Exploration Stories + Advice

What I Wish I Did When I Was in Graduate School

Salvatore Cipriano
Sal Cipriano

After I graduated from Boston College, I went to another Jesuit university, Fordham, to work towards my doctorate in History. I had become enamored with early modern history as a BC student, and I was determined to pursue a career in academia. This was despite the warnings of my professors, who cautioned me about the difficulties of the academic job market. The country was also still experiencing the aftershocks of the Great Recession too, but no matter: I wanted to research, write, and teach, and nothing was going to stop me from being a professor.

Fast forward seven(!) years: I had just defended my dissertation and was about to graduate as a newly-minted Ph.D. What was supposed to be a joyous occasion was instead soured by the fact I was getting absolutely nowhere in my job search: I applied to dozens of tenure-track, visiting professorship, post-doc, lecturer, and instructor positions and hadn’t even sniffed an interview. In a poor academic job market, exacerbated by the adjunct crisis, the reality of the “Ph.D. to poverty” path was becoming likelier every day. I took on part-time jobs.

I learned a hard truth at that point: waiting until you’ve finished graduate school is a hard time to start thinking about your broader career options.

For graduate students, and especially those in the liberal arts and sciences, pursuing a career other than academia is oftentimes viewed as a “plan B,” or an indication that you have, despite your Herculean efforts required to obtain a master’s or doctorate, failed. 

But it’s here where the Career Center can help.

Our goal is to empower students to pursue meaningful careers and lives. And I want to emphasize meaningful, because so often graduate students, whose initial goal was to pursue an academic career, tend to view any other vocation as meaningless. I know I certainly did.

The question is, where do you derive your meaning? Academia does not have a monopoly on research, writing, and teaching. Academia is not the only route towards public engagement on complex issues. Academia is not the only place where you can engage in rigorous intellectual debate.

The Career Center can help you answer these questions, but also help you think about the questions you may not yet know to ask. The point is not to wait until graduation. Instead, begin your career exploration as early in your graduate career as possible. This will not only better prepare you for post-graduate opportunities, it will enrich your overall experience at Boston College.

Here are some steps you can take right now to begin your journey:

  • Schedule an appointment with a career coach. In a thirty-minute coaching appointment, you can reflect on your skills and interests and generate a plan for exploring industries and seeking out opportunities. If you’re at a complete loss of what you can do with your degree, schedule an appointment with one of our exploration coaches. Is there a specific industry field that you’re interested in, or would like to explore further? Schedule an appointment with one of your six career cluster coaches and subscribe to a career cluster to receive periodic email updates about upcoming events and opportunities.
  • Carve out time for non-academic experiences. In graduate school, you’ll certainly be devoting much of your time to your coursework, research, writing, and teaching. But it’s important to carve out some time for non-academic experiences (professional, volunteering, or otherwise) in order to explore your interests and diversify your wider professional portfolio. Review upcoming events on the Career Center website and attend events of interest, such as info sessions, panels, and networking nights. Browse EagleLink for part-time and internship opportunities in potential fields of interest. (Employers are indeed interested in graduate interns!) These experiences will not only help gain a better understanding of your career options, they will also allow you to develop and strengthen your skills for your future endeavors!
  • Attend workshops. The Career Center hosts a number of workshops throughout the academic year, focusing on such topics as resume and cover letter writing, networking, interviewing, and more. Workshops are a great way to refine your core professional skills and to learn about how to connect your academic experiences (such as those on your CV) to opportunities elsewhere. You can learn about and register for workshops on EagleLink.
  • Connect with alumni on Eagle Exchange. Eagle Exchange is a networking platform exclusively for the Boston College community. Here, you’ll be able to connect with BC undergraduate and graduate alumni working in a variety of fields. You can engage with alumni about their paths to their careers; discuss how they parlayed their graduate training into a career in academic or non-academic positions; and gain valuable advice and resources about navigating your own path in your industry of interest. Check out this guide for tips about registering and making the most of the platform!   

The point is, there are plenty of resources that graduate students can use to advance their career journeys, whether you’re committed to the academic track, are interested in exploring other careers, or looking to develop your skills. The Career Center is here to help graduate students—don’t wait until you’re on the job market.

—By Sal Cipriano, Assistant Director, Career Education


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