Aug 17

Surviving Your PhD Journey – Part 2

Today’s guest blog post is part 2 of 2, and comes from our Director, Larry Westfall. Read part 1 here.

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The Road Less Traveled

A father took his 12-year old son boating. He had him motor out of sight of land and distracted him with conversation. Then he said, “Son, plot a course to the harbor.” The son replied, “I can’t. I don’t know where we are.” The father told his son never to forget what he had just learned: only when you know where you are can you plot a course to your destination.

This lesson applies just as strongly to your Ph.D. journey as it does to boating. Two of the larger causes of transition stress are when you don’t know where you’re going and when you feel you don’t have any control over how you will get there. You need to ensure you have a road map of the entire Ph.D. journey and learning process, recognizing that detours may happen along the way, but also acknowledging what part each of your fellow travelers (coach, mentor, advisor, or lab mates) will play. This road map should identify the stages between the current and future destination, the academic and experiential learning required, the skill enhancement and professional development needed, and the coaching and mentoring that is desired at each stage relative to the outcomes that are being sought.

Inevitably, all of us look at change processes and judge the prospect of the change by the WIIFM principle: ‘What’s in it for me?’ The answer to this question must be relevant to the needs and interests of the individual along with answers to additional questions such as ‘why should I leave here, how hard will the journey be, what will I need, and who will help me?’ Responses to these questions will help you not only feel more confident in the change process but will help you in your ability to understand and realize the part that others can play in your journey.

Your Destination Grows Closer

In the final analysis, as with many things in life, the ultimate choice is up to each of us. There is one thing that individuals retain irrespective of change and that is personal choice. You can choose to be involved or you can choose to sit on the sidelines. You can choose to be happy or you can choose a path of discontent. You can choose to ask the questions or you can choose to wait to be told. Ultimately the choice remains yours, to determine how you can overcome resistance and have positive and hopefully lasting personal change during your Ph.D. journey. So where are you in your Ph.D. journey? What is your destination? Are you confident in your road map and destination or are you on an off-ramp somewhere waiting to be towed? What one first step could you take today to get closer to your destination? What fellow travelers have you chosen to take along on your journey?

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For more information on the various tools and resources available to you to chart a course for the future, please contact Graduate Career Services. We are available to assist you in developing a plan of action, providing individual coaching or engaging in broader group facilitation.

Aug 10

Surviving Your PhD Journey – Part 1

Today’s guest blog post is part 1 of 2, and comes from our Director, Larry Westfall.

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“Tell me and I’ll forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I’ll understand.”

– – Chinese Proverb

I’ve worked in management for many years and have experienced my share of change. Through this experience I’ve found a common mantra that “change is inevitable” or “change is constant.” And through it all, there’s a reluctance or inability to cope with it.

So what is it about change that seems so disconcerting to us? While there is something comfortable about the familiar, I find that I am uncomfortable with this notion that we resist change because it’s something new. I would offer that it’s often not the new future destination of the change we are most concerned about, but rather the journey in how to get there. I recall a family vacation in mid-1960, driving cross-country from Indiana to California in a Chevy sedan. My father had planned the trip down to the tenth of a mile; no unnecessary stops; no unwarranted bathroom breaks; no sightseeing along the way; driving into the night and departing early in the morning. He was focused on the destination…to get to the end. The journey, to him, was almost non-evident.

Not dissimilar to a trip across the US, the journey for the Ph.D. student can seem just as daunting and fraught with change, transition and unforeseen detours along the way. So how is it that you are supposed to survive and hopefully thrive along this Ph.D. journey?

The Elements of Change

To help us navigate change and transitions, we need to know what the journey involves. The path between the present and the future is rarely described with the same level of certainty as the end result, leaving us with a growing sense of fear regarding what lies ahead. Change is an emotional event growing from the cognitive appraisal of the situation. These emotions predict how receptive we will be towards change and how much resistance will be encountered to the effort.

In the 1970’s, work by Beckhard and Gleicher led to a formula that describes how organizational change occurs and how we might go about reducing resistance to change. What if we used this same model to affect positive personal change in the PhD journey?

The model says Change occurs when Dissatisfaction x Vision x First Steps > Resistance to Change (D x V x F > R). Using this model to affect positive personal change in your PhD journey, you need to get to ‘one common brain’ and ‘one common, compelling heart’ around these elements: Dissatisfaction with where you are right now (D), times Vision common and compelling about what you aspire to be in the future (V), times agreement on the effective actions and First Steps you can be doing to move in the direction of the vision (F), where the result of this equation has to be larger than any Resistance to change (R). The key to the equation is that if any element is zero, the product will be zero, and you won’t be able to overcome resistance to change. We each resist personal change if we do not have an ennobling vision of what we could be, or if we can’t think of any actions that we believe will make a difference. The magic however, is when the three elements in the equation do indeed overcome resistance. When all three are in place – D, V, and F – you will see things differently and understand what you can do differently to make positive progress along your journey. You will know this ‘magic’ has been unleashed when:

  • You are discovering yourself and your passions more fully
  • You are aligning your hopes and desires with a vision of the future
  • You are feeling valued and heard
  • You are taking increased risks and responsibility
  • You are getting increasingly excited about new possibilities
  • You are experiencing a profound sense of belonging
  • You feel proud of being part of something larger than yourself
  • You let go of old paradigms and embrace ‘new ways’ of doing things

Check out part 2 when it posts on Thursday, August 17th.

Aug 03

Alumni Guest Post – Starting Your Professional Career

Today’s guest blog post comes from Billy Smith, who graduated from ND with a History PhD in 2017. He has worked as an Academic Advisor and Scholarship Coordinator at Oklahoma State University since Fall 2016. Billy can be reached at william.r.smith@okstate.edu.


After several years in graduate school, transitioning to a full-time, non-traditional academic job was intimidating. Traditional work weeks replaced the flexibility of my graduate student schedule, while new office rhythms demanded that I adjust my time management and workflow habits. In addition, I still needed to complete and defend my dissertation. Below are some things I found useful as I entered my professional career in academic advising and student development.

  1. Watch and Learn

Formal training for new positions varies widely among employers—some places expect you to dive into the job equipped with only your previous work experience, while others have more structured plans for gradually easing the transition. During the first several weeks of my position, I had many opportunities to watch professionals in my department do their jobs. Watching others helped me see the various styles and approaches used in our office. It also allowed me to borrow the best practices I observed and use them in my daily routines. If you find yourself in a new position, I highly recommend sitting in with colleagues and watching them work. Eventually, you can adopt the best strategies you’ve seen from others and combine them with the methods that have worked best for you.

  1. Professionalization

An obvious but useful tip is to take any opportunities you can get toward professionalization in your career. These opportunities may come from your employer directly, but sometimes you will need to seek them out yourself.

Early on in the application and interviewing stage of job hunting I began to familiarize myself with the research and theory conducted in my field. Reading current work in my career area helped me identify many concrete, transferable skills I could offer a hiring committee. It also allowed me to speak the same professional language when it came time to interview. Once I entered my new position, reading professional journals helped me target key areas of professional development and gave me practical advice for the job.

In my first year, I also attended a regional conference with my colleagues that helped me settle into my career. As graduate students already know, conferences are great places for networking and hearing about cutting-edge work. A few of my co-workers presented their research and I heard from a diverse range of other professionals outside of our institution. Attending the conference energized me with new ideas and hanging out with my colleagues helped me integrate into our office culture.

  1. Keep Writing

I accepted my new position knowing that I would still need to revise and defend my dissertation. Making time for writing was a major challenge, so I had to prioritize it in my weekly schedule. I blocked off time early each morning before work and later in the evenings to write, as well as on lunch breaks. Weekends I reserved largely for my family. Knowing that time was precious, I allowed myself to be okay with small daily gains toward completion and celebrated crossing each milestone.

 

As a final thought, scheduling the defense and coordinating my schedule with those of my committee members across the country took a lot of time and planning. Staying in close contact with your advisor, committee members, and departmental administrators can help ease this process.

Jul 20

Mailbag: Customizing Resumes – Part 2

Last week I discussed making big changes to customize your resume for each open position. This week we’ll talk about the “micro changes” that can make a big impact on the success of your application.

The little changes involve the specific words and terminology you should use on the resume. Take your cues from the job description first, and fill in gaps from the website of the organization. The bottom line is that most employers run their applications through a computer program that looks for key words. The resumes that feature a critical mass of the desired key words will pass through for someone to actually see them. There’s really no way for you to know exactly what those key words will be, but chances are they’re in the job description or on the company website. The organization is telling you what’s important to them and the job (through the language they consciously or subconsciously use), so you can show them it’s important to you by using those same words. This doesn’t mean you should copy and paste bullets from the job description into your resume, but if you are trying to describe something you have accomplished that relates to the job, then incorporate their terminology.

One tool to help you figure out what the important keywords might be are word clouds. For example, go to https://www.jasondavies.com/wordcloud/, paste the text of the job description into the box, and watch the system magically assemble a word cloud where words that appeared more frequently in the text appear bigger and bolder in the word cloud. In theory, words that appear more frequently in the job description may be important to the job and helpful key words to include on your resume. Not all of them will be, but it can help you figure some out as a starting point. While it doesn’t necessarily help you find important key words that only appear once in the job description, I find that pulling those words out of their context and separating them into the word cloud does sometimes help me notice them more. Once you’ve noticed the important terms, you can go back to the job description and use ctrl+F to identify where in the context those words fall and how they’re being used. That can help you figure out not just what word to use but what experiences from your background might be related.

Another resource that can help you figure out how well customized a resume could be for a certain job is https://www.jobscan.co/. Try it out and let us know what you think.

Are there other ways to customize the micro portions of a resume that I didn’t mention? Leave us a comment with your ideas!

Jul 13

Mailbag: Customizing Resumes – Part 1

Over the last few weeks we have been asking for readers and followers to submit questions. Here is one we received, as well as my thoughts on the issue.

Q)

What does resume customization really look like? I’ve read about it on resume advice websites, but what does it really mean and look like in real life? I’m sure there are varying degrees of customization depending on the job position/application.

A)

Let me explain the theory, and readers can follow up with their grad career consultant to talk through specific situations or examples.

There are really two steps to the customization process: making big changes and little changes. When I want to sound fancy I refer to them as macro and micro changes. This week, we’ll tackle the macro changes.

The big changes are to the structure and content that you include in the resume. This level of customization deals with choosing the specific experiences from your background that relate to the position you’re applying for, and figuring out what aspects (tasks/accomplishments) from those experiences will best encourage the employer to interview you. You might ask yourself questions like “Is my education directly related to the position?” and “Do I have any work (or research) experience that is directly related?” Depending on the answer to those two questions, perhaps you end up moving your education down on that particular resume, or choosing to highlight certain things in your professional summary so that they catch the reader’s interest before they see your Education. In general, you want the sections on the page to be in order of importance to the job, and the information within each section to be reverse-chronological (most recent first). If a reader sees something that’s not particularly relevant, he or she might assume nothing else after that will be of greater relevance. It’s one technique they use to increase their efficiency of skimming through the resume.

Next, when choosing which bullets to use from each experience in your background, first determine which ones demonstrate that you’ve actually done similar work, and second determine which ones aren’t related but show a certain level of success and help confirm you as a “successful” person (because success begets success). Certain bullets that aren’t related to this job and also don’t show high success can be left off this customized version of the resume. Other macro changes include things like the order of your list of skills. On the master resume, they’re listed generally in order of your level of experience. It makes sense on some customized resumes to list them in order of importance to the job you’re applying for, even if that means a lesser-experienced-but-more-important skill comes before one you know really well but isn’t as relevant.

