Preliminary Thoughts on Graduate School

gradSchool2

There are so many different types of graduate programs to explore once you have your undergraduate degree under your belt. It’s common knowledge now that graduate school education translates to higher earnings. If continued education is a goal you want to pursue, here are some thoughts to consider.

1. Part-time or full-time?

Consider where you are in your life and whether splitting time between work and classes is something you need or want. A lot of programs offer online degree tracks, part-time over a few years, or an accelerated and intensive 36-month option. Some won’t even consider you for admission if you don’t have at least a year of work experience. The timing of your degree completion could affect personal and professional pursuits in your life.

2. In what field?

A common misconception is that certain bachelor’s degrees lead to certain graduate degrees. That’s not the case at all. A Spanish major could go to medical school with the right pre-requisites and other admissions criteria. If you find your path suddenly changing after college, never fear, the possibilities and combinations are endless further down the road. Unique pairings like an MA/MBA or MSN/MPH could broaden your job opportunities and encompass a wider array of interests.

3. Where in the world?

The right graduate program for you may not be in the United States. The array of stellar schools in Canada, Europe, and elsewhere are too many to count and with resources like the U.S. News & World Report one has rankings on the best.

4. Exams

Usually the rule of thumb is that the LSAT is for law school, MCAT is for medical school, GMAT is for business school, and the GRE is for everything else. Each school is different and some may require one of these tests or any of these. Take advantage of free exams offered in the area like the ones Kaplan host. Dates/times of these free exams can be found on Career Development’s calendar. See where you stand before seeking professional tutoring.

5. Admissions criteria

Start thinking about that personal statement. Write a draft about everything significant that happened to you post-high school – academically, professionally, and personally. Evaluate your growth as a well-rounded person and start to craft the person you want be. Reach out to past mentors and employers on writing letters of recommendation. For portfolio requirements, gather your best pieces and work and compile your pride and accomplishments. Create a platform for yourself on who you are so far and where you plan on going next.

Angelica is a fourth-​​year nursing student with a minor in English hailing from New Jersey. She has studied or worked in all the major Boston hospitals. Angelica is also a columnist for The Hunt­ington News and enjoys writing creative non-​​fiction.

Image source: Salisbury.edu/CareerServices

The Five Advanced Nursing Roles that Nobody Knows About

GroupofNursesA Registered Nurse (RN) works in various settings and with different patient populations. You can find him/her caring for people in world-class hospitals or in the slums of third-world countries. He/she is the central point of care for a patient and their beacon of advocacy. What most people do not know is that there are so many pathways in a nursing career. These rewarding roles are in high demand and cater to an advanced specialty, thus all requiring post-graduate education.

  1. Nurse Practitioner (NP) – A nurse practitioner is an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) that can perform a comprehensive physical exam and medical history, order medical treatments, diagnostic tests, and medications for acute and chronic medical conditions. There are different types of NPs: pediatric, geriatric, family, women’s health, and mental health. He/she may work in inpatient settings like hospitals or in outpatient settings like clinics. They bridge the gap between RNs and MDs and are a critical and up-and-coming role in the ever-changing and complex American healthcare system. A patient may choose to have a nurse practitioner as a primary care provider to collaborate with their medical care.
  1. Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) – A clinical nurse specialist is a source of knowledge and expertise for RNs to consult with in the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of disease. They help implement evidenced-based practice interventions within three spheres of practice – with patients, nursing staff, or within the healthcare system. He/she can work with different populations, settings, or diseases.
  1. Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) – A nurse anesthetist specializes in the administration of anesthesia. Their scope of practice includes all anesthesia techniques including local, spinal, epidural, etc. and usually practice under the supervision of an anesthesiologist. They are an important figure in anesthesia care in our armed forces and in third-world countries.
  1. Nurse Manager/Administrator – These nurse leaders are responsible for managing a nursing unit. He/she coordinates the quality of care provided by staff and manages the environment in which that care is delivered. They are sources of direction and knowledge and a unifier in a nursing team.
  1. Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM) – A nurse midwife specializes in midwifery. They function as the primary care provider for relatively healthy women during pregnancy whose births are not classified as complicated or “high risk.” They can also provide gynecological care and newborn care. They offer a unique medical practice away from hospitals and respect the wishes of how a woman wants to give birth. He/she is a figure of empowerment in women’s health.

Angelica is a fourth-year nursing student with a minor in English hailing from New Jersey. She has studied or worked in all the major Boston hospitals. Angelica is also a columnist for The Huntington News and enjoys writing creative non-fiction. 

Photo source: OnlineNursePractitionerPrograms.com

What day is it? I haven’t slept in 4… Tips for Surviving Graduate School

carletonnow carleton ca comic re Grad School

I had this delusion when I entered graduate school that it would be similar to college. Mid-morning naps, late nights filled with cheap beer and equally bad pizza, all-night cram sessions in the library with friends… oh boy was I mistaken. Although some similarities did exist (I’m referring to cram sessions and cheap beer here), graduate school required a lot more self-discipline, drive and focus than I remember