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Home » Discover Rackham » Non scholae sed vitae 3: What will I be when I grow up?

I have been writing about my experiences both in engaged pedagogy and non-profit internships as I simultaneously work on my dissertation and explore the world beyond academia. In my previous post, I promised to talk more about career exploration and resources in general. Our own Bonnie recently wrote a very helpful blog post on the topic, and this post should be considered a complementary (although unsolicited!) piece to hers.

As I’ve thought about the job market, and as I’ve talked to others in the same boat, a few questions keep repeating: What is out there? What do all these job titles mean? How do I even start finding out about specific careers? Getting a job is a challenge in the current economy, but most of the problems seem to come from not even knowing what might be good jobs to apply for. I can’t say I’ve figured this out for myself, but I’ve found some useful resources to put me on the right track.

Career Center consultations were my first stop. The number of advisors is limited so these are best saved for crucial junctures in your career exploration process, but I found my few visits unbelievably helpful on many counts: they got me excited for and hopeful about my employment prospects, pointed out things I hadn’t even thought about (in my case, the importance of finding an employer willing to sponsor my visa), and magically got me added on all kinds of mailing lists that send me information on career events.

Through The Career Center, I also attended a short workshop, “Getting Started,” with other Ph.D. students. Over the course of a few sessions, we brainstormed practical, concrete ways of exploring different fields and how to connect with potential employers. It was tremendously helpful, and connected me with peers who have already shared some useful resources with me.

Perhaps the most useful step for me has been doing informational interviews. People have turned out to be quite happy to talk about their jobs, and in the process I’ve discovered some careers that seem like a great fit – and realized that some others that seemed promising would actually make me miserable. My recommendation would be to show up with a clear list of questions, my favorite being “What does a typical work day look like for you?”

I have also attended some events geared towards undergraduates (see Handshake, a U-M web portal for career resources for all of them). I can’t say I have benefited from them a huge deal, but there’s been one big take-home lesson: jargon. Just like in academia, people in other fields love their jargon and place great value on using industry-appropriate lingo. I now have a Word document with notes on, for example, the correct use of “space” (basically, use liberally to replace words like “field,” “industry,” “job,” or “company” – e.g., “I work in the revenue cycle space”).

Finally, I’ve started talking to people. For me, networking is like pulling teeth – while awkwardly slobbering all over my conversation partner, to push the metaphor to its unappealing-yet-accurate limits – but the grace with which people share their experience has frequently blown me away. People have put me in touch with their friends, offered to give references, even solicited job applications. Telling others what you are looking for can feel scary and needy, but it’s the only way to put you on their radar. No one can help you if they don’t know what kind of help you want.

Good luck, and feel free to share your favorite resources in the comments!