away. Successful people create a plan and realize it takes time for that plan to unfold, and it will likely also require several steps before they reach their end goal.
6. Keep things in perspective: Don’t let the process become overwhelming. I know it can be difficult not to worry about important things, but I know of no example where worrying has been helpful. Prepare a solid plan of action, follow it, keep at it and success will follow.
7. Do not live in the future: Adopt a life philosophy that allows you to live in the moment and reap all you can from the present. Graduate school is one of the most educationally stimulating periods of your life — immerse yourself in that experience. It will arm you with what you need to be able to find the future you desire.
The faculty and staff in each program at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry are interested in helping their students move forward after graduate school. Keep your eyes open for workshops where former students are invited back to present their stories regarding career development, and attend the student-organized, career-based workshops at London Health Research Day in the spring.
You can also come and visit me. I enjoy catching up on what you are doing, and my door is always open if you have any questions.
Andrew J. Watson, PhD
Associate Dean, Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs