Navigating your final-stage PhD

Navigating the course of your PhD - the final years

Early years

Mid-stage

Final Years

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During the final years of your PhD, you will be very focused on completing your research, giving presentations at conferences, submitting articles for publication, and preparing for your next steps after Penn. It is tempting, and sometimes necessary, to spend a great deal of time on your research, but it is also essential to set aside time for your own professional development and career exploration. You do not want to wait until you have graduated to then think about your career options. As a very general rule, you should spend 80% of your time focusing on your research, 10% on your professional development (e.g., committee work, student leadership, learning new skills, etc.), and 10% talking to others about what you do and why it is important (i.e., networking). You might consider focusing specifically on a few career fields that interest you so that you can prepare yourself adequately to be an ideal candidate for jobs once you begin applying.  You should be aware of the hiring cycle for the industries that interest you, and then make use of the many on-campus resources to help you to connect with a wide diversity of employers. Make an appointment with a career advisor to help you make a plan for your final years of your PhD.


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Career Services

  • Attend Academic Career Conference and Faculty Conversation sessions. Information about these series of programs is available on the calendar page.
  • Make an appointment with a career advisor to look over your job search materials. Give yourself enough time before the application deadline to make any suggested changes and get a second draft critiqued.
  • Arrange an hour-long mock interview to polish your interview skills. Where possible, schedule your mock interview as soon as you have been invited to interview to give yourself enough time to absorb the feedback you receive during the mock interview.
  • Work with a career advisor to identify potential employers and sources of job listings in your fields of interest. 
  • Have versions of your resume and cover letter critiqued. This is especially valuable when you have identified a position, or type of position, you may be interested in.  
  • Use PennLink to apply for on-campus interviews, and to get information about employer information sessions.
  • Attend workshops on interviewing and networking.  Details of the Job Search Series offered each semester are provided on the calendar page. 
  • Talk with employers at career fairs. Consider meeting with a career advisor before career fairs to practice your introduction, fine-tune your resume, and work on your overall networking strategy.

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Your department

    • Seek faculty advice and support (letters of recommendations). If teaching your own course, get faculty feedback.
    • Actively pursue first/screening interviews for faculty positions. Spend time customizing your application for each position and institution. 
    • Apply for postdocs. Decide what you are aiming for with your postdoctoral training (e.g., new skills, more publications, support from PI for expanded career search, teaching experience, etc.). Keep your ultimate career goals in mind as you seek out postdocs that are the right fit for your career goals.
    • Arrange to practice your job talk with faculty members and graduate students. 
    • Continue to develop your publications. Whether these are evidence of your research abilities or your communication skills, a good publication list will always be an advantage.
    • Participate in your discipline's annual conference (GAPSA provides travel funds).
    • Attend industry seminars sponsored by your department.
    • Participate in any department recruiting activities (e.g., with industry employers).

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    On your own

    • Continue to update your LinkedIn profile with research you have completed, published papers, conference/symposium presentations, and any new skills you have developed. Begin to tailor your profile to the types of career fields you might be pursuing.
    • Request updated recommendation letters from your references. Consider Interfolio as an option to manage these letters for all of your applications.
    • If you have concerns about the transition from being a student to the professional "real" world, set up an appointment with someone at CAPS.
    • Continue to participate in the Versatile PhD discussion forum and connect with peers exploring the expanded job market. 

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    Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS)

    • The services that CAPS offers for graduate students are always free and confidential. Make use of  CAPS advisors to help prepare you for the transition from being a student to taking on new challenges and responsibilities. CAPS is for current students - take advantage of this resource while you are still at Penn.
    • Take advantage of CAPS Career Testing Services - ask a CAPS or Career Services advisor for more information.
    • Attend Career Development Workshops. These are advertized through the Career Services listservs, and can be found on our calendar.
    • Join a dissertation support group.

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    Graduate Student Center

    • Attend Grad Center's Dissertation Boot Camp, and make sure you are using all of the resources available to you at the Graduate Student Center.
    • Participate in the Navigating the Grant program to see if there is funding available for research or writing-up your dissertation.
    • Find out what is available for you by connecting with the Grad Center via weekly e-mail, Facebook, and Twitter.
    • Talking confidently and coherently about your research and your skills and interests is very important when you are on the job market. Take all opportunities to improve your English. Look at the services offered by the Graduate Student Center for international students.

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    Student governance

    • Get a GAPSA travel grant to support your research, or for funding your student organization.
    • Meet with a career advisor to determine how best to showcase the skills you have used in your committee work and/or student government experiences on your CV or resume.  

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    Student career groups

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    Libraries

    • Learn about the different ways you can showcase your published and unpublished work through online databases and other library resources.
    • Make use of the many online subscriptions offered by the Career Services library.

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    Center for Teaching & Learning (CTL)

    • Get feedback on your Statement of Teaching Philosophy. Explore the Teaching Philosophy Guide on the Career Services website.
    • Make use of CTL resources to help you illustrate why your teaching philosophy and approach is beneficial for different types of academic institutions. Be prepared to talk about teaching in your job interviews.
    • Attend teaching workshops, arrange to have a class observed, or visit for a consultation to develop teaching skills and the ability to talk confidently about teaching.
    • Finalize your teaching portfolio that will sometimes be requested by employers as part of your job application for certain faculty positions.
    • Complete your CTL Teaching Certificate.

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    Weingarten Learning Resources Center

    • Develop a timeline and writing plan to meet final dissertation deadlines by using resources available at the Weingarten Learning Resources Center.
    • Discuss the presentation of your dissertation at your thesis defense.

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    Writing Center

    • The Marks Family Writing Center can provide resources to help with the different styles of writing used in academic work, job applications, and more. Clear writing is essential for your dissertation.
    • Make an appointment to get guidance and feedback on your writing.

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    International Student & Scholar Services

      • Gather all the information you need to understand the rules about On-Campus Employment, Curricular Practical Training (CPT), Optional Practical Training (OPT), and the options to apply for the STEM extension for OPT. You'll find up-to-date, relevant information on the ISSS website.
      • Become familiar with the types of institutions and employers that have sponsored international students for visas in the past.The H1b database is a useful place to start. This can be found as an online subscriptions within the Career Services library electronic resources.

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