By Elizabeth Labiner
Note: This is the first in a four-part series on multiple career pathways for graduate students.
Susan Kaleita understands, perhaps better than most, the unexpected post-degree paths a graduate student may take. In 2009, she earned her master’s degree in geography from the University of Arizona, but knew that she wasn’t interested in pursuing a career as a faculty member. She wanted to stay in higher education, though, and so she began working for the UA College of Medicine, eventually moved to Alumni Relations and Fundraising for the UA Honors College, and later became Director of the Alumni Career & Professional Development Lab. Now, she is the Senior Director of Employer and Alumni Engagement for Student Engagement & Career Development.
SECD offers a suite of resources, programs, and events that allow students -- both undergraduate and graduate -- to explore career opportunities and connect with potential employers. While graduate students might not initially consider turning to SECD, “The networks supported by the University of Arizona, especially those built through our own alumni, are very strong and very far-reaching,” Kaleita says, “and it’s a great way to get started on a pursuing your interests and finding the career that’s right for you.”
Kaleita advocates trying as many things out as possible while in graduate school. “Do some research about what careers are out there and what appeals to you,” she says, “and then get out there and find out if you like certain types of environments or certain jobs.” Paid internships, part-time or summer jobs, and job shadowing are all great ways to gain experience and first-hand knowledge of a particular path.
If internships or shadowing aren’t an option, Kaleita advises, “talk to someone that’s already in the role you want!” That’s Kaleita’s strongest piece of advice: talk to someone who can give you the information you need. It’s what she did when switching careers, Kaleita says:
I just started telling people what I was interested in doing, and collected tips, pieces of information, and names of other people that might do this. Even if you don’t personally know anyone in the career you’re looking for, your friends, family, and current coworkers might. I was very pleasantly surprised when I was speaking to people and they’d say, “Oh, I know someone who does that! Here’s their email address.” Your immediate network may be small, but your secondary network -- the people who you don’t know, but who someone you do know is connected to --- is far larger and diverse than you might expect.
Once you have names of individuals who are in your desired field, Kaleita encourages contacting them for informational interviews. Informational interviews are informal, since you’re not actually applying for the job yet. “Go in with a long list of questions,” she explains, “and have them tell you all about what a day looks like, what a year looks like, what their favorite and least favorite aspects of the job are, what qualifications and skills someone in their position needs, what type of experience a hiring committee would be looking for, and so on.” Having all of this information allows a graduate student not only to assess whether the career seems like one they’d enjoy, but also to begin preparing as a job candidate.
Regardless of one’s interests, an important element of the job search is to remember that there are multiple pathways possible after graduation, and they remain possible even after beginning a particular career.