There are two questions, which out of common courtesy, one should never ask a graduate student: “when will you finish” and “what are your plans after graduation”. The latter is more dreaded (…and trust me, with good reason).
Statistics show that only 26% of all PhD graduates are able to secure tenured or tenure-track positions in academia. Only 26%!! This means that 74% of all graduates are competing for jobs in alternative career paths. What this means for you and me as graduate students is that our mindset must change to match the times, in order for us to survive the increasingly competitive academic climate. As I reflected on how to survive this increasingly competitive environment, I recalled the wise saying: “the race is not to the swift.” The goal should no longer be to merely finish the race—earn the degree; the goal should be to make oneself marketable, and collect as many “medals” as possible along the course of one’s graduate career in order to stand out and be attractive to future employers.
Now on the topic of these “medals”, how can you get them? The answer is two simple words: professional development. For the graduate student, professional development encompasses any activities one pursues outside the classroom with the goal of equipping themselves with transferable skills that will be beneficial in the workplace. Chris Humphrey, a famed career expert summarized these skills into 4 major categories: project skills, entrepreneurship, communication skills and finally knowledge and information skills. In his article, “Discover the 20+ transferable skills that make PhDs totally employable”, Humphrey encourages students to pursue experiences that will help them develop these competencies.
Let’s face it, we will all cross the stage one day and be handed our degrees, but so will all our competitors. The question you and I have to ask ourselves before that day comes is, “have I done enough to set myself apart?”
For those wondering "where do I begin" or "what professional development opportunities are available at Waterloo", I found that GRADventure is the best place to begin your search. GRADventure is an initiative of Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Affairs that creates and promotes various professional development opportunities. You can think of GRADventure as the glue that connects the various campus offerings and creates a single platform where students can access a diverse range of programming. Much like Humphrey’s skills categories, the GRADventure web page categorizes its offerings into 3 series: "Inquire", "Connect" and "Strategize", which cater for a broad spectrum of topics that encompass professional development.
"You can take a donkey to the water, but you cannot make it drink." The University of Waterloo can provide us a myriad of opportunities to set us up for post-graduate success, but it is up to us to pursue them. We do not plan to fail, let's not fail to plan our success—our professional development!
Nyasha Gondora is a PhD Candidate at the School of Pharmacy. Her research focuses on G-protein coupled Receptor (GPCR) and Receptor Tyrosine Kinase (RTK) signalling in neurons, as well as investigating the impact of early life adversity on the expression of key brain receptors.