Thursday, September 30, 2010

Career Prep

A labmate of mine (set to graduate with his PhD in January) just took a seminar in preparing your C.V. for academic uses. Basically, how do you put together a package to apply for jobs/professorships in academia? Yesterday he was sharing with us what he learned (read: all of us in my cubicle were avoiding work). Although I knew applying for academia is a lot of work, I just was suddenly overwhelmed at what is required.

You would need a teaching statement (what classes you are prepared to teach, your relevant teaching experience, etc.), and a research statement (what ways are you planning to change the world). You need letters of reference from people vouching for you. You need a list of publications, posters, talks, conference presentations, invited seminars, and anything else relevant. You have to show you can write grants and bring in money. All of these things I've read about (especially on other academic blogs from women currently in various stages of academia), but I realized something else as my labmate was talking.

I am SO grateful I don't have to worry about some of these things.

I don't plan to be a professor. I want to be proud of my PhD research, but I am not worrying about whether my chosen PhD topic is going to leave me with more research directions to pursue in a post-doc or professorship track. Or whether I am creative enough to come up with interesting and relevant research problems to build my own lab around.

I don't have to worry about getting relevant teaching experience. I just have to suffer through my stint as a TA. I don't have to worry about whether I can manage students doing research, although I have done that (some PhD students will be required by their advisor to supervise undergraduate research, to help learn management skills. Poor undergrads!). I don't need to think about what classes I could teach, or how to put together a syllabus. I don't have to learn how to write a grant, or an NSF proposal.

I want to make sure my PhD committee is relevant to my research, and will give me good advice and mentorship. But if I choose committee members that don't turn out well, I don't have to worry that they will ruin my career by refusing me a letter of reference.

I of course want to share my research findings with the world, so I publish my work. And I write conference papers, and give talks. I know other classmates that have advisors constantly pushing them to publish. My advisor is not like that, I don't NEED to publish for the sake of my career. Thank goodness, because I don't want my career to live and die by the impact factor of journal I can get into.

If I had to consider how all my choices now in grad school were setting me up for an academic career, my focus on a lot of things would be different. But since that's not what I want to do, I feel like my grad school career is a lot less stressful.

But at the same time, I have my own long-term career in mind in the things that I do. It's just a different set of goals, given that I want to work for a start-up or launch my own company. (Or, that is, another one.)

I DO have to worry about connecting with small businesses and cutting edge research in my field of research. That's why I go to networking events.

I DO have to worry about meeting venture capitalists, business people, and knowing how to write a business plan and give a good pitch. That's why I take business classes and maintain a good relationship with people like the head of my school's entrepreneurship center.

I DO have to worry about keeping in touch with the overall startup community, which is why I do small things like read TechCrunch and other various blogs on a regular basis. I also am involved in organizing a global startup conference (both last year and this coming yeat), which keeps me in touch with the international entrepreneurship pulse.

I am trying to set myself up as best I can for when I graduate. I do my best to watch my father and learning how he conducts business. I try to stay creative and always be thinking and watching out for ideas, so that I have enough good ideas to found a company on. I think I will.

So really, all those side projects that my classmates tease me about - those are useful. Not useful if I was gunning for an academic job, sure, but useful for where I am headed.

So I guess the point is - I am truly enjoying my graduate experience, but I am reminded that ultimately I am headed elsewhere. I feel relieved that some of the academic pressure is lessened by this choice, and mindful that at the same time I need to take advantage of the unique opportunities I have while I'm here.

To each his (or her) own!


  1. Hrm, I don't want to leave an extraordinarily long comment, but the short version is... don't you think that the people who are looking for jobs in academia (which may include myself) enjoy doing things like contemplating their teaching style, getting teaching experience, publishing/going to conferences where they meet the leaders in their field, etc? That's not to say that it's not hard work, but I think it's not necessarily dreadful work. In fact, I think some people would be terrified to do what you do--meet new people, go to business dinners, put on a professional face. Anyway, I don't think that anywhere in your post were you saying that the academic route is worse or harder or anything like that, just not right for you. And it's good that your recognize it. :) I'm just saying, the other side can be fun and interesting too. I'm looking forward to it. :)

  2. Excellent point! Academia can be a fantastic career choice. I think graduate school does have a way of helping you figure out your career one way or another - if you find you enjoy those things, you know (hopefully) you would enjoy a career in academia. Some people make it to grad school and find that although they were really smart in classes, they don't like research. Those are important things to know.

    I think you will kick butt in academia if that's where you are headed. :)