The MiNDS of our Students

Beyond the Bench

AUTHOR: Bill Simpson

All things must come to an end and graduate school is no exception. At some point during graduate life, you will have to consider life beyond the bench (or clipboard for you clinical scientists out there). There are many possible paths you can follow, all of them with their unique benefits and challenges. While some end up pursuing an academic career, others will be moving towards private sector employment. Whatever path you would like to pursue, I’d like to share three bits of advice that helped me (and can help you) in the transition from graduate to professional life.

Cultivate your network, and do it early.

It can be hard to juggle the demands of your graduate degree with other things (including laundry, groceries and other “adult" responsibilities). However, when it comes to your post-grad life, there is a huge benefit to growing your professional network early on. If you are pursuing the academic path, networking and making connections early will give you better options for securing that all important post-doc. On the other side, most private sector jobs you’ll be interested in require some level of experience and at the very least a good personal connection within the company/organization. Building these relationships takes time, but done right, they can significantly reduce (and likely eliminate) the dreaded limbo time between when your degree ends and your career begins.

Be prepared to burn the candle at both ends.

Engineering a soft landing into your career means you sometimes need to sacrifice your down time. Finding time during your normal day-to-day for professional development is difficult. Your path might require you to learn a new skill, volunteer, or engage in part time or contract work to get some experience. These things can’t get in the way of your grad work, meaning you will have to be prepared to give up some down time to get it all done. It won’t last forever, but be prepared for it, especially as you're near the end of your degree.

Think outside your CV. 

As academics, we’re required to focus on a very specific problem and as such, we develop very specialized skills to come up with a solution. While this is great for the lab, it causes us to think very narrowly about our skills when applying for jobs outside of academia. We are tempted to write things like “assisted undergraduate researchers in completing their thesis projects” when really we should be writing “managed junior team members while coordinating multiple projects” on our resumes. Part of the reason many companies like hiring grad students is their ability to problem solve and their capacity for multitasking and communication. When preparing your resume, think carefully about the actual skills you developed during your training and don’t be shy to put them out there. Ambition and enthusiasm are always rewarded; they’re the reason your supervisor took you on in the first place!