Announcing “PhD Questions of the Month”– a new blog series for PhDs!

The Grad Student/Postdoc Team at Career Services is excited to announce the launch of a new series of blog posts, “PhD Questions of the Month,” focused on answering the top three career questions that we get asked in our PhD career advising appointments. Each new blog in this series will be posted at the end of the month during the 2020-2021 academic year. Since we advise and support PhD students like you everyday, our goal is to share the advice we give to students in individual appointments broadly with everyone so that you can think about some of these career-related issues that you may not have thought about previously.

We’ll keep the advice we offer here to be brief and general enough to be applicable to the diverse populations of PhD students we serve, from those in the humanities and social sciences to those in STEM fields, and to also maintain the confidentiality of students who asked these questions. Everyone’s circumstances shaping their career paths will be different, so we encourage you to make an advising appointment with a Career Services advisor via Handshake to chat about your individual career plans. Given the uncertainty and anxiety that may come with thinking about one’s future career, particularly in the challenging times that we live in now, we hope that “PhD Questions of the Month” will be helpful as you navigate your career exploration and job search. Without further ado, let’s discuss our top three career questions from the month of August.

I have been focused on applying for faculty positions throughout my time in graduate school and have not begun to think about other career paths. How do I get started with career exploration?

It’s helpful to begin the career exploration process by reflecting on your skills, interests, and values. What are you good at? What are you interested in? What values are important to you in the workplace? Answering these questions is really important to ensure that the job you end up taking is actually a good fit for you. ImaginePhD is a wonderful resource to assess your skills, interests, and values. Once you’ve completed the assessments, you can select “job families” that you’re interested in and learn more about specific career fields. CareerExplorer is another great tool–it asks you a series of questions before suggesting a list of top career matches that is customized to you. We also recommend using VersatilePhD’s “PhD Career Finder Tool” as you read about different career paths. These are all free for Penn students to use and will get you started on this process! You can read more about the PhD career exploration process here.

I’m graduating in May 2021. Can I apply to both academic jobs and jobs outside of academia?

Absolutely. As you may know, the academic hiring cycle usually begins in the late summer/fall, when the call for applications go out. Applications are often due sometime in the fall, with interviews taking place between the fall, winter, and early spring. The timeline for each faculty application will vary depending on your field and the institution, of course, but you’ll likely know the outcomes of your tenure-track faculty applications by the early spring.

The application process for jobs outside of academia is quite different from that of faculty roles. Most jobs (with the exception of certain fields like consulting) do not hire a year in advance of a start date. The time from submitting an application to beginning a new role can take a few to several months, depending on the employer. If you intend to begin a new role in the summer of 2021, this means that you won’t begin to apply for jobs beyond academia until around December 2020 or January 2021. If you don’t get a tenure-track offer and decide to apply for visiting assistant professor and lecturer roles, which are often announced later in the spring semester, you can still apply for jobs outside of academia at the same time.

How long will it take for me to get a job outside of academia? 

It’s hard to say, because there are so many factors that affect the success of your job search. Have you done informational interviews with professionals in the career field you’re interested in? Are your job documents (resume and cover letter) in good shape and tailored to the position and company you’re applying to? Have you practiced your interviewing skills? How will you respond to the first job offer that you receive? Beyond the factors that you can control, there are other things that you cannot control, including how competitive your chosen field might be, how widely you are casting your net, what the job outlook for your industry is, and who else is applying for the jobs you’re targeting. In these times, we’d recommend giving yourself at least six months to apply for jobs outside of academia.

If you have general questions you’d like us to address on this blog, feel free to use #PhDQuestionsoftheMonth on Twitter. If you’re interested in talking about any of these questions in depth as it relates to your own career plans, make a career advising appointment with our team. We look forward to working with you!

By Helen Pho
Helen Pho Associate Director, Graduate Students & Postdocs