Sunday, October 6, 2013

Consider Your Goals!

Consider Your Goals!  (Lessons My Faculty Mentor Taught Me, Part 1)

I have a wonderful faculty mentor who was assigned to me when I was admitted into the PhD program. I think the school did an amazing job matching me to my mentor as we have many similar interests in the field, and he has shared information on excellent resources. I really appreciate his many years of knowledge and expertise and I appreciate the advice he has provided. At our first meeting, the lesson he provided was: Consider Your Goals.

Who do you want to be at the end of your program? Before beginning your degree program, take some time to write a list of who you want to be when your graduate program is complete. Completing an academic degree is exciting - it tends to expand your perspective and thought process, and can be life changing. Be sure to consider how you want to grow, and how to achieve your goals. Consider the following questions: 

1. What are the skills you wish to learn during your time as a student? 
Think about the possibilities of what you would like to learn - is it a new computer language, new methods of data analysis, or a new writing format? Are you planning to become a skilled public speaker or an expert at presenting at conferences? Do you wish to gain teaching experience as a student? Take this time to plan ahead. 

2. Who would you like to meet and learn from? Consider the subject you are interested in exploring within your field, and take the time to seek out faculty at your school or elsewhere. Get in contact by sending them an email about your research interests and asking to meet with them. These professors can become your future collaborators in research projects, and will likely provide you with significant new knowledge on research in the field.

3. What types of activities do you plan to participate in as a student? Are you interested in presenting at conferences, publishing articles, creating posters for conferences? Are you looking for a summer research institute?  Do you want to intern in the summer? Will you begin a campus club or research committee? Begin the process of seeking out these opportunities and planning for your submissions and applications. Be proactive in asking your mentor, faculty, colleagues or writing centers for assistance.

4. What will your career focus be when this degree is complete? I think this is such a fun question. Many students are afraid of this question or are just not sure. It takes time and a lot of exploration to determine your career interests and goals. Investigate current publications and research on fields which interest you, and search for related job openings. Could you see yourself working on this research topic or in the position for the next several years? Do you see demand or possibilities for growth in the field?  Consider researching the job market for the types of required research or skills, as if you were already on the search. Determine what you will need to achieve in order to qualify for these positions in the future. Matching your interests not only with existing disciplines, but also with market trends will be of huge benefit when your academic program is over and you begin competing in the academic and job marketplace. If you have a career center, it could be a good idea to make an appointment to learn about the current trends and existing positions that you can train yourself toward.

5. Finally, the question again: Who do you want to be at the end of your program? Imagine what your resume would look like 2-7 years from now as you complete your graduate degree. Search the online resumes and CVs of professors and professionals you admire for ideas and inspiration. Isn't this fun?

Planning ahead provides you with the opportunity to make sure you have accomplished all you had hoped for as a student, with less risk of looking back and wishing you had done or learned something during your time at the university. Looking at the job market to shape your plans will also be of benefit. Of course, over the years the plan may change as you develop your interests and learn about new resources. That will be the time to plan again! Best wishes in your adventures toward academic and career growth and transformation. Enjoy this time!

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