Free resources to help grad students navigate their careers (opinion)

The community of professionals supporting graduate students’ and postdoctoral scholars’ career and professional development is one of the most sharing I have been a part of. So many individuals and organizations and organizations have contributed resources and online, accelerated by the need to pivot to virtual programming during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This has resulted in an explosion of online tools, resources and videos focused on a range of professional development topics—from navigating the faculty job search to informational interviewing and negotiation. In this post, I will seek to organize and curate some of those resources to better assist graduate students, postdocs and those who support them.

Resources for Postdoctoral Scholars (and Beyond)

The National Postdoctoral Association has a range of resources on its website, including a growing resource library containing guides on topics from mentorship to career planning. Please note that content is being updated as part of a website refresh in spring 2022. If you are a postdoc, graduate student, faculty member or other individual at an organizational member of the association, you can access these resources and a wealth of webinar recordings for free using your institutional email address upon registration as a member.

Another great program to be aware of if you are a current or prospective postdoctoral scholar or are a faculty or staff member supporting postdocs at your institution is the Postdoc Academy, which organizes two different online courses on edX: Succeeding as a Postdoc and Building Skills for a Successful Career.

ImaginePhD: An Indispensable Tool for Career Exploration.

ImaginePhD is a free online career-exploration tool created by members of the Graduate Career Consortium, an international community of professionals working to support graduate students and postdoctoral scholars in their career and professional development. While this website is branded for a humanities and social sciences audience, I would argue it is one of the most powerful career exploration tools out there and useful to researchers in any discipline. MyIDP and ChemIDP are also great online career-exploration resources.

Some highlights from the ImaginePhD platform:

  • The general tip sheets are phenomenal! Topics include: writing a résumé and cover letter, informational interviewing, using LinkedIn, and the art of negotiating.
  • Complete an interests, values ​​and skills assessment to learn more about yourself and job families that could be a good fit for you.
  • Each job family within the platform has dedicated sections that allow you to:
    • Explore links to job simulations from InterSECT job simulations along with write-ups and Q&As on different careers available and personal perspectives from Ph.Ds who made the transition into those paths.
    • Connect with LinkedIn groups and professional organizations to increase your ability to network with professionals working in certain sectors or career areas.
    • Build skills through trainings and resources that provide information about in-demand skills.
    • Apply for positions through links to job boards and have access to analyzed job descriptions with tailored resume and cover letter examples.

In addition, the menu on the right-hand side of the screen displayed within any of the four sections (explore, connect, build skills, apply) contains a live Indeed job feed of positions being advertised in this job family. This serves as a great way to see what skills and abilities are being asked for in current job descriptions. You can also build a career and training plan within ImaginePhD and export your various goals and deliverables to your digital calendar of choice to stay on track.

Content Available on YouTube

Many career and professional development offices have put their content on YouTube, making the excellent advice and resources they share easy to all. I applaud their efforts and highlight a few of them below.

The University of Pennsylvania Career Services’ Job Search Skills Series, many talks of which are led by Joseph Barber, GCC member (and Inside Higher Ed contributor), and include:

In addition, the Informational Interview Guide for Graduate Students and Postdocs from UPenn is a very handy guide to perhaps the single most important action you can take to learn about your career options and build your network. See also Penn Career Services’ Faculty Job Search Prep Camp YouTube playlist if you are planning to go on the academic job market this fall.

The University of Michigan School of Medicine’s Office of Graduate & Postdoctoral Studies professional development team, led by GCC members Shoba Subramanian and Beth Bodiya, have an insightful “Faculty Corner” series. It features recorded interviews and professional development talks from expert faculty covering issues surrounding academic job preparation, interview and negotiation, lab/time/project/personnel management, funding, publications, and work/life balance.

A few other excellent YouTube channels to follow for career and professional development resources include:

Additional Online Resources

The University of California, San Francisco’s Office of Career & Professional Development has a wealth of resources available on its website, organized by different training areas and career goals. Explore some of them at the links below.

While many of the above resources are focused on the biological and biomedical sciences, the Academic Career Readiness Assessment is a powerful resource for many disciplines. It seeks to capture the minimum level of qualifications a search committee at a research-intensive, teaching-focused or research and teaching-focused institution expects from a faculty candidate. It also suggests the level of expertise most desired of candidates in different domains (teaching, research independence, experience working with students and so on). Learn more about the creation of the assessment in this publication.

I also recommend Vanderbilt University’s Office of Biomedical Research Education and Training’s Beyond the Lab video series, featuring informational interviews with Ph.Ds who have pursued a variety of careers after graduate school or postdoctoral training. The series serves as an excellent resource to begin exploring available career pathways and also models some of the questions you may want to ask as part of an informational interview.

And while this final recommended resource is not from a university, you should definitely check out iBiology, a nonprofit organization funded by the National Science Foundation and National Institute of General Medical Sciences. It has an amazing library of professional development videos and self-paced online courses on topics including career exploration, planning your scientific journey (very relevant for early-stage graduate students) and how to give an effective presentation.

Using Online Resources in Career and Professional Development Programming

If you are an administrator or faculty member seeking to provide career and professional development support to graduate students and postdoctoral scholars, how might you leverage the resources I’ve shared above? One approach is to have your students and postdocs watch a YouTube video on a topic of relevance and then spend your time with them discussing that topic in more detail, highlighting institutional resources available to them. For example, you might have them watch a video on leveraging LinkedIn in advance and spend your workshop discussing how participants plan to implement the advice they received in crafting their profiles.

In addition, online self-assessment and career exploration tools like ImaginePhD allow for trainees to do some preliminary work before coming to a workshop to discuss career exploration in more detail. I find having workshop participants explore the ImaginePhD platform on their own and then share something interesting they learned with others in a small breakout room opens their eyes to the richness of information and resources on the platform.

Using online tools and resources can really expand the bandwidth of a small office (or office of one) tasked with supporting graduate students and postdocs. In addition, resources like iBiology’s Mentoring Master Class: Peer Mentoring Groups empower trainees to create their own groups to support one another in their training, job search and beyond.

In conclusion, I hope by highlighting these online resources in one place, you can become aware of the impactful programs offered across the United States. Now that many programs have moved online and are being recorded and widely disseminated, access to great advice and resources to help postdocs and grad students navigate their professional development and job search has never been easier. Whether you are a professional trying to provide career and professional development support at your institution or a student or postdoc, I encourage you to take advantage of these resources—and to join me in thanking the sharing, collegial community of professionals that has made them open for everyone to access and benefit from. Start exploring today!

Leave a Comment