Advice from your PhD peers

Advice from your Peers

Jump to Advice Pertaining to 1) Academic Jobs (humanities and social sciences), 2) Academic Jobs (STEM), 3) Non-Faculty Jobs (humanities and social sciences), or 4) Non-Faculty Jobs (STEM)

You will find that much of the advice below centers on a few essential points which we discuss in-depth elsewhere on this website, for example: the importance of networking, assembling compelling letters, resumes, and CVs, and preparing for interviews.

Take a look at some of the profiles for Penn alumni and former Penn postdocs who have particiapted in some of our career programs - they come from a wide range of backgrounds that might be of interest to you.

Advice on the Academic Job Search (including Postdoctoral Positions)

Drawn from Career Services' annual Career Plans Surveys

Humanities and Social Sciences - faculty career paths

"Penn Career Services has been very helpful throughout the PhD and job placement process, and I especially appreciate the workshops on the early academic career management (job talks; tenure track; etc.)" [City & Regional Planning PhD]

"I searched every job board and got on every list I could find. I applied for every job that I had even a remote chance of getting a chance for (over 130 academic jobs). I sought advice from all three of my dissertation committee members, as well as my fellow students and students who had graduated earlier and gotten jobs. My advice is to concentrate one's efforts on jobs that more closely match one's qualifications. I did a lot of work, and half of those jobs were really long shots" [Communication PhD]

"I applied for my current VAP job during my fifth year of graduate school in order to practice for being on the market in my sixth year, but then I landed the job. Having those materials to go back on the market was invaluable, as is the experience I've gained in my current position. Do not postpone getting job materials together, even if you think it's too early-- it never hurts!" [Germanic Languages and Literatures PhD]

"I committed myself to a three-pronged search: R1 university TT searches and post-docs, SLAC TT, contract, and post-docs, and non-academic jobs focusing on arts education and museum work. I prepared two kinds of CVs (one for a research university and one for a liberal arts college) as well as a non-academic resume. I also kept 3 templates for cover letters for each kind of job I was looking to apply for. I searched regularly through the Chronicle of Higher Ed, Inside Higher Ed, and the academic jobs wiki for Religious Studies. I also attended the major conference in my field (AAR). While I got many initial Skype interviews, it didn't seem like anything academic was going to work out. So I attended some workshops to broaden my concept of what I could do with a PhD that would be a good career fit. I also did informational interviews with everyone at PENN that had a job that I thought I might like to do, either there or somewhere else. I took notes on all of these interviews and I treated them professionally: dressed the part and sent thank you notes afterwards. In the end, I got an on-campus interview for my current position and was offered the job that same day. Because I didn't know what would happen, I kept many options open and had a back-up plan lined up to adjunct at a local college. Advice: have more than one plan, tell everyone you know that is already in an academic job that you are on the market, make it easy for yourself to apply for jobs by having multiple templates and tools to start with, do not underestimate the informational interview if you are interested in alt-ac positions; this is an expanding career avenue and you can get in on the ground level at many places if you show that you have done your research. And on a very basic level: be the most professional, organized, and prepared version of yourself every time you think you might meet someone who can help you with career leads, even if you are just attending a conference and not presenting" [Religious Studies PhD]

"Almost everything I did, I learned from the professional development website The Professor Is In. My biggest piece of advice, though, is to edit much more than you think is possible. I co-organized an editing group where members read and commented on drafts of cover letters, research statements, etc. We would go through 10-15 drafts of each document for each person, pushing each other to produce clearer documents with each draft. I would highly recommend trying to get a group like that together for anyone considering going on the job market. Despite the fact that it is a very competitive market, each member of our group secured a prestigious social sciences postdoc" [South Asia Studies PhD]

"I looked on the websites of the professional associations, AcademicJobsOnline, and the postdoc wiki. I submitted all material through Interfolio. But to get the postdoc, I relied on back channels to find a sponsor at the host university, who encouraged the committee to give my application a closer look."

"I relied on the job placement program run through the English Department. This included: a detailed handbook sharing materials (CV, cover letters, teaching statements) from former students, several meetings and workshops run by the Placement Officer periodically throughout the job-search season, a formal mock interview program that paired me with fellow job-seeking students for mock Skype interviews and faculty for mock MLA interviews, and editing of all of my materials by the Placement Officer (a tenured faculty member in a 3-year position who receives a course release). I believe strongly that all departments should offer such a robust and discipline-specific placement program, and students whose departments do not offer this should consider collectively asking their faculty to adopt such a program, or seek mentorship outside their department."

"I applied for anything and everything using Interfolio, but I'm not sure it was an effective use of time and (a lot of) money. I found it very helpful to read the "Pearls of Wisdom" blog on "The Professor is In" and articles on Chronicle Vitae about academia and the job search process and highly recommend both."

"I'd say develop ties with academic people outside of your committee, talk to people in your field, meet as many people as possible.  Also, I would highly recommend using career services. Although that's not how I got this job, I had interviews thanks to the help I got from the career advisors at Penn."

  1. "Create a list of what you want out of a career, what you enjoy doing, what you are good at doing, and where you would like to live.
  2. Networking throughout the entire time as a student is important to get to know organizations, institutions, or individuals who do similar types of work or research. This could be at informal meetings, lunch seminars, conferences. And it helps to inform your choices of courses, projects, and research topics during the program. Don't wait until the last year to do this.
  3. Start about a year before the expected date of graduation to scan through position announcements that seem to match those in the list and get a sense of skills and responsibilities that are required.
  4. Attend many of the excellent Career Services workshops, make appointments with the CS advisors along every stage of the job search process.
  5. Keep in touch with your referees during the search process about your plans, outcomes from interviews, etc.
  6. Before interviewing, talk to as many people as possible who are familiar about the organization e.g., alumni, advisors, or faculty.
  7. Staying positive and keeping the search in perspective and balancing the search with other daily demands is really important too.
  8. Thank everyone who helped you and gave advice along the way."

"It's extremely important in the search for humanities faculty positions to have materials that are well-written and well-edited. Many search committees are only too happy to throw out your application over a single typo. Have three or four people who have been successful in your field look over your materials, if possible. Any small changes you make to tailor your materials to a particular position should be checked over by at least one other person."

"My advice is not to bother going onto the academic job market unless your dissertation is substantially finished. I finished my dissertation in September of the year I was applying for jobs and defended in December, so I was able to include a defense date with my initial application materials and had already defended before first round interviews. As a result, I had considerably more interviews and was then invited for a larger number of campus visits than friends who were still in the process of writing their dissertations; tenure-track searches simply aren't interested in risking hiring someone whose dissertation isn't finished. So, if your research is still ongoing, I'd say focus on that in the fall, and if you are making good progress, consider applying to visiting (i.e., non-tenure-track) positions during the spring, along with applying for post-docs and other funding sources; this works much better than putting aside your dissertation to spend time applying to a bunch of jobs who aren't going to be interested in hiring someone with an unfinished dissertation anyway. Applying to jobs, if you're doing it seriously, will take ALL of your time, so it's really not realistic to be doing research and applying simultaneously."

"Your dissertation is not your ego: it is a prototype product that you are bringing to market. Persuade interviewers and readers of your materials that you know the market and can describe the unique selling points of your work, but also think about the value that their department can add. And, of course, present yourself as a colleague, rather than a graduate student: use past-continuous verb tenses to describe your dissertation ("I have been studying") rather than a simple present ("I study"/"I am studying")."

 "Putting materials online on my personal website (papers, CV, etc.) has helped establish my profile and provided an important point of reference when my employer was first looking into hiring me."

"Do not stop working after graduation. [A temporary] position has given me the opportunity to gain valuable teaching experience and to create a more professional profile. Now, I am better positioned to get a tenure track [job] than last year, as an ABD."

"I cast a wide net and tried to have fun with it....Be you. The (search) committee knows and understands that the applicants internal cues are on overdrive. I did my best to acknowledge my nerves and move on. In my opinion, by the time one is on the interview, the people on the other side of the table are trying to gauge whether you will be someone they enjoy working with and whether you will be able to accomplish what is expected of you. They can't do that if you're not behaving like yourself. I also tried to take a positive attitude toward the process so that I could calm myself. I took it as an opportunity to get feedback from other experts about my research. As a result, I asked people questions about their own research and enthusiastically answered questions about my own.I engaged with people, listened to them and smiled with them. I ended up with two phenomenal offers."

"Doing job search with friends or other people who are looking for jobs was helpful. That way, we were able to encourage each other and make ourselves accountable."

"For tenure-track academic employment: NEVER despair. It only takes ONE interview to land a job. I sent out dozens of cover letters, found one interview, and still managed (somehow!) to get my foot in the door..."

"Look everywhere, and think broadly about what type of positions you want. I applied for positions in both museums and universities, and within those looked at different departments and types of positions. Look regularly, starting early - most tenure track jobs I applied to had December deadlines, so finding them early gave me time to prepare. However, some jobs I found posted their info extremely late (a week or two before their deadline!), so if you aren't always looking, you might miss something. ... Most of my searching was through societies which required membership but which had good online job postings. So I joined several organizations which relate to what I do, but which I would never have become a member otherwise. It really paid off, as I found my job through one such society. Try to apply to different departments in a range of schools - the market is really competitive right now, and you don't know what will really be a good fit until the interview!"

"My job search strategy was geared towards maximizing the strengths of my current CV. As I was an advanced graduate student with a great deal of teaching experience but very little research, I targeted my search to small, liberal arts colleges. I asked a number of my colleagues at LACs what they look for in cover letters, teaching statements and interviews. Finally, when I did land an interview, I did extensive research on the school, did a mock job talk with my department, and sketched out answers to questions I was likely to get during the interview process."

Sciences and Engineering - faculty career paths

"I found a job by interacting with people at the many conferences my advisor was able to send me to" [Bioengineering PhD]

"If in the sciences, my best advice is to take every opportunity to network at conferences, amongst professors and amongst your peers. Networking is a very intimidating term, but honestly all it means is taking opportunities to have casual conversations, to shake someone's hand or to make an informal introduction. People will remember you months if not years later. It does help. My only other advice is to start earlier than you might think is reasonable and have clear dialogue with your PI about when he/she thinks you are ready to graduate. Ideally, you will be having employment conversations and interviews up to 6-12 months before you graduate" [Cell & Molecular Biology PhD]

"Initially, I researched labs within my field of interest, and contact the PIs to enquire if post-doctoral positions were available. This is usually a good method, especially when applied well in advance of your planned graduation date. I also used job listings (non-Penn affiliated) associated with my field of study in order to identify posted positions. This is an excellent way to find where positions are actually available, as well as to better understand what the majority of labs in your field are looking for in a post-doc. My advice. Start searching for a post-doc or other post-graduation position early on, and keep in mind that life can throw you a curveball, such as a lab losing funding for your position at the last minute. You can see what NIH grants PIs currently have, use that to better understand how well they are funded, but don't forget that both industry and private funding can be a substantial part of a lab's budget. For interviews, some labs will want you to be able to pitch a potential research project you would like to do, have one prepped, but only break it out if they ask for it. On the subject of interviews, a lot of labs are somewhat biased against fully translational research. If that is what you previously did, try to find a way to couch your future research goals in terms that suggest you are interested in gaining mechanistic experience. This is, or course, influenced by whether the lab you are applying to is fully translational" [Cell and Molecular Biology PhD]

"I started looking for a job two years before I thought I would graduate, which was helpful in forcing me to figure out what I actually wanted to do. I went to conferences and used poster sessions to talk to people about their labs and start thinking about which labs I might be interested in, as well as talking to PIs. I essentially got my job at a conference" [Cell and Molecular Biology PhD]

"I emailed PIs of labs I was interested in. the email contained a long cover letter detailing the work I'd done and published on, or would be publishing, in my PhD and why their work was of interest to me. THis is how a science postdoctoral position is typically found in my field" [Cell and Molecular Biology PhD]

"Whenever there was a talk at Penn that was related to my interests, I always tried to attend a student lunch/brunch or otherwise get a meeting with the visiting faculty member. In the last year of my PhD, I got in contact with them again before the big yearly neuroscience conference, and scheduled meetings with a few of the people I was interested in working with. These meetings led to a formal interview for the job I ultimately accepted" [Neuroscience PhD]

"I sent emails to a couple of researchers who perform the research of my interest with the cover letter and CV as most postdoc positions are not advertised. It could take a while for researchers to secure the funding for postdoc unless they have immediate available funding. It would be best to ask them ~1 year (at least 6 months) ahead of your expected graduation date for the smooth transition."

"Before initiating an academic job search, I spent several years honing my resume to include teaching experience, awards, and fellowships to demonstrate that my academic interests are not solely research based. During the year before my job search, I read the career section of the Chronicle of Higher Education and watched job postings to get a feel for the application timeline. As I began my academic search, I participated in the Academic Employment Initiative poster session at an American Chemical Society national meeting. There I met representatives from one university that later offered me a phone interview and spoke to many other people from colleges and universities. Speaking with them helped me to gain some confidence about how to represent myself on the job market. I applied to 9 full time tenure track academic positions, all located in the northeastern United States, in September and October of 2013. I found advertisements for these positions on the Chronicle of Higher Education website and HigherEdJobs.com. I was invited to do a screening interview by the search committee at [Name of small liberal arts college], received a follow up on campus interview, and 3 days later was offered a tenure track position which I accepted. During this process I also did one other screening interview which resulted in an invitation for an on-site interview (which I declined having already accepted a position) and was invited to do one other screening interview (which I also declined as a result of having already accepted a position). I was pleasantly surprised."

"My graduate lab happened to have quarterly meetings with my postdoctoral lab so while I was a graduate student I got to know my future mentor very well. I already knew he was interested in similar research to that which I was already participating in and we both knew what the other one was looking for. I also wanted very much to remain close to where I lived for grad school, so I made sure to foster that relationship when we had those meetings. I was also able to ask him well in advance whether or not he had a slot for me and have an interview so that if it didn't work out, I still had time to look for another postdoctoral position."

"Please attend career fairs at conferences. It is always good to be interviewed in person so that they can learn about yourself and your personality, instead of just sending a CV online."

"I started my job search very early (over a year before graduation). My search began simply by identifying potential postdoc advisors and getting in touch with them directly. The NSF postdoc fellowship application requires you to work with your potential advisor to write a full 10-page proposal that is very similar to NSF proposals submitted by faculty. Writing the proposal was a tremendous amount of work (pretty much a month of undivided attention), but it really helped me to clarify my research ideas and also gave me experience in proposal preparation. I think starting early on the application gave me a chance to demonstrate my abilities to my future postdoc advisor. Also, by writing my own proposal, I now get to work on a project largely of my own making rather than just filling in for a project that I may be less enthusiastic about."

"Meet with seminar speakers; take every opportunity to discuss your research and job search with faculty."

"I asked faculty/peers about resources where jobs were posted, and I received CVs and research/teaching statements from previous graduates."

"I had plans to pursue a post-doctoral fellowship when I received an offer of a tenure track position at a local teaching college through a now-colleague whom I met a professional event."

"First, I narrowed down a list of places where I wanted to live. Then emailed PI's whose labs I was interested in with my CV, contact info for recommenders and a cover letter.  Overall, I have found that PIs who knew my current advisor were the most likely to come back with a positive response."

"As a result of my participation with the University of Pennsylvania's biomedical research society (EEJust), I learned about a postdoctoral fellowship opportunity at Emory University. I submitted a formal application to the postdoctoral fellowship program and was accepted. The best advice that I have to offer to current students is that they should push themselves to do as much as possible while in graduate school such that they will have strong C.V.s. Additionally, it is important to have a 5 year plan as this will help to direct decisions as to what step to take following graduate school."

"I contacted professors whose work I was interested in and asked if they had postdoc positions that will become available in the next year. I also participated in a research fair at the NIH and NCI and was able to interview with many professors at once."

"I sought advice from faculty in my department about scientists in the field of my interest and contacted the recommended scientists directly."

"Figure out what you're really interested in working on, and make your talk really impressive. Also it helps if you propose a clear project when you contect potential labs, it shows them that you can think for yourself and are interested in them for a specific reason."

"I used the following timeline:

  • 12 months before graduation: Begin looking for positions, make a list of top 20 places. Don't look for openings listed; choose based on academic/research interests.
  • 11 months before graduation: Talk to advisors, narrow down list to 8-12 top choices.
  • 10 months before graduation: Prepare your CV, and ask for 3-4 reference / faculty letters.
  • 9 months before graduation: Write cover letters for each place, send letter & CV via e-mail. One week later - send hard copies via regular mail to each place as a follow-up/reminder. Two weeks later - send follow-up e-mail to places you haven't heard from.
  • 8-6 months before graduation: Schedule/go on interviews with interested potential employers.
  • 6-5 months before graduation: Make a final decision / accept an offer. This will give you plenty of time to finish up your degree requirements with a future postdoc already locked down."

Career Services recently surveyed PhD alumni who received their degrees 8-13 years ago, and many respondents offered advice for current students. Find the general survey results here, and the specific alumni advice here.


Advice on Searching for Non-Faculty Jobs

Drawn from Career Services' annual Career Plans Surveys

Humanities and Social Sciences - non-faculty career paths

"Used connections in the industry to obtain information about possible career paths and what I needed to learn for those careers; Talked to friends who have successfully transitioned to non academic jobs to learn about new opportunities, and how they had made the transition; Used social media (LinkedIn) for job search, and made sure I had a well designed personal website; Took advantage of career fairs and other career services; Applied for a wide range of jobs, and was very open minded (did not turn away any opportunity, even if I didn't think I would like the job a priori); Started working part time during last year of the PhD, and converted part time job to full time" [Linguistics PhD]

"I pursued a career in private school teaching and used placement agencies such as Carney Sandoe and Southern Teachers Agency to help find me a job. IF you want this job, there is no better way to find a good one than through these places."

"The difference between sending a resume/cover letter anonymously via a firm's website versus sending the same info to someone that is expecting the material from you is vast.  Even if the contact was a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend, that slight bit of familiarity put me ahead of hordes of faceless applicants and got me calls/interviews/etc. I got responses with serious interest from nearly every place I sent my info to where I was recommended, had a contact, etc. The hit rate on "random send-outs" was far lower. Hence the advice is to talk to as many people as possible and be aggressive about networking and sharing your interests with people... even if it is not obvious to you "how they can help you." You never know."

"My first job after completing my PhD was as a Research Analyst for a professional services company, where I covered the consumer tech and media industries for a leadership and executive search consulting firm. That job honed my project management skills and steeped me in the language and culture of the consumer tech world in Silicon Valley (it was based in Palo Alto). I used that position to broaden my network, which led to a breakfast with a vice president at [Name of company], which led to him referring me for an open position, which led to the job I will begin in February 2015 as a Consumer Insights Manager. My advice to other graduate students making the transition from academia is: Get to the geographic place you want to live, only take jobs that will add a new skill to your set, and meet as many people as you can until you have the job you want!"

"As I searched for full-time tenure-track academic jobs (and non-tenure track jobs with salaries commensurate with the tenure track), I also began to pursue other alt-ac routes. Grads need to be encouraged to start planning for alternate paths earlier, given the declining number of tenure track jobs in the academy."

"Figure out what job you want well ahead of time, and meet people who have that job."

"I feel like networking through faculty and industry partners was the most promising method for getting a positive response to applications."

"My advice is to write as much as possible for as wide an audience as possible. My dissertation research became policy-relevant [due to current events] which I witnessed firsthand, but I would not have been noticed by [my employer] had I not written for general publications while also conducting my academic research."

"Putting materials online on my personal website (papers, CV, etc.) has helped establish my profile and provided an important point of reference when my employer was first looking into hiring me."

"I used a combination of methods. I started my job search in the summer of the year before graduation. I used Penn Career services to help me with my resume...I personalized my cover letters, did a lot of research on each of the companies I was interested in and spoke to people about the interview process. Advice:

1. Cast a broad net and use a variety of methods in your job search.
2. I found the online job postings much less useful than the networking.
3. Talk, talk, talk to people. Even if only to ask them about their jobs. Tell them you need 20 min of their time... then make sure you stay within those limits! And always be prepared: with background info, with a list of questions etc. Every impression counts.
4. In the end you have to take some action. Its very tempting to keep doing the surveys and tests and the "What Color is your Parachute" questions but ultimately you will learn most by doing. Even if you don't quite know what you want to do, you can change your mind later.
5. Its an exhausting process, so make sure you manage your time well. I would remove all obligations except necessary ones.
6. Get all the logistics (interview clothes, accessories etc) so that it's one less thing to worry about.
7. Plan, plan, plan. You need a year to find a good job. And also to build your resume. If you don't have significant leadership experience, get some volunteer experience at Penn. Or think about critical incidents. PhD students need to show transferable skills...you may want to talk to some MBA students about the kinds of skills employers are looking for and then think about your strategy to show experiences relating to those skills."

Sciences and Engineering - non-faculty career paths

"Do internships during your PhD. Getting away during the summer will give you outside contacts besides your advisor. The advisor should also get something out of the outside contact and both parties should be excited to participate" [Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics PhD]

"...the staff at Career Services have been extremely helpful. They were available by email, through their programming, and in their offices to meet with me. I'm glad to have found their services in my second year in my graduate career rather than later" [Biology PhD]

"The single greatest strategy I used during my job search was networking. I was hesitant to do so originally, feeling like I was gaming the system, asking for favors, or seeking nepotism. However, there were so many unposted jobs that I would have never learned about if I never asked faculty to introduce me to their contacts. Becoming close with many faculty members as a graduate student made my job search relatively easy" [Biostatistics PhD]

"I began by googling companies that do the sort of work I was looking to get into, and then either applying to jobs listed on their websites or just emailing my resume and cover letter to any contact person listed on the website. I also signed up for job alerts through sites like careerbuilder, ziprecruiter, and beyond dot com. I searched linkedin as well. In the end, however, the only replies I received were from companies where I had used a personal acquaintance to get my resume forwarded directly to HR. It was one of these companies that finally offered me a position" [Cell and Molecular Biology PhD]

"My job search strategy was two-fold: to learn as much as I could about the industries I was interested in working in while also honing my networking and interviewing skills. The thing that helped me the most in my job search was going to all the seminars and events that were organized by Career Services. Each event contained valuable nuggets of information on how to successfully network, prepare cover letters and resumes, use LinkedIn, prep for interviews etc that were extremely helpful in making me a 'complete package' for employers. I also took full advantage of the job fairs offered by Career Services. Though I wasn't necessarily interested in most of the companies, forcing myself to research companies and get comfortable with speaking to people at booths was extremely helpful in furthering my networking skills. Lastly, I went to Career Services for help on my cover letter and CV. Very convenient, very quick yet comprehensive and illuminating. Despite not having extremely good publications (the de facto 'currency' of scientists, unfortunately), I was still able to land 3 job offers: two post-doc positions in academia and one very competitive post-doctoral fellowship at Regeneron Pharmaceuticals" [Cell and Molecular Biology PhD]

"On campus interviews allowed me to personally meet many recruiters from companies and gave me the opportunity to make a personal impact that ended with invitations to onsite interviews" [Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering PhD]

"Personal connection is definitely a much more powerful way to search for jobs than all other sources (online search/career fair/info sessions). It doesn't have to be limited to contacts in the industry that you've met in conferences/career fairs etc. Personally my friends from Penn that I met throughout grad school were the most helpful resources for my job search" [Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering PhD]

"The interviews I got were from campus recruiting organized by Penn Chemistry Department. I had three on-campus interviews and two of those advanced to on-site interviews with one job offer. My advice is to take advantage of all the services whether from Career Services or from your respective departments. Also maintain a LinkedIn profile; I noticed my interviewers would check my profile and it also helped me know who my interviewers were" [Chemistry PhD]

"If looking for an industry postdoctoral position, get a referral from someone who works there. Could be a friend of a friend of a friend even. Often, employees get monetary incentives if their referral gets hired, so they will be happy to recommend you once they review your CV. Do not just apply for online job postings. These postings are often required to be posted publicly by company policy even though the company has someone in mind for the position. GET A REFERRAL or your application probably isn't even being looked at by HR" [Immunology PhD]

"My approach to finding a job really started years before I started applying - build a life which results in a solid resume, including leadership, volunteering, and a solid skill set from your coursework. From there, confidently present yourself to potential employers at job fairs. I gave out 8 resumes, got 5 unofficial interview offers, went through with 3 of them and received jobs offer from all 3. Doing this in person where you can directly impress a recruiter is a huge advantage. I recently found out that typical vacancies in my industry have 40 or more applicants AFTER cuts by recruitment departments - you want the HR folks at the job fairs to push you to the front of the line, and in person is the easiest way to do that. I didn't use a single cover letter, and I didn't submit my resume online" [Physics PhD]

"Networking is huge. Utilize all contacts, especially previous group members that have moved on to positions in organizations that appeal to you. Go to as many conferences as you can and, if interested in industrial positions, seek out attendees from companies that interest you. Both job offers that I seriously considered resulted directly from contacts that I'd made going back and advocating my hiring in their companies" [Physics and Astronomy PhD]

"In short, about 6 months prior (December/January) to when I planned to defend (June), I started contacting people with similar jobs in industry to those I was interested in, asking if I could have an informal phone conversation about how they got into that career path, and any recommendations they'd have for a Ph.D. looking for jobs. I also narrowed down a list of companies in the research areas and geographical areas that I would be interested in (based on current job postings, reputations, recommendations, etc). About 4 months out (mid February), I started filling out online job applications for jobs I found on company website, LinkedIn, and various job boards. I got three responses: one from a job I applied to directly, one from a job I applied to via a job board posting for a conferences, and one from a professional contact I made who recommended me to a friend who had a job opening. I got through each interview, and was offered all three jobs. In terms of advice, I have a lot, but in short, a few points. (1) The informational interviews may seem really pointless at the time, but they not only give you a much better sense of what jobs you should be looking at and what you'll be qualified for, the people you talk to will remember you if they know someone with openings in the near future.  Also, contacting someone you just barely know for this is fine (people are generally flattered), and can extend your contact network a lot. (2) The hardest part of the process, for me, was getting my application past the initial filters. Most competant PhD's are qualified for a job, but many will be filtered out in the first stage in the process by computer algorithms or HR representatives. Getting your resume or name to a scientist or hiring manager (or even a good HR recruiter) directly can definitely improve your chances at landing that initial interview. (3) LinkedIn isn't that necessary, but it's a helpful way to browse through profiles and backgrounds of people with the jobs that you'd like" [Physics and Astronomy PhD]

"The #1 thing that positively impacted my job search was blogging about my work.  My blog acted like a really extensive resume, and I got many solicitations to interview at top-tier companies solely from people who read my blog.  A job search is much more enjoyable when companies ask you to interview, rather than the other way around."

"My advice to current students (planning on going into either academia or industry research) is to build your network.  You never know how someone may be able to help you down the line."

"The interviews I got were from campus recruiting organized by Penn Chemistry Department. I had three on-campus interviews and two of those advanced to on-site interviews with one job offer. My advice is to take advantage of all the services whether from Career Services or from your respective departments. Also maintain a LinkedIn profile; I noticed my interviewers would check my profile and it also helped me know who my interviewers were."

"I began by googling companies that do the sort of work I was looking to get into, and then either applying to jobs listed on their websites or just emailing my resume and cover letter to any contact person listed on the website.  I also signed up for job alerts through sites like CareerBuilder, ZipRecruiter, and Beyond.com.  I searched LinkedIn as well.  In the end, however, the only replies I received were from companies where I had used a personal acquaintance to get my resume forwarded directly to HR. It was one of these companies that finally offered me a position."

"I would advise graduate students, no matter what field, to pursue fellowships and internships outside of academia. It will build your resume, even if it is part-time or volunteer work, which is so important -- particularly in this day and age of scarce funding and tenure-track positions. Many of my colleagues found themselves taking post-docs simply because it was the easy thing to do, not because they are passionate about academic research. They found themselves wondering what to do with their lives after a year into their post-doc. Not that this is "too late," but you will find yourself in a much better position career-wise if you start early. Just try things to see whether you like them or not. You can exercise discretion if you have a stern professor, but you would be surprised at the positive and encouraging responses I received from professors when I asked if I could take a part-time internship. The freedom I have doing what I love is a direct result of my willingness to push the boundaries of what was considered "acceptable" in graduate school."

"I was lucky enough to have a PhD advisor that allowed me to do internships while I was also doing research in his lab. That really helped me discover the career paths that worked best with my personality and skills. I think a lot of grad students who know they don't want to end up in academia tend to go through grad school not really knowing what they will end up doing, or they figure they will just get a postdoc after and figure it out later. This leads to many grad students (and postdocs) being a bit lost and feeling stuck.  I almost quit my program a few years ago, until my advisor told me to stick it out and that I could "test-drive" other careers in the process. Now that I have defended, I'm very happy that I have the degree, and that I have a direction I want to go in my career that makes me feel intellectually and personally satisfied."

"My best advice for the job search is: you get jobs by knowing someone, but you don't even have to know someone..., you can know someone, who knows someone, who knows someone. Exploit all of your leads, acquaintances, fellow alumni, etc."

"I started early getting training and experience outside of my formal training in the lab."

"I'd advise current students to apply for jobs at a place they're interested in even if the position isn't perfect. I ended up getting an interview for the position I'm in currently because a hiring manager saw my application for a position that wouldn't have been a great fit."

"I think the lesson I learned was that it really is about who you know. I don't know how long it would have taken me to find employment if I kept applying for other positions online that I felt I was qualified for. Also, the career fair is a good opportunity to explore careers outside of academia that you otherwise never would have known about. I did not know much about the field I am now in, but I absolutely love my job and feel graduate school prepared me perfectly for my position."

"In addition to online applications, I attended job fairs offered through Penn. It was at one such career fair that I made contact with my current employer. This was a company that, despite my research, I was unaware of, and would not have submitted an application to if not for their presence at the fair."

"I... (became) interested in the FDA through a Career Services panel, where a woman working at FDA spoke. Hearing other people's stories was useful in determining what sort of job I wanted to pursue. Career fairs were also useful. For actually getting a job, though, it seems to be very word-of-mouth."

"In my search, I used all my connections by notifying faculty and industry contacts that I was actively searching for employment. ...My biggest piece of advice is not to wait for a company to invite you in for an interview. If you are interested and you know someone on the inside, or know someone who is respected by the company, arrange an introductory meeting (not an interview). The goal is to get your foot in the door....In this way you if you impress the company enough, they will ask you back for a formal interview, and you move to the top of the pile."

Additional advice from alumni who have pursued careers in consulting can be found here.