Career Exploration and Skill Development

What does it mean to explore careers as a PhD student or postdoc?

What is career exploration and why does exploring careers matter? For a PhD-level student or postdoc, career exploration is applying some of your research skills and your analytical thinking to an investment in your future work life. There are several reasons why this investment is important:  One reason is that research has found that PhD-level students or postdocs who engage in some career exploration end up with higher job satisfaction. See this Inside Higher Ed article regarding social sciences and humanities. Another reason is that you need to take responsibility for your career trajectory, as the market forces today are very different than they were for your PhD advisor or your current Principal Investigator. For more information, check out this article from Science Careers summarizing career trends (2017) beyond the bench.

You can go on to many different types of careers with your PhD, but how do you decide which career is right for you? In this video from 2012, Cal Newport, Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University, explores whether “follow your passion” is good advice when it comes to career exploration. You can learn more about him on his website.

You don’t need to wait to start planning your next career move. Read more about this from Peter Fiske at Nature or Myka Abadon at BiteSizeBio.

Ready to start exploring career options? Check out this guide to career paths in science by Melanie Sinche and an article from The Jackson Laboratory (JAX) summarizing 4 phases of Career Exploration outlined in Sinche's book.  OCPD has also developed a checklist to help you get “Unstuck” when exploring different types of careers.


Self reflection

The first step in defining your next career move is self reflection. Ellen Elliott writes about this step in a JAX blog post. For example, what are your values? OCPD has workshops to help you tackle this very question. Once you know your preferences and tastes, you can use that information to look more closely at different types of positions in your field. Check out this Science Careers article by Beryl Lieff Benderly to learn more.

MyIDP Results Page

The My Individual Development Plan Assessment Tool from AAAS, which was co-created by OCPD, allows you to input your skills, interests, and values. This tool then calculates and compares your skills/interests/values responses to key factors for 60 different career paths within 20 different career categories that are options for you as a scientist. Click on the image to the left to see a sample report.



Exploring careers effectively

Want to explore a career path in less than 10 hours? Check out Active Career Exploration (ACE) from the University of Michigan. This plan helps your organize yourself and your time in 10 hours over 1 month. Read more about the framework here.

For a list of simple things you can do to explore careers, the National Postdoc Association (NPA) provides some advice. BiteSizeBio also provides some tips to build your career while in graduate school.

If you are ready to really effectively explore careers, you should consider the Motivating INformed Decisions (MIND) program at UCSF, which is now accepting applications for the 2017-2018 cohort. This year the application opened July 24, 2017 and will close when the program is full or September 6, 2017. MIND participants will have the opportunity to take coursework to develop the skills and tools they need to explore a variety of career paths as well as connect with partners to take a close look at different career paths.

If you are a student at UCSF, you may want to also consider the Graduate Student Internships for Career Exploration (GSICE) program. The GSICE program allows UCSF basic and biomedical science graduate students to gain hands-on experience in a variety of career environments that will help them make informed decisions about which of the many career paths to pursue post graduation.

An important part of career exploration is conducting informational interviews with people in a position that interests you. These resources will help you connect with potential interviewees, setup the interview, and offer advice on asking the right questions. For more resources on informational interviewing, check out more articles from Science Careers.


Positioning yourself for your next career move

One way to be prepared to transition into a new position is to use your network. Ryan Raver from The Grad Student Way provides some advice for how to network effectively. For different ways and places to build your network, check out Ruth Barrett’s and Chelsea Kline’s articles on BiteSizeBio. Since many PhD students and postdocs are nervous about networking, Peter Fiske provides some strategies for building and maintaining a network in this article from Nature. For more information and resources, check out OCPD’s “Build your Professional Network” page.

What can you take from your research training that will be useful in your next career? There are many transferrable skills that you develop as a scientist that will be useful as you position yourself for a new position. Karen Kelsky offers a few things you can start to do now that will help. You may also be considering whether or not to complete a postdoc (or start a second postdoc). In this article from the Grad Student Way, Ryan Raver discusses career options for PhD that don’t require a postdoc position as well as the transferrable skills that will help you become more marketable.


Successful career exploration stories

Want to hear from a PhD student or postdoc that successfully explored different career options and was able to land a position in a different field?


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