Join Penn Career Services for a week of virtual professional and career development programs that will support and enhance your experience at Penn as a first generation graduate student. This week of programming is supported by GAPSA, and presented in collaboration with a variety of student-focused offices across Penn’s campus, and we hope that you will take advantage of these programs to make the most of your time as a graduate student.

What is a first generation graduate student?

For this series of programs, we are defining this term broadly. A first-generation (first gen) graduate student is someone who is the first in their immediate family to attend graduate school and pursue a graduate degree. This can include master’s or doctoral program in a variety of fields such as business, law, medicine, or the sciences. First gen graduate students can face unique challenges as they navigate the graduate school experience without the guidance or support of family members who have gone through the process before them. A first-generation graduate student can also refer to international students who are the first in their immediate family to study in the United States for a graduate degree. These students may face additional challenges, such as cultural and language barriers, as well as the added stress of being away from home and family. They also may not have the same level of support and guidance from their family as they navigate the unfamiliar education system and cultural landscape of the United States.

While focused primarily on the experiences and perspectives of first gen graduate students, this week of programs is open to all graduate students, and we encourage you to take advantage of those sessions that will help you gain more confidence in your professional and career development. Some of these sessions will be recorded so that you will be able to access them after they are presented. Check the descriptions below for details.

Presented and co-sponsored by:


Schedule of Events – all sessions are virtual (Zoom)

Monday 13th March, 2023

Theme: Graduate Student Life

10-11:30am: KEYNOTE: Navigating imposter syndrome and self-confidence as a first-generation graduate student to build hope and resilience for success. 

Register for this session here:

In his keynote, Dinuka Gunaratne (he/him) will discuss the intricacies of navigating imposter syndrome through various intersectionalities, including his experience as a first-generation graduate student. Drawing from his own experiences as an international, first-generation student from Sri Lanka, Dinuka will share how he navigated his own imposter syndrome, from feeling like he didn’t belong or was not good enough to finding his way to purpose, meaning, and greater confidence. Through introspection and reflection, he has made sense of the complex feelings associated with imposter syndrome and will share his learnings, reflections, and tips with the audience. Dinuka will use powerful student stories from his professional work with graduate students and their lived experiences to inspire the audience that imposter syndrome and being first-generation student can help bring out their best selves and embrace their identities.

Dinuka Gunaratne (he/him) brings 15 years of experience as a post-secondary leader supporting the success of university students through his employment at seven post-secondary institutions in Canada and the US, including the University of Alberta, the University of Waterloo, the University of Toronto, and Northeastern University. In addition to his career in postsecondary education, Dinuka is also an active member of numerous professional associations and actively contributes to the professional development of graduate student career development and student affairs. He is a past president of the Graduate and Postdoctoral Development Network in Canada (GPDN), a member of the board of directors of the Canadian Association of College and University Student Services (CACUSS), co-chair of the Content and Learning Advisory Committee of the Centre for Education Research in Counselling (CERIC), co-chair of four pan-Canada and US communities of practice through the Graduate Career Consortium (GCC), and a member of numerous committees and working groups. As a certified Anti-Racism Response Training (A.R.T) trainer, Dinuka is deeply committed to fostering equitable diversity, inclusion, and belonging, informed by his experience as a first-generation immigrant and former international student. By invitation, he has contributed to numerous institution-wide strategic planning and working groups, including the Race in Academe Advisory Committee (U of A), Inclusive Communications Advisory (UWaterloo), and the Institutional Employee Equity Data Governance and Survey Development Committee (U of T). Dinuka has a distinguished record of conference presentations focusing on EDI, anti-racism, and accessibility, as well as graduate student development, and was awarded the CACUSS Leaders in Learning Award in 2022 for championing learning initiatives for student affairs professionals across Canada. He was the inaugural Director of the Tri Campus Centre for Graduate Professional Development at the University of Toronto and is currently the Director of Career Development and Experiential Learning at Northeastern University Vancouver Campus in British Columbia, Canada.

1-2:30pm: First Gen Family – Managing your graduate experience at Penn as a parent, caretaker, or future parent – and strategies for your career next steps

Register for this session here:

Join staff from Penn Career Services and the Family Resource Center for a discussion and Q&A about managing your graduate experience as a parent or caretaker, and to ask your questions about best practices as a future parent. Learn about some of the common questions and concerns that students and postdocs have as parents/caretakers as they are searching for jobs. Find out how networking can help you to identify roles and organizations that are truly family-friendly, and when to bring up personal family matters when interviewing and negotiating. Learn about and take advantage of resources and communities on Penn’s campus that support student/postdoc parents and caretakers.

