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.