Check back on July 20th for Part 2 where I discuss the little changes that can make a big difference. In the meantime, are there other ways to customize the macro portions of a resume that I didn’t mention? Leave us a comment with your ideas!

Jun 29

Conference Success

Our director Larry Westfall and I are attending the Graduate Career Consortium (GCC) annual conference this week. Conferences and other professional development meetings and events are a natural component of most career fields, especially in the academy, higher ed administration, and others. Whether you attend an international, national, regional, or local event, there are certain tricks that can help you maximize the networking and learning opportunities they present. Here are some I’ve picked up over the last twelve years of attending conferences.

  • Sit with people you don’t know.
    If you attend the event with a contingent of others from your office, department, or school, try not to spend the whole conference with them. Avoid sitting next to them at meals or in sessions. Branch out and use that opportunity to meet new colleagues and have conversations with other scholars or professionals from different organizations. You have plenty of time to chat with your current colleagues back at home base. Use this chance to gain insights from and build relationships with new ones.
  • Make it easy to learn your name.
    Most conferences provide you with a nametag on a long lanyard. In many cases, the length of the lanyard places the nametag close to your navel, which forces people to look way down in order to see your name. It also means that when you sit down at a table (e.g. at lunch), the nametag will fall below the edge of the table, rendering it useless. Tie a knot in the lanyard to shorten it such that the nametag is higher up on your chest. Placing it higher makes it more visible and could make you the most memorable person at the lunch table.
  • Divide and conquer.
    At conferences where more than one interesting session occurs simultaneously, decide ahead of time which sessions you and your colleagues will attend. Rather than attending the same one, divide the sessions to maximize your learning opportunities. Then reconvene after the conference to share notes and resources.
  • Follow up. Follow up. Follow up.
    Whether you use LinkedIn, academia.edu, or some other professional networking resource, connect online with the new colleagues you met at the conference and send them a note within a few days after the conference. Building and maintaining professional relationships takes some time and effort, and the conference or professional development event marks the first step. Send them a relevant piece of information you learned from the conference that they might have missed, or an interesting article you think relates to the content of the event. Adding this value in your follow up correspondence will foster the connection and set the tone for valuable future interactions.

Are you attending any conferences or professional development meetings this summer? Tell us your plans in the comments, and let us know your other tips for success at these events.

Jun 15

Skills and Squirrels

(Source: Flickr)

Last week I saw a squirrel hanging upside down on the side of a tree trunk, using just its hind legs, while eating a nut with its front paws. Could you do that? Probably not, because you are not a squirrel. But as I alluded to in the June 1st post “Be Confident,” you have many other skills and abilities by virtue of your graduate training and experiences.

Research
If you break down your research into its components, regardless of your field, you have developed the ability to collect, interpret, analyze, and report information. The information looks different for each discipline, and the specific processes, tools, and techniques you apply look different, but the concept is the same. You can then apply the concept of “research” within the various careers you might pursue.

Writing
The amount of writing you have done during grad school will depend on your program, but no one gets through without honing their writing skills. Written communication is essential for every career path, and graduate school allows you to be confident that your writing experience is valuable.

Project Management
Whether it was for your dissertation, thesis, or smaller projects during your coursework, graduate school requires the completion of projects. And projects require the ability to do long-term planning as well as to overcome the inevitable short-term problems that arise along the way. Employers love when you can manage your projects independently, and that is not always possible right out of an undergrad program.

Public Speaking
I didn’t develop a comfort level with public speaking until I completed my own graduate program. Through teaching, class presentations, the Three Minute Thesis competition, conference presentations, symposia, workshops, and other opportunities, graduate students receive plenty of chances to hone their skills speaking in front of small to large groups.

One of the best parts? All of these skills are consistently among those listed as most important by employers.

What other skills have you developed during graduate school that you think are valuable for your future career? Leave them in the comments.