The first part of this session where information and advice are shared will be recorded, and will be posted on the Penn Career Services YouTube channel. Please subscribe to this channel to get a notification when the video is posted: The discussion and Q&A will not be recorded.

Tuesday 14th March, 2023

Theme: Professional Identity Day

10-10:50am: Making LinkedIn work for you and your graduate degree

Register for this session here:

LinkedIn can be an effective tool to help you keep track of your academic and professional growth as a graduate student. In this workshop, we will highlight ways to update your profile to reflect the knowledge and experiences you are gaining with your graduate degree, and to highlight elements of your professional identity. No matter your academic field, graduate students can highlight many aspects of their research as part of their professional experience, and can leverage LinkedIn to communicate research accomplishments and experiences to a broader audience. Join this session to get some best practices for making your LinkedIn profile a dynamic illustration of your skills, experiences, knowledge, and professional value.

This session will be recorded, and will be posted on the Penn Career Services YouTube channel. Please subscribe to this channel to get a notification when the video is posted:

11-11:50am: Effective networking on campus and beyond – creating your professional narrative

Register for this session here:

As a first gen graduate student, growing your network on Penn’s campus and beyond is an important part of making sure you have information on best practices for being a graduate student, and ideas about career paths you are interested in or that you may currently not know much about. Building professional relationships with current students/postdocs, with faculty and staff, and with Penn alumni, will help you to develop your own professional identity as you position yourself for future careers. In this session will will highlight some of the platforms you can use for networking (e.g., myPenn, LinkedIn, Handshake), some of the types of events that can be great places to make connections, and some of the questions you will want to be asking when you are networking (and just as importantly, what to do with these answers when you have them). Building a community of support will be instrumental in prioritizing your professional and emotional well-being as you navigate your graduate program and early career paths.

This session will be recorded, and will be posted on the Penn Career Services YouTube channel. Please subscribe to this channel to get a notification when the video is posted:

2-3:30pm: First Gen Identities – Advice for creating strong professional identities that incorporate your experiences as a first gen graduate student.

Register for this session here:

Join us for a discussion with experienced student life professionals at Penn who work with graduate students in the cultural resource centers across campus. Based on their years of working with students (and being a student), learn about how they have seen students grow into professionals during their time at Penn through an understanding of their identities. Bring your own questions for the panel about how your experience as a first gen graduate student can inform and influence your professional direction. Gain insight into how you, as a student, can incorporate all parts of you as you move toward your professional and career goals. The panel discussion will feature staff from the Greenfield Intercultural Center, La Casa Latina, the LGBT Center, Makuu, and the Penn’s Women’s Center.

  • Mx. S. Craig (they/them), Associate Director, Makuu: The Black Cultural Center
  • Krista Cortes (she/they), Director, La Casa Latina
  • Elisa Foster (she/her), Director, Penn Women’s Center
  • Wesley Alvers (they/them), Social Work Intern, LGBT Center
  • Kia Lor (she/her/hers), Associate Director, Albert M. Greenfield Intercultural Center

Wednesday 15th March, 2023

Theme: Resources on Campus

1-4pm: Professional Head-shots

We will be hosting a limited number of slots on Wednesday 15th March to get a professional head-shot taken. Register for this opportunity and we will confirm the location of the headshots with you by email.

All week: Campus Resources and Landmarks Selfie Scavenger Hunt

The resources and offices available to support Penn’s graduate students are scattered far and wide over Penn’s campus. We’ve put together a checklist of helpful campus resources, and a few interesting landmarks, and so join us for this scavenger hunt as you explore some of the resources that can help with your professional and career development. Students who participate in the resource scavenger hunt will be entered in to a draw to win one of five gift baskets. You can participate in one of two ways:

  1. Download the checklist, or pick up a hard copy from the Career Services office during the first gen grad student week (13-17th March), answer some questions about the resources and landmarks, and then drop off your completed checklist to our office or by submitting through this link by 4pm on Friday 17th March.
  2. Or, take a selfie of yourself by the resources/landmarks and share with our Penn Career Services Twitter or Instagram platforms (@PennCareerServ) using the hashtag #upenngradselfie during the 13-17th March.

You will find the checklist here and in the Penn Career Services office. You don’t have to visit every resource or landmark to be entered in the draw – we know you are busy – and so even visiting just 5 will make you eligible for the prize draw! We will be giving away 5 prize packs including a tote bag, baseball cap, mug, umbrella, and something for your sweet tooth – all Penn-branded, of course!

