PhD Career Exploration Fellow Spotlight: Sarah Carson (Hosted by Penn’s Master of Behavioral and Decision Sciences Program)

In the spring of 2021, 44 PhD students from a range of academic disciplines at Penn participated virtually in Career Services’ PhD Career Exploration Fellowship (CEF) program, where they were matched with a host organization to learn about different careers beyond academia. Sarah Carson, a PhD candidate in Anthropology, was placed as a Fellow with the Master of Behavioral and Decision Sciences Program at Penn. Read about Sarah’s experience in the CEF below!

Describe your experience working with your host:

I did not complete a project for my CEF host. Instead, we had several advising meetings over the course of the semester. Daniella shared her experiences and career path and helped me formulate my own vague dreams into more concrete plans. I presented job listings and organizations of possible interest, and we discussed them together. She helped me identify what the listed job responsibilities actually meant and who might be best to contact at the organizations as well as how to craft introductory emails to reach out to them. Daniella not only provided practical guidance about how to navigate the professional landscape, translate job description language, identify people to reach out to about informational interviews, and frame academic skills for a non-academic job market, she also encouraged me to take a step back and think through my short-term and long-term goals and aspirations in order to strategically build towards the life I want. I am grateful for her ongoing mentorship!

What did you learn from this opportunity (about yourself, about career fields, the job search, etc.)?

I learned that there are more career opportunities for social science PhDs than I realized and that identifying and talking to professionals in industries I am interested in is the best way to figure out which of those opportunities I might like to pursue.

How does your CEF experience benefit your future career plans?

I have a new appreciation for the importance of LinkedIn! I have a better understanding of what day-to-day job experiences in the academic administration and private research industries can look like and new contacts I can reach out to when I begin searching for and applying to jobs.

What was the most valuable part of your CEF experience?

Receiving direct, one on one mentorship and support from someone with recent experience transitioning out of academia was invaluable. I feel much more prepared and confident in my qualifications and ability to work towards a meaningful career post-graduation.

Top reason PhD students should apply to the CEF:

For the introverted: the CEF eases you into professional networking painlessly. For those who feel paralyzed or overwhelmed when thinking about future job hunting: the CEF training workshops break down the practical strategies and skills you need and force you to dedicate set chunks of time to exploring and preparing for your post-graduate career. The process can be manageable after all!

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