Exploring your career options often means repeatedly 'Getting Unstuck'


First things first: the competency defined as 'exploring careers options' is not a single skill, but an umbrella term referring to several professional skills (e.g., self awareness, effective networking, research, decision making) which center around three abilities:

  1. Knowing yourself
  2. Knowing your options
  3. Knowing how to explore your options

OCPD counselors have noted that many graduate students and postdocs repeatedly get 'stuck' when exploring the wide range of career options available to PhDs, because they lack a foundational understanding of precisely what it means to 'explore careers.' So, they read pithy articles or first person narratives that encourage activities like 'identify transferrable skills' and 'conduct informational interviews,' and feel lost. Those resources, while useful, often fail to give a full picture what actions, skills and knowledge one needs to take and learn to engage in the process of exploring careers. 

Through our career counseling appointments with PhDs, we've identified seven places where students and postdocs get 'stuck' along the career exploration path, and developed a quick and handy instrument to help them do two things:

1. Articulate a framework to help them grasp the overall process involved in explorating various career options effectively: While the career exploration process is organic and non-linear, the OCPD counselors have repeatedly seen these seven milestones in hundreds of PhDs counseled. They include the ability to:

  1. Articulate your skills, interests and values
  2. Define what it means to 'research a job option'
  3. Engage in networking to explore career options
  4. Identify your career fields of interest
  5. Identify specific job titles of interest 
  6. Describe your decision making style for important decisions in your life and be aware of how that style should affect how you implement your career exploration strategy
  7. Define factors affecting your decision

2.  Identify and assess their development of the wide ranging skills involved in career exploration: In particular, this includes drilling down around precisely what one needs to know, and do, to explore careers effectively. This includes unpacking specifics such as the ability to:

  • Define exactly what information one seeks when one is 'researching' a particular career field or job, and the different sources to obtain it.
  • Appropriately use information gained through informational interviews to determine a career path (e.g., was I attracted to career option A, or just attracted to how happy the person seemed in the job? Did I find career option B unappealing because the person I interviewed seemed burnt out?)
  • Identify and manage the internal and external factors consciously and unconsciously influencing one's decision, and possibly preventing a decision from being made (e.g., personal, family or community values; unconscious bias, discomfort with uncertainty; fear of, and actual, opprobrium from mentor/peers). 

In the OCPD's experience, students and postdocs face hurdles such as lack of ability or confidence (e.g., uncertainty about one's ability to manage the conversational and professional etiquette, and relationship building involved in networking to explore careers), and lack of awareness (e.g., appreciating how one's decision-making style [intuitive, data-driven, values driven, etc.] should influence and individualize one's career exploration strategy, and can affect the ability to feel 'satisfied' with one's ultimate decision, regardless of which career path one pursues).

Ultimately, student and postdocs use this career exploration assessment tool to develop a vocabulary to familiarize themselves with the career exploration process, articulate where they feel lost in the career exploration process, recognize personal progress, identify and address growth areas. The OCPD counselors can then work with the student or postdoc to brainstorm ideas to overcome their inertia or barriers to progress, and continue in their career development.

This instrument is an example of OCPD's mission to teach students and postdocs how to navigate their careers effectively on their own. 

Upcoming Events


Alumni Career Paths in Science Communication

Date: April 21, 2021
Time: 11 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.