Need help turning your skills into a career strategy? We can help. gradcareers@nd.edu

Jun 01

Be Confident

Confidence is a funny thing. And so is déjà vu. As I was walking through the 2nd floor rotunda of the Main Building recently, I was struck by a déjà vu feeling about walking that same path during my first few days in this position. It was an odd sort of feeling, though, because my current strides were filled with confidence, whereas “new-hire Erik” had slinked along with trepidation, anxiety, and a little confusion about which staircase to take or where to find the elevator.

Obviously something had changed. But what makes us confident? Experience, mainly. But also knowledge, skills, and a belief in oneself. Also power poses, but I’ll come back to those. My confidence now stems from the belief that I belong here. The first few days of a new job are filled with imposter syndrome, because you don’t know what situation you are walking into. However, with 9 years of professional experience to draw from, I should have realized that my knowledge and skills were relevant and valuable.

My advice to our readers based on this realization: your time in graduate school has given you the knowledge and skills to be successful in whatever role you take on. If you are starting a new job or internship this month or later this summer, I want you to stride through the halls of your new organization with the confidence that you have been there before. I will talk more about your skills in the upcoming June 15th post, but suffice to say: you can do it! And if you are conducting research this summer, participating in some other initiative, or still interviewing for new positions, know that you belong there.

As for power poses? Well they’re a great way to add a boost of confidence when you’re not feeling it on your own. Had I held a power pose for two minutes prior to walking the rotunda those first few days, perhaps my recent déjà vu feeling wouldn’t have been so odd. For more information on Amy Cuddy’s research into power poses, view her Ted Talk here: http://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are

What advice do you have for boosting your confidence when beginning a new job or taking on a new initiative? Tell us about it in the comments.

May 18

New Beginnings: Advice for transitioning from grad school to career

 

With commencement taking place this weekend, I can’t help but think of the transition that will take place for grad students who have completed their programs. Particularly for those students receiving terminal degrees, there likely will not be further formal education in your future, and a new set of habits and behaviors will be necessary for success beyond the Golden Dome.

TheMuse recently published a list of 43 simple habits that can improve your life, even if you only did a few of them. Since that list is geared toward life in general, I thought I would spin some of the non-work ones as they could relate to improving your work life more specifically. Reference the original list for context as you explore these opportunities to grow as a professional and colleague.

1. Do the Gratitude Snooze

If you are incorporating this habit in your daily life, I suggest including the following on your list of things to be grateful for: your new degree, your time at Notre Dame, your advisor’s time and support, other mentors who helped you here, your next opportunity (even if you don’t know what it is yet), your future colleagues, the opportunity to learn and grow in new or different ways, etc.

4. Meditate

Whether you are still applying for jobs or preparing to start your new career, meditation can provide focus, clarity, and renewed mental energy for tackling any aspect of career development. Feeling stuck customizing a cover letter? Hit a wall in arranging informational interviews? Need motivation to read the training manual for your new position? Give meditation a try.

7. Eat Mindfully

When starting a new career, it can be tempting to work through lunch in order to accomplish everything that needs to get done. However, take some time to step away from your desk, if possible, and eat mindfully. You can avoid indigestion and overeating, and might connect better with your new colleagues.

8. Breathe Deeply

Breathing exercises are helpful no matter what is stressing you out, but the job search and transitioning to a new career involve many stressors that can benefit from three seconds in, hold for one, and exhale for five.

17. Put Yourself in “Monk Mode”

I have started to do this myself where I close my e-mail tab for a period of time while focusing on a project. Engaging in deep concentration on a task can lead to more productivity for me.

19. Stand Up

As you may have seen, I sprained my neck back in April. My chiropractor compared the negative health effects of sitting at my desk all day to those of smoking (figuratively), and encouraged me to take breaks from sitting every 30 minutes.

20. Strike a [Power] Pose

I have long advocated for the benefits of power poses on interview success. Before entering an interview (not during the interview), hold postures that are expansive, such as arms out wide or on your hips while puffing your chest out. This can reduce interview anxiety and increase interview success. Try it to calm your nerves before giving a job talk or a big presentation at your new job.

23. Practice Being Charismatic

When starting a new job (or interviewing for one), it is important to connect with your colleagues or hiring committee. People connect more easily with individuals they enjoy speaking to and being around.