Thursday 16th March, 2023

Theme: Life Skills Day

10-11:30am: Negotiation strategies as a graduate student/postdoc and a future job seeker

Register for this session here:

Join us for a negotiation workshop tailored specifically for first-generation graduate students. Learn some effective communication best practices for your time on campus and beyond, tools to navigate difficult conversations, and gain a deeper understanding of how to become a better and more effective negotiator. Whether advocating for yourself or others, or negotiating your next job offer, this workshop will provide you with some helpful tips.

1-2pm: First Gen Finances – Up-Level Your Cash Flow as a Graduate Student and Postdoc

Register for this session here:

As a grad student or postdoc living on a modest stipend/salary, you’ve likely experienced having ‘more month than money.’ How can you create more cash flow to give yourself some breathing room and even work toward financial goals? This workshop will teach you how to apply the best practices in financial management, decrease your expenses, and increase your income. The goal is to reduce your stress about managing your money and give you multiple ideas for how you can effect a positive change in your cash flow.

Speaker: Dr. Emily Roberts is a personal finance educator specializing in early-career PhDs. Through her business, Personal Finance for PhDs, she equips graduate students, postdocs, and PhDs with Real Jobs to make the most of their money. She gives seminars at universities and for associations; interviews graduate students and PhDs on her podcast; and creates courses and workshops on taxes, investing, and more. Emily holds a PhD in biomedical engineering from Duke University and lives in San Diego County with her husband and two children.

2:15-4:15pm: First Gen Strengths – How to use your Strengths at Penn and in your next career

Register for this session here:

Our talents—the building blocks for Clifton strengths—help us filter our world, overcome challenges, and achieve our personal, professional, and career goals. In this interactive workshop for graduate students, we will learn more about our Clifton Strengths themes and how we can utilize them to navigate graduate school and find success and fulfillment in careers beyond.

To participate in this workshop you will first need to take the Clifton Strengths assessment. We are offering the first 70 students who register for this event a free code to take this assessment. Students who register will receive a code and instructions to take the assessment approximately a week before this workshop.

Friday 17th March, 2023

Theme: Future paths

10-11am: Applying to PhDs and other advanced degrees as a first gen graduate student

Register for this session here:

Thinking of applying for an additional graduate degree once you have completed your Master’s or PhD? If so, attend this program facilitated by the pre-graduate school advisors at Penn Career Services for insight on the application process and tips for moving forward. Advisors from Penn Career Services will offer 4 separate breakout rooms on Zoom to answer questions about these graduate education paths: 1) STEM advanced degrees, 2) Humanities/Social Sciences advanced degrees, 3) Law School, and 4) MBAs.

11:15am-12:15pm: First Gen Global – Visa and career advice for international first gen graduate students

Register for this session here:

Join staff from Career Services and International Student & Scholar Services for a question and answer session where you can ask any questions you have about managing your career nest steps as an international graduate student or postdoc. What should you write on your resume about your visa status? How can you find out which companies sponsor H-1Bs? How can you find international alumni? When should you apply for OPT? What are some trends that international students/postdocs should be aware of as they think about career next steps? Share some of your questions in this sessions to get answers and resources to help you.

This session will be recorded, and will be posted on the Penn Career Services YouTube channel. Please subscribe to this channel to get a notification when the video is posted:

1-2:30pm: First Gen Faculty – Best practices for navigating the unknowns of faculty life from Penn Faculty and First Gen Penn alumni in faculty roles

Register for this session here:

Many first gen students observe that there are unwritten rules and norms about the academic experience of undergraduates and grad students.  At this virtual session, learn from first gen faculty how they navigated these unknowns as they made their way through graduate school and to their current role as faculty.  How has their experience as a first gen student impacted their work in academia and how can you, as a student or postdoc, navigate this in the future?  Bring your questions! Panelists include:

  • Tryan McMickens, EdD, Associate Professor of Higher Education, North Carolina Central University
  • Kimberly A. Truong, PhD, Chief Equity Officer, MGH Institute of Health Professions
  • Dustin Brisson, PhD, Professor of Biology, University of Pennsylvania
  • Kathleen Hall, PhD, Associate Professor of Education & Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania
  • Neil Schore, PhD, Professor Emeritus, UC Davis

3-4pm: 10 steps to help you feel less stuck, lost, or confused about your career next steps

Register for this session here:

Very few graduate students start their graduate program knowing with exact certainty what they want to do when they graduate. And even those who have clear career goals can often find that they change their mind over time. The majority of graduate student are stuck, lost, or confused about their career next steps at some point during their graduate program, and so you are in good company if you feel this way. In this session, we will share 10 steps to help you gain more certainty about the directions you can take as you think about future careers. We will also highlight the range of resources available to you that can support career exploration and ideation.

This session will be recorded, and will be posted on the Penn Career Services YouTube channel. Please subscribe to this channel to get a notification when the video is posted: