The Pursuit of Meaningful Careers after Graduate School

The Pursuit of Meaningful Careers after Graduate School

In this week’s #GRADprofdev blog, I sat down with Jennifer Polk, History PhD and founder of From PhD to Life who visited the University of South Carolina on March 16-17, 2017.

What do you do in your current position as a coach?

Jen – as she prefers to be called – gives her clients time and space to think about what they value and what they want in their career. She works with graduate students, PhDs, tenure-track professors, and even tenured professors. She finds that all of them are seeking meaning in their work, and she seeks to help them find meaning – in whatever path they choose. Jen enjoys the freedom of being self-employed and finds the work intellectually stimulating and challenging. Jen has found a career rooted in her own values, and she wants that for everyone.

What is one recommendation you have for graduate students who are interested in exploring career paths outside academia?

First and without hesitation, Jen said networking. Networking is critical. It is important to get out there and take time to learn about your options. Jen mentioned the importance of interacting in more traditional in-person ways and using online tools, such as social media and LinkedIn. If someone is doing work that is of interest to you, reach out and request an information interview to learn more. Engage people on twitter. Make sure your LinkedIn profile is updated and enticing. Use LinkedIn to reach out.

How can graduate students in doctoral programs learn about their options?

Jen shared that she was familiar with the anxiety and uncertainty that can accompany the idea of looking outside of academia. In order to help graduate students and PhDs, she started a blog series on her website called #withaphd. #withaPhD started as a biweekly Twitter chat and hashtag for graduate students, academics, and anyone else who has or may wish to have PhD experience. Now, graduate students and PhDs can read about many options. There are so many options, and Jen thinks that sometimes her clients – and graduate students and PhDs, in general – do not consider the wide range of options available to them.

Tell us about Beyond the Professoriate. This seems like a great resource for graduate students.

Beyond the Professoriate started as an online conference for PhDs in career transition and is rapidly transforming into an online community of graduate students and PhDs interested in non-faculty careers. Maren Wood and I started this conference. This year will be the fourth year – 4th Annual Beyond the Professoriate: The Online Career Conference for PhDs. The conference is on May 6 and May 13, 2017. Early bird registration for the conference is only $49. We try to keep this affordable for students. The conference is hosted entirely online, so it is convenient for students to participate. All registered attendees can access conference videos for up to 21 days after.

It has been a pleasure to have Jen with us at UofSC. We look forward to staying in touch with her and accessing resources she recommends.

Dr. Jennifer Polk works as an academic, life, and career coach for graduate students and PhDs. To put it simply, she helps PhDs launch meaningful careers. Learn more about Jen and her work at http://fromphdtolife.com/.

Questions? Comments? Ideas? Contact Dr. Heather Brandt at hbrandt@sc.edu.

Everything you need to know about writing abstracts…

Everything you need to know about writing abstracts…

The title is a bit misleading. I am certainly unable to share everything you need to know, but I can provide a few tips. As I was preparing to write this week’s blog post, I decided to take a look at abstracts I have written as a lead author or as a co-author – 204 accepted and presented since 2000. Of course, there are many others that were not accepted or that I did not do a very good job keeping track of, but I still think that is a lot of abstracts. Yet, I feel somewhat less than qualified to give advice. So, I asked someone.

I checked in with Asheley Schryer in the Office of Undergraduate Research – yes, I know this is a blog for graduate students but fundamentals of writing abstracts are fundamentals. The Office of Undergraduate Research has many resources available to support student research. Asheley does not view herself as an expert either, but then, she proceeded to provide an exceptional handout on writing an abstract. In fact, this handout and other excellent resources are available to help students write abstracts for Discover USC (http://sc.edu/our/discovery.shtml). An abstract should tell your reader:

  • WHAT you did
  • WHY you did it
  • HOW you did it
  • WHAT you found
  • WHAT it means

Yes. That is it! My work is done here. Good luck! No seriously… It is that simple. A structured format with subheadings – introduction (or background or purpose), methods, results, and discussion – aligns with these five bullets. “WHAT you did” and “WHY you did it” are most often presented in the introduction. “HOW you did it” is included in the methods. “WHAT you found” is described in the results. “WHAT it means” is explained in the discussion. Start with your responses to the five bullets and then organize the content by subheadings. This is a good way to start compiling the details. Make sure that you have reviewed carefully the abstract requirements, especially the word limit. As always, be sure to circulate your abstract to co-authors in advance to review and comment. Proofread carefully before you submit – with the approval of your co-authors. Do not put someone’s name on an abstract without his or her approval. Be sure to provide the final copy to your co-authors with the complete citation for the submitted abstract.

Right now, you have a chance to write and submit an abstract to Discover USC. Discover USC on April 21, 2017 showcases research, scholarship, leadership, and creative projects by undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral scholars, and medical scholars representing the entire USC System, from the Upstate to the Lowcountry. Graduate students have the opportunity to submit abstracts for “3MT” (three-minute thesis) presentations or poster presentations. In addition, there are plenty of opportunities to volunteer for this inaugural event. Abstracts are due on March 3. Learn more about how you can present your work at http://www.sc.edu/about/annual_events/discover/usc/index.php.

Dr. Heather Brandt is associate dean for professional development in The Graduate School and associate professor in the department of health promotion, education, and behavior in the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina.

Questions? Comments? Ideas? Contact Dr. Heather Brandt at hbrandt@sc.edu.

What is Leadership? – Andrea Gibson

What is Leadership? – Andrea Gibson

As an undergraduate, I held various positions on campus. Upon entering graduate school at the University of South Carolina, I told myself that I was going to sit back and just be a spectator. I became a member of the Black Graduate Student Association and at the first meeting that I attended, there were 4 people total. I remember thinking, how is this even possible? Without even getting my feet wet, I quickly jumped at the opportunity to get more involved with a focus on increasing our membership. Next thing I knew, I was elected president, found myself representing the university at the National Black Graduate Student Association Conference, and the organization grew! I am now a proud alumna of the university and am even more proud with how the Black Graduate Student Association is thriving now more than ever!

A leader is not always the person with the loudest voice, but someone who can be heard by their positive impact. It’s about sacrifice and service; the good that you do lives long after you. I believe that being a leader means stepping out of your comfort zone to bring out the best in others. Leadership is about trust and not just people trusting you to get things done, but you trusting in the capabilities of others. Being a leader means tapping into the talents of everyone on the team for success. Always be willing to learn! One think I quickly learned is the importance of believing in your vision because if you don’t, then no one else will either.

For anyone looking to gain leadership experience during their graduate degree program, the best advice I can give is to never be afraid to try something new! This doesn’t necessarily mean becoming president of an organization. I found it helpful to enhance my leadership skills in ways such as being the point person on a group project, taking active roles at conferences, and volunteering outside of school (I am imagining a lot of side eyes right now since graduate students usually don’t have much down time to lol). Discuss with your advisor, professors, or supervisor at your graduate assistantship opportunities that will allow you to take on more responsibility and grow. Be confident, be daring, be innovative and you will go a long way!

Andrea Gibson graduated with a MPH in May 2016 from the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina. She is the intervention coordinator for a healthy eating and active living program with churches and continues to demonstrate and enhance her leadership skills.

Questions? Comments? Ideas? Contact Dr. Heather Brandt at hbrandt@sc.edu.

What is Leadership? – Victoria Nkemadu

What is Leadership? – Victoria Nkemadu

In my opinion, leadership is serving others. As a leader, one’s sole purpose is to be of help for the benefit of others. Through service, one thinks of the needs of someone else, thus forgetting their own. Service allows one to give unselfishly their time, talent, and/or money, in order to increase the well-being of someone else. Currently, I’m the new President for the Graduate Student Association (GSA) at the University of South Carolina (USC). According to our mission, the GSA is dedicated to the advancement and development of graduate and professional students at USC.

This semester, GSA wants to inform graduate and professional students about our existence, since we serve to advocate on behalf of the interests of this particular population. As the President, I serve the graduate and professional student body on the USC campus. Therefore, I’m tasked with discovering the interest of this particular population, in order to implement ways to make their interest a reality. This is a difficult task to achieve, but with the executive and cabinet members of GSA by my side, we’re able to accomplish much.

My advice for graduate and professional students seeking leadership experience is to first reach out to their professors. Professors have a wealth of expertise to share, therefore be bold and ask your professors about leadership opportunities on and off campus. Secondly, I advise students to visit their college or school website (e.g. College of Social Work) and research various leadership opportunities. Most of these websites provide information regarding leadership opportunities for graduate and professional students.

Lastly, I advise students to visit the “Graduate School” website (http://gradschool.sc.edu/). This website caters specifically to graduate and professional students of USC. This website provides information on leadership and career opportunities, graduate assistantships, and other resources. To each graduate and professional student, please seek out leadership opportunities to make your learning experience more meaningful. Each of you have the skills to do what it takes, so go out in the world and be TRAILBLAZERS!

Victoria Nkemadu is a Masters of Social Work student in the College of Social Work at the University of South Carolina. She is the President of the Graduate Student Association. Learn more about the Graduate Student Association at http://gradschool.sc.edu/gsa.

Questions? Comments? Ideas? Contact Dr. Heather Brandt at hbrandt@sc.edu.

What is Leadership? – Lauren Reid

What is Leadership? – Lauren Reid

It is funny to me that I was invited to write a blog on leadership. When I was applying to undergrad, I asked my English teacher to write a recommendation letter for me. I found a copy of the letter a few years later; and, to my surprise, the recommendation was not a good one! In the letter, she essentially stated that I was not a leader, but that it was ok because society needs people that can hang back and take directions. I am telling this story to say that I have not always been considered a leader. My English teacher did not see the potential in me, but she was wrong. I took her letter as a personal mission to prove that I was capable of being a leader. With practice, increasing my confidence, ambition, and patience, I improved me leadership skills. In college, I held a leadership position in every organization that I joined. My proudest moment was when I was voted to be President of the Kennesaw Activities Board – the organization with the largest budget on campus. Holding leadership positions has carried over into graduate school. As a Masters student, I was the Exercise Science Masters Student Representative for the Dean’s Student Advisory Council. Currently I am the Vice President of the Black Graduate Student Association, a member of the Advisory Council on Professional Development for Graduate Students, and a Zumba instructor with USC Group Fitness.

With each leadership position that I have held, I have made mistakes that improved my leadership skills. I have learned that being a leader does not mean being perfect; but, it does mean trying your best because other people are looking to you as an example and for guidance. Leadership comes with a responsibility to keep an open mind and to treat others with respect. To be a leader means you are representing your department, organization, committee, etc. as well as yourself. Of all the things I have learned about being I leader, I think the most important lesson is that all leaders are learning along the way. To be a leader means you must have patience with yourself. Trust yourself to develop your leadership skills and have confidence in yourself. If you do not have confidence in yourself, no one else will.

The best advice I can give to graduate students looking to gain leadership experience is be proactive. There are opportunities all around you! Sometimes all you have to do is respond to an email or show interest. To enhance my leadership skills, I have become involved in organizations inside and outside of the university. Volunteering is key! Usually leadership experience involves unpaid work. However, people will begin to recognize your work ethic and it will open the door to more leadership opportunities.

Lauren Reid is a doctoral student in epidemiology in the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina. Lauren is Vice President of the Black Graduate Student Association and a member of the Advisory Committee on Professional Development for Graduate Students.

Questions? Comments? Ideas? Contact Dr. Heather Brandt at hbrandt@sc.edu.

What is Leadership? – Mark VanDriel

What is Leadership? – Mark VanDriel

I believe in the idea of servant leadership.  Because of this, the answer to the question of what does it mean to be a leader is a simple one – it is to be willing, able, and available to serve the needs of others.  In graduate school this becomes complicated, because success requires that we focus consistently on building our C.V.  There are precious few incentives to devote your time to the benefit of others.  Nevertheless, it will make the campus, and our educations collectively better if you step up as a leader.  So how to do this?

What graduate students should do to gain leadership experience during their time at USC is to start with those closest to them.  What are their needs and how can those needs be met?  It requires smart and active listening to understand these needs, and frankly isn’t the easiest thing to do.  However, there is a good way to start.  Think about the “unwritten rules” of your program/college/situation.  It might be which professors are hardest for comprehensive exams, which classes are the most valuable, which advisors give the best feedback or serve as the strongest advocates for their students, where certain regular sources of funding are and who gets them, where are the best places to live, which places offer the best internships, which conferences are the most beneficial and are the most affordable, or other minutiae that is nonetheless valuable.  Write down your list.  Some of this will probably just be gossip, and conveniently enough, that will probably be the stuff you are the least comfortable signing your name to, so feel free to delete that.  Chances are that what remains is a good list of needs crying out for leadership.  Writing that formally and sharing it can be a help, but the second challenge of a leader is to go beyond this.  Think of ways to best formalize and update that tacit knowledge so that student can permanently benefit from it. Maybe it is broadly applicable, and should be disseminated through the Graduate Student Association.  Maybe it is exceptionally useful but just to your program, in which case either working with the department or with a professional association to set up an infrastructure to maintain and update the information is best.  Maybe it is broadly applicable to select groups of graduate students – in which case look for specific university committees, advisory boards, or other relevant groups where you might be able to contribute.  Then use this information as an agenda item to get involved in the relevant organization and commit for at least a year to it.  This long-term commitment doesn’t need to be very time consuming and can be limited to just a few hours a semester (on the low end), but will help reinforce the importance of your agenda.

