The Value of Your Graduate School Experiences
By Daniel Moseson, Ph.D., CPDC Career Coach
Graduate students bring many valuable skills to the job market – research, writing, critical thinking, public presentation, project management, creative problem-solving, and determination. To better present these skills to employers, you need to frame them in terms of specific experiences and accomplishments. They don’t just want a list of your skills. To invest in you, they need to know how you’ve already used them to make a difference.
Fortunately, you have – in your research, teaching, campus service and leadership, and your work and advocacy off campus. Your thesis or dissertation is a major accomplishment. Producing knowledge is hard. The final product stands as evidence that you can think critically, find and synthesize large amounts of data, manage a complex, long-term project, communicate the results to diverse audiences, and collaborate productively with a mentor to complete highly sophisticated work. Your research may also act as evidence of other advanced skills, from laboratory techniques and ethnographic interviewing to (*trigger warning*) facility with the IRB process.
Successful teaching is also an accomplishment that testifies to a range of valuable skills. Keep your best teaching evaluations ready to act as evidence of your successes as a public communicator, event planner, and mentor. Productive connections with students show you can improve others’ learning and performance, assess their work fairly, and provide constructive, empathetic feedback. If your teaching is grounded in equity and social justice, so much the better – it’s evidence that you are fluent in the topic and effective at putting theory into practice.
If you’ve been a leader in your graduate program or professional organization, this also counts as valuable experience. Did you help organize a successful conference? Explain how you argued for event funds, created and marketed a compelling program, and managed the logistics of a complex event, from catering, to technology, to travel (or whatever challenges you overcame in making a virtual conference work). Did you help create committee bylaws or a new constitution for your GSAC? Explain how you collaborated to share work, manage conflict, foreground values, and build consensus. These accomplishments can demonstrate not only organizational and event planning skills, but also the “soft” or “human” skills needed to be an effective collaborator and leader.
Finally, your experiences and accomplishments off campus count as well. A grad school classmate of mine worked as a part-time cashier at Rite Aid, no doubt gaining valuable experience in customer service. When I was in grad school, I volunteered as a regional NPR host planning and hosting two- or three-hour primetime music shows with varying themes. I developed an on-air persona that I still draw on for public presentations. I also built organizational skills as I worked preplanned playlists into a structure provided by the station and the Federal Communications Commission. It was great training in learning a new framework and seeing a project through, from creative impulse to final product, quickly and with minimal outside assistance.
Remember, don’t just list job duties- focus on the challenges you faced, the actions you took, and the differences they made.
Your Career Coach can help you express experiences and accomplishments like these in ways employers understand. You can schedule an appointment with a Graduate Career Coach here.