An advanced degree is an impressive accomplishment, one that only 13% of the U.S. population has obtained. But what are you going to do with yours? Graduate students have special opportunities and unique challenges in career development. These tips can help you put your knowledge to work.

Academic Job Market

The number of tenure-track jobs available has been falling sharply over the past 50 years. According to the American Association of University Professors (2018), 73% of faculty positions are currently non-tenure track positions. It’s competitive out there, so how can you stick out if you seek tenure?

Whether or not you want to go into academia, it’s important to think of your master’s or Ph.D. degree as not just a “calling” but as a “profession.” Now is the time to make yourself competitive. Your coursework and your research are important, but so is networking and creating effective materials that will get you noticed on the job market.

How to Build a Competitive Application for Tenure-Track Jobs

Conferences: Be active at high prestige conference for your field if possible. Use the regional conferences to build toward the major conferences and then include these speaking engagements on your CV.

Grants: Getting grants can show your effectiveness as a researcher and a communicator, especially because obtaining external funding is a big part of an academic program’s success. As a grad student, look for opportunities to obtain or co-write for grants, preferably national-level awards (not just campus travel awards, etc.). 

Publications: Your publishing record (often in major peer-reviewed journals) is one of the biggest measures search committees use to evaluate your success. So learn what’s important in your field. For example, do you need to be a sole or lead author to be competitive? Are white papers and book chapters included in publication counts?

Teaching: Figure out whether you want to go for a teaching-heavy appointment or a research-focused one. Don’t spend too much time teaching if publications are what you’ll be measured on. Most institutions will look for some evidence of teaching experience.

Networking

Networking is critical to your success in academia. You belong to a subfield of people with shared research and teaching interests, and you want to be an active member of this relatively small world and to know the players. When it comes time to get a job, it helps tremendously to already know people from research collaborations, conference get-togethers and writing papers together.

    If you're attending a career fair, note that recruiters may be less familiar with M.S./M.A. or Ph.D. level positions.

    • Research in advance companies that often hire or require an advanced degree for their positions.
    • Bring two versions of your CV (a condensed 1-2 page version and your full academic CV). Ask the employer which version they prefer.
    • In discussions, focus on your transferrable skills for any situation; this will broaden the types of positions you might be qualified for.
    • Make sure to practice a layman’s version of your research focus that can be adapted to different audiences.
    • Explore other tips for networking in any situation.

    Tips for Networking in a Grad Program 

    • Attend and speak at conferences. Make sure that you not only go to top conferences and industry meetings, but that you meet everyone. Go out to eat with people in your field. Socialize as much as you can. Ask your faculty mentors or peers to introduce you to who they know. And then stay in touch.
    • Ask your faculty mentor to connect you. Be intentional about asking faculty in your department to introduce you to people in the field, whether it’s private companies they’ve worked with, old grad school buddies, research collaborators or faculty at institutions of interest to you. Current professors are already in the field and can help you break in.
    • Cultivate a well-known recommender — especially if you're at an institution that is not a top 5 institution in your field. Ideas include inviting a scholar from your field for a panel or working with them on a project and then asking for a letter of recommendation when you go to apply to a job.
    • Behave like a peer, not a student. Remember in networking and in the campus interview process to dress and speak like a faculty member. Begin to see yourself as an expert in your field and behave in a collegial and professional manner (e.g. firm handshake, leave the backpack at home, concise summary of your contribution to your field ready to go). Grad school represents a transition from learner to subject expert.

    Professional Materials

    Ensure that your CV is in top shape! Visit the Resumes & CVs page for advice on constructing and editing these documents.

    • Have a website, vitae profile and/or academia.edu page with a research summary, papers, publications and syllabi so that hiring committees can review your work online.
    • Remember, academics tend to value facts. Remove unnecessary emotion from your materials. Words like “passion”, “yearn”, “fascinated” or “eager” in some fields can be seen as non-serious. Academics tend to respond to evidence and careful argumentation. Give the facts and lead them to a conclusion about your qualifications.  

    Develop a thoughtful and convincing personal statement. Don't tell the story of how your childhood led you to a fascination which lead you to where you are today. Instead they want to know what your dissertation is focused on, your methods, a clearly articulated summary of your contribution to your field, your interests moving forward and what you bring to the company/institution.

    Resources to Find Jobs

    For academic job searching, try Chronicle Vitae, a service of the Chronicle of Higher Education, and a hub for graduate level, faculty, research and other academic positions. Search Handshake for a diversity of scientific and non-scientific positions in industry.

    Interested in alternative paths to tenure track? Check into paths in federal or local government (e.g., scientific positions on USAJobs.org) or non-faculty positions on university job boards (e.g., advising, curriculum development, research technicians).

    More information on transitioning from advanced degrees into industry positions can be found on The Cheeky Scientist and Jobs on Toast.

    Unsure what job titles are out there or what you want to do with your graduate degree? Take a free career self-assessment based on jobs data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics with Focus 2 or take an assessment with Science Careers (geared at grad student-level professions).