Steps You Can Take

Join Professional Organizations and Read Professional Publications

Most academic fields have their own professional organizations, such as the American Physical Society, the Modern Language Association, or the American Political Science Association. Many scholars belong to multiple such organizations (for instance, both the Modern Language Association and the Shakespeare Association of America). Staying up to date on the major events and publications of professional associations is often an unspoken expectation in academic life. Even if you aren’t yet ready to attend an association’s conference or submit an article to its journal, looking at conference programs and browsing journal indices on a regular basis will help you be more prepared if and when you do want to join these conversations.

In addition to field-specific organizations, also consider staying aware of issues pertaining to higher education more generally, by reading publications such as the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Network at a Professional Conference

Large conferences can be intimidating and impersonal, but they are also important opportunities to make useful contacts in your field, and start to independently establish a scholarly profile. In addition, an increasing number of academic conferences include panels and speakers on diverse career paths; meeting people at such events can also help springboard a non-academic job search. There is much valuable information on how to talk about your work, approach senior scholars, and present yourself as a rising professional in “How to Work the Conference,” Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3, from The Professor is In (2011).

Organize a Panel at a Professional Conference

Organizing a session or panel at a professional conference demonstrates knowledge of your field and an interest and willingness to contribute to its further development. It also provides opportunities to connect with colleagues and senior scholars from other institutions. The process of organizing a panel can start over a year before the conference itself, so keep abreast of the deadlines for your professional organization. Budget several months for coming up with a theme and assembling a roster of panel participants. For more, see “How to Organize a Panel for a Conference,” The Professor is In (2013).

Publish in your Field

The expectations for graduate students’ scholarly publishing output vary widely according to field. For instance, in many STEM disciplines, multi-authored publications are the currency of the realm, while this is less common in the humanities and social sciences. Some fields regard book reviews as a valuable contribution to the profession, while in other cases this is less true. However, in almost all academic fields, publishing is an important indicator of scholarly productivity, and a metric of your ability to contribute to the profession at the highest levels. For most junior faculty, publications play an important role in the tenure review process. For this reason, it is wise to learn about the publishing conventions in your field as early as possible. Consider initiating conversations with your advisor or other mentors early in your graduate studies about how and when you should publish during your program.

For more, see “How Grad Students and Junior Professors Can Publish, Not Perish,” Chronicle Vitae (2013), “Should Grad Students Publish?” Inside Higher Ed (2017), “Graduate Student’s Guide to Publishing,” University of Michigan.