24. Listen

Get to know the environment and your co-workers before asserting your own ideas. It will give you credibility, and the information you learn while listening will help you pitch your ideas more effectively.

31. Put Your Phone Away

This should go without saying, but don’t bring your phone to group and one-on-one meetings. Even if others are using their phones, maintain your level of professionalism at all times.

33. Set Up Your Own “Smile Therapy”

For those moments when you feel overwhelmed by the search or at your new job, forcing yourself to smile can tangibly affect your mood and boost your confidence.

38. Help Someone

This is important at work, but also offers to reframe the networking process. When attending a networking event, don’t look for people who can help you achieve your goals. Instead, try to identify opportunities to help others achieve their goals. In return, they will gratefully try to help you achieve yours.

40. Create a “Jar of Awesome”

Whenever someone sends me an e-mail complimenting my work or expressing their sincere appreciation for my efforts, I save it in my “kudos” folder. I know a colleague who keeps a “smile file.” Reviewing these e-mails and notes comes in handy when I need a boost of confidence or morale.

43. Practice Self-Compassion

Slogging through the job search is hard, as is transitioning to a new role and identity. Give yourself a break, and don’t feel guilty about not reaching every goal. Do the best you can, and know that we are here to help along the way.

 

Do you have other habits that have helped you become #IrishReady for success? Add them in the comments, tweet them to us @ndgradcareers, or post them on our Facebook page.

May 04

Listology for Graduate Students

[This guest blog post comes from fellow Graduate Career Consultant, Cindi Fuja]

I love making lists. Strike that. I love crossing things off my lists. Whether it’s my shopping list, keeping track of how much water I’ve managed to down, or simply working on my daily calendar–I get a feeling of forward motion; of control, of staying on track when I’ve done some thoughtful planning of what tasks I need to accomplish.

Fellow list maker, Moorea Seal has recently published an entire book, The 52 List Project, to inspire her followers to keep lists as inspiration for personal journaling. The Muse re-posted from a professional perspective. I loved the idea immediately–and since I’m in the business of graduate career consulting, my brain started thinking about how that concept could be modified to reveal workable career strategies. And the more I thought about it, the more ideas I developed.

Let’s join forces in a Career List Project for the coming year! You’ll learn more about yourself; you’ll explore various career trajectories, and you’ll develop a personal career strategy along the way. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

For job seekers

  1. List 3-5 Industries To Learn More About This Summer
  2. List 20 Companies (or Organizations or Universities) that You’d Like to Work For
  3. List the 10 Accomplishments You’re the Most Proud Of
  4. List 7 Things that You Do Better Than Most People
  5. List What You Most Admire About Your Advisor

For upcoming graduates (and alumni) who have accepted employment

  1. List 5-8 People at Your New or Current Organization You Will Have Coffee With This Summer
  2. List 5 Ways You Will Act Differently as a Professional Colleague Than as a Student
  3. List 7 People Who Helped You Achieve Your Goals (and Then Thank Them)
  4. List 5-10 Special Graduate School Colleagues or Classmates to Remain Connected With
  5. Pick a “For job seekers” list above and begin plotting the next step in your career

For everyone

  1. List 25 of Your Favorite Inspirational Quotes
  2. List 12 Things that Motivate You
  3. List the Next 10 Books You Want to Read
  4. List 5 People You Want to Build A Professional Relationship With This Summer
  5. List 6 Current Events (Political or Otherwise) You Will Follow To Stay Informed

Feel free to suggest more lists in the comments below.

I am challenging each one of you to post one of YOUR summer career lists on Twitter or Facebook using the hashtag #IrishReady and keep us updated as to your progress (e.g. what topics you chose, what worked for you, what didn’t work for you, what you’ve already crossed off). Current ND grad students (and grad alumni) from Engineering, Science, and Arts & Letters: I’ll be treating my favorite five posters to a copy of Moorea Seal’s “The 52 Lists Project”! Ready? Go…!

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