At the start of your PhD the job market might be the furthest thing from your mind. However—as is often the case—the earlier you start, the better. Here are five things every PhD student can do at any stage of their degree to prepare for the job market.
Make a CV
No matter what stage you are at in your academic career, having a professional academic CV is essential. You won’t just need it when you’re on the job market either. You will need to include a CV when you apply for grants, fellowships, and even conferences during your PhD. If you don’t already have an academic CV, this article will help you make one and includes a downloadable template. Once you have a CV keep it up to date as you progress through your doctorate. Every time you have an abstract accepted for a conference or win a travel award add it to your CV. It’s much easier to add as you rather than try to remember back several years when you’re on the market.
Learn About the Application Process
Research skills are one of the most valuable things you will gain during your PhD, so put them to use and learn everything you can about job application process. After all, it’s hard to prepare if you don’t know what you’re preparing for. Talk to students in your department who are currently on the market about their experience. What was the best thing they did to prepare and what do they wish they had done differently? If your institution is hiring, go and observe the job talks. What sets certain candidates apart from others? How do they keep the audience’s attention? How do they handle the Q&A? It’s also a good idea to establish a relationship with your graduate advisor or supervisor early on in your degree. They will be an important resource when it’s time to go on the market so it’s important to have a good relationship with them. Make sure they understand your career goals from the beginning so they can offer advice and suggestions as you progress though your PhD.
Present at Conferences
Conferences are a crucial part of academic life, even for PhD students. They offer unparalleled opportunities to meet people, present your research, and develop ideas. Presenting at conferences helps build your CV and get your name out to people in your specialty. More importantly, conferences allow you to hone your presentation skills for future job talks. The job talk can make or break a hiring decision so it’s important to be an experienced presenter by the time you get to this point. Smaller graduate student conferences are a great way to begin talking about your work in a lower-stakes environment. You should attend as many conferences as you can throughout your PhD. Most universities offer travel grants to help cover the cost of travelling to conferences, as do several academic societies.
The reality of academia is that publication do have an impact on the hiring process, however the extent to which they required or expected of job applicants depends entirely on the field that you’re in. STEM PhDs are under far more pressure to have several first author publications by the time they are looking for faculty positions, whereas publications are rarer for humanities PhDs (who are under considerably more pressure to publish once they become junior faculty members). Whatever your specialty, you should be focused on producing novel research whether that’s your dissertation or a peer-reviewed journal article.
Networking isn’t just for MBAs! PhD students can benefit from connecting with people in your field both inside and outside your institution. Learn about new developments and opportunities in your field. Conferences are the primary way for grad students to meet potential future colleagues, collaborators, or supervisors. However, conferences aren’t the only way to build a network. Guest lecturers and informational interviews are also ways to build relationships with people outside your lab. Contacts outside of your university can be valuable referrers when you go on the market. A glowing letter from an outside source can carry more weight than one from your PhD supervisor (who obviously wants to help you get the job).