Maybe you don’t need a career plan

 January 31, 2014

Yes, you read that correctly. Even if the career roadmap you’ve been busy drawing looks like a straight line to your dream job, you should probably think about scrapping it.

It may seem like strange advice to find on a graduate student professional development blog, and truth be told, it’s not what I was originally planning to say in this post. My intention for this week was to write about a new study that the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) is set to conduct among its member institutions with support from the Mellon Foundation.  At the organization’s annual meeting last month, CGS announced the project, which will explore the feasibility of implementing reliable, meaningful, consistent job-placement data for PhD holders from its 500+ member organizations. It is a promising and long-overdue initiative, and I wanted to discuss it in the context of what (we think) we currently know about PhD placement.

But I’ll have to come back to that another time, because I was led astray. I visited my old frenemy Google to look up a few relevant commentaries, and ten minutes (and countless wandering clicks) later, I ended up on a page called The UnStudent, written by astrophysics PhD student Mikhail Klassen. He knows that the academic job market these days looks a lot like the Hunger Games. He knows that this state of affairs may or may not concern you, since you could be looking forward to a career in industry or government or the non-profit sector instead. He knows about the highs and lows of being a graduate student, because he is one.

He also knows that it’s silly to hold your breath until you get your degree, as if that’s when your life will begin.  Your real life is happening right now, even if you’re busy making other plans. And since you can never be sure if those plans are going to work out, Klassen recommends an “entrepreneurial approach” to your time in graduate school, taking a wide-angle view of the personal as well as professional development it can offer. His specific suggestions are commonsensical but still refreshing (invest in yourself, invest in others, take care of your health, look for opportunities, write stuff down, read books), and his perspective is a welcome counter to the volume of “don’t bother going to grad school” stories popping up in my inbox.

Give the post a read over on The UnStudent Blog: The Startup of Your Career: Grad School as Entrepreneurship. What do you think?


Abbie Langston is a PhD candidate in the Graduate Program in Literature and an intern in the Office of Graduate Student Affairs.