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Many graduate students will opt for careers beyond academia, but may not immediately know what kind of non-academic careers fit their interests, goals, and skills. Career exploration is a key step in not only broadening your knowledge of career possibilities, but also reflecting on your values and motivations.

Aim to set aside some dedicated time for self-reflection. There are existing guides that can help structure this process. For example, you could work through the key questions outlined in Beyond the Professoriate’s guide for finding a job that you will love, or work through the “flower” worksheet from University Affairs’ summary of a key book for job seekers, What Color Is Your Parachute? 2021.

Beyond the Professoriate’s guide suggests two key questions for self-reflection. First, what did you find energizing in your academic work? Once you’ve identified what you found energizing, you can dig deeper into the specific activities or components of that task that you most enjoy. For example, if you found teaching most energizing, was it mentoring, curriculum design, facilitating discussion, or public speaking that you most enjoyed? This question will help you clarify which specific tasks or activities you find enjoyable. Second, what do you value in your work? Take some time to reflect on what characteristics you value in yourself, and why you enjoyed certain activities across your academic experience. For example, if you enjoyed mentoring, did you value this because it was an opportunity to express empathy, creativity, or innovative problem solving? These two reflection questions are just one tool to support the self-reflection necessary for a successful job search.

A second key element of career exploration is learning about career options that correspond with your interests and values. While the idea of career exploration quizzes might feel outdated, there are now advanced career exploration tools that incorporate real-world data to inform job seekers on what the day-to-day experiences of various career paths entail. These tools can provide a general direction for your job search, teaching you about job titles and descriptions that match the tasks and work activities you value most. ImaginePhD is a tool specifically designed for humanities and social science graduate students, and MyIDP is designed for STEM graduate students.

As you embark on the career exploration process, consider reaching out to on-campus resources and groups for support and guidance. The Career Center has PhD Counselors specialized in all aspects of career exploration and preparation, who you can schedule an appointment with here. If you are in a professional program, your department may also have its own career center with experts who can support your career exploration. GradPro regularly offers workshops relevant to career exploration, which you can learn about by signing up for the GradPro Digest. Finally, the organization Beyond Academia also regularly hosts events designed to support graduate students exploring careers outside of academia.


About the author: Sophie Major is an interdisciplinary Ph.D. candidate researching environmental and Indigenous political thought, and is a first-gen college graduate. They currently serve as a Professional Development Liaison in UC Berkeley’s Graduate Division.