What’s Next?

I started The Pub Club after a series of conference experiences left me wondering, “Why don’t I get to have this all the time?”  If you’re anything like me – and I think most of you are – graduate school is a lot of struggle and frustration sprinkled with those rare moments of excitement and elation.  You dread the question, “So, what’s next?” because you really have no idea!  What exactly are you going to do next, and how do you even begin to know what your options are? With so much to do to publish and graduate, how are you supposed to find the time to consider and prepare for what’s next?

That is why I decided I needed a Community of Minds. I realized I didn’t have to “go it alone.” I could tap into those around me as a resource to help me through and hopefully help them in return.  You can learn more about the motivation behind The Pub Club here.  But in this post, I want to focus on you and how you can build, draw from and contribute to your own Community of Minds as a means for managing your career.

Step 1: Your “career” isn’t what’s next, it’s what’s now

Your education and training as a graduate student or post doc is a part of your career, not merely a step towards your career.  Accepting this will help you better prioritize both your time and your choices.

Step 2: Self-reflection – What do you want?

Take a moment and consider some of those terrifying questions you’ve been avoiding.

Why are you here?  What is the point of graduate school?  What are you looking to get out of it?

THIS IS YOUR LIFE and YOUR CAREER you need to take ownership of them both. Don’t expect others to direct your path, their priorities and values are different and may lead you somewhere you don’t want to go!  Discover your passion and define a path that allows you to pursue that passion

Step 3: Commit to pursuing your passion

Now that you’ve identified and owned your passion, what career are you planning to pursue? If you don’t know, can you be sure you are getting the preparation you need?  Are the choices you’re making now disqualifying you for the job you would prefer?  What will your application, CV or résumé show that will get you the interview over others? 

Put your researching skills to work for you, study your career options, make an educated decision regarding your choice.

Don’t be afraid to make the “wrong” choice, the odds are better than making no choice at all. Be open to course correction.  As you know, new data can mean new decisions!

Step 4: Identify your VOID

Based on your research, what skills or knowledge do you need to be best qualified and competitive for a job that reflects and supports your passion? Of those, what specific skills and knowledge do you have, and what are you missing?

What you need – What you have = The Void

Step 5: Build your COM

How do you fill The Void? By identifying resources and opportunities that specifically target your personal Void.  This is where The COM comes in.  The COM is your network, spanning local, regional, national and international contacts and including both formal (societies) and informal (friends, co-workers) connections.  The concept of The COM is to intentionally establish and cultivate sub-groups within your network to provide a space within which you and others in your COM can develop the many “soft skills” you keep hearing about.  Here are some examples:

  • You need to be a good communicator. HOW? Same way as everything else – practice!  The best way to become a good formal presenter is to practice speaking informally but in an intentional way.  A small community of like-minded peers that meets each week to talk about science (like The Pub Club) can provide the space you need to safely practice this skill.
  • You are at a job interview and they want to know what latest technology you are planning to incorporate into your research. Since you’ve been meeting weekly with your COM, you are all up to date on the latest methods, their pros and cons and which are directly relevant to your work.
  • You need to demonstrate leadership and planning skills. Since you’ve become an ambassador for ASPB (American Society of Plant Biologists), you have helped organize outreach events at your college/university as well as helped with your ASPB section meetings.

I could continue, but I think you get the point.  The fact is, many of the things we are expected to excel at doing we are provided few opportunities to learn, much less practice.  Building and cultivating your COM at each level (local, regional, national and international) will result in you becoming the thoughtful, interactive, articulate, knowledgeable scientist you dream of becoming.  It won’t happen overnight, or in the weeks between Higher Ed and applying for jobs. It will take an investment of time and energy.  This is about preparing for the next big step in your career and being the one that not only gets “the interview” but the job as well.  If that isn’t worth it, what is? 

In summary, remember these key steps:

  • Your career is NOW
  • Discover & own your passion
  • Research your career options based on your passion
  • Identify your personal Void
  • Establish & foster a COM that can help you fill the Void

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