I have followed needs illuminated by this list onto a wide variety of university committees and into a number of organizations on campus.  Sometimes in a larger context, my initial agenda has come to seem silly or shallow, and sometimes the problems have been magnified.  Occasionally I have had great success in addressing real problems, and more regularly it has been a real challenge to make a difference.  Regardless of the outcome, the path of leadership has been worthwhile for one simple reason: I have done something tangible to address every problem I saw at USC.  That makes the six years I have invested here translate into something far more meaningful than just a PhD. It makes me proud to be a Gamecock.

Mark VanDriel is a doctoral candidate in history in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of South Carolina. Mark is the graduate student representative on the Graduate Council at the University.

Questions? Comments? Ideas? Contact Dr. Heather Brandt at hbrandt@sc.edu.

What is Leadership? -Alicia Dahl

What is Leadership? -Alicia Dahl

I think this is such an interesting discussion topic. Before jumping in, I think it’s important to consider how we define leaders.  Think about it for a second.  The word “leader” carries a variety of definitions or characteristics. In its simplest form, the definition of a leader is a person who leads or commands a group, but when I think of my interpretation of the word, I find it’s meaning to have great depth beyond the ability to engage followers.  So how do YOU define a leader?  Are you a leader by your definition or your list of leadership characteristics?  I have always considered a leader to be someone who inspires others to take action or someone who serves as a common voice for a group of people.  I don’t think I necessarily view leaders as the folks with the most power, the loudest voice, or the person in charge of the group. When I’m in a group setting, I listen to the people around me.  The voices that inspire me to do something are the people I consider to demonstrate leadership. I think the most important piece of my definition is “to do something” because I’m inspired every day by people, but unless that inspiration is translated into something actionable (to be a better person, to view an issue through a different lens, or to physically do something), is it really effective leadership?

Leadership during your degree program might come naturally or take a little extra effort.  I know your priority is academics or research, but there are several ways to demonstrate leadership through those settings.  First, I think if you’re sitting in class and you have something to say or a thought to challenge the class… speak up!  Your thoughts are important and your contribution to the discussion can make everyone in the room learn.  Second, if an opportunity to co-mentor another student with your advisor or boss is available, I suggest taking it on.  Mentoring other students (through TA roles, undergraduate work study, Magellan Scholars, or volunteers) is a great exercise in delegating tasks, communicating, and teaching others. Plus, this experience looks GREAT on a CV!  Lastly, find the time to volunteer in some way, whether it’s serving on a committee that meets once a year or spending a few hours a week for a cause that inspires you.  Every time you engage with other leaders, you’re adding to your skill set (and CV).  Plus, if it’s something you’re interested in, it should be an enjoyable way to spend your time and break from your books! Read your emails even if you don’t think the subject applies to you. If there’s an upcoming 5K event, but you hate running, send the organizer an email and ask if they need volunteers to help out on the day of the event.  Sometimes you can make your own leadership opportunities!

Last note: I think a question you should continuously ask yourself is, “What can I do?” Leadership is attainable on multiple levels. So ask this question and then take on a task (big or small) that’s needed to help push the cause towards the overall goal.  If you walk into a room that has a designated leader, ask them this question. If you open up an email asking for students to help out for an hour, open your calendar and ask yourself, “Can I do this?”  Contribute to the greater good in some way. To me, that’s leadership.

Alicia Dahl is a doctoral candidate in health promotion, education, and behavior in the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina. She serves on the Dean’s Student Advisory Council in the Arnold School.

Questions? Comments? Ideas? Contact Dr. Heather Brandt at hbrandt@sc.edu.