Navigating the course of your PhD - overview

Navigating the course of your PhD

Each person's PhD experience is as unique as the research they will eventually be undertaking. However, there are also many experiences shared by graduate students seeking PhDs and other doctorates across disciplines. There are also some shared realities about the PhD experience relevant to your future careers: 1) the academic job market remains highly competitive and changeable; 2) funding for research is not always readily available; but 3) a PhD is a great way to gain access to a wide variety of career opportunities within and beyond academia. The more aware you are of the opportunities open to you, the more you can prepare yourself to take advantage of them even before you graduate from Penn.

Over the course of your PhD you should challenge yourself to develop the following competencies to help you be successful not only with your research at Penn, but also with your career paths once you move on. Career Services and many of the other student services at Penn can provide you with guidance, advice, and many resources to help you to be as effective as possible in developing these core competencies.


Assess your skills, interests, and values, and discover the unique talents that help you to be successful with your research. These talents will be highly transferable to your future career


Connect with faculty within and outside of Penn, and develop professional relationships with contacts outside of academia to help you cultivate a large and active network. Make use of the expansive Penn alumni network to help you gather useful information


Explore a wide diversity of career fields. It is great if you are certain that a career as a faculty member teaching or doing research is definitely for you, but you can still explore what research and teaching look like in different types of academic institutions. Keeping your options open to explore careers beyond academia will help you to make an informed choice about your future career path


Develop new skills, perspectives, relationships, and opportunities by thinking strategically about where you want to be 5-10 years from now, and what you see yourself doing.

NEW! Career Services offers externships in academic administration that allow PhDs to connect with administrators across campus, as well as explore non-faculty university careers. Click here for more details.

There are different types of goals and learning outcomes you can focus on at different times during your PhD, and the following pages provide some suggestions about what you can be doing right now to stay on the right track in your professional development so that you are ready to face your professional life after Penn. Make use of the many student services available to you, and keep your ultimate career goals clearly in mind as you continue on with your PhD. If you are not sure what your ultimate career goals are yet, then you are not alone. It can take time to explore the options available to you to find the career field that is the best fit for you. Make an appointment with a career advisor to discuss how to proceed.

Click on the links below to explore some of the professional development milestones you can be working towards wherever you are in the PhD process.

Download your own overview here: GET the GRID

Early years


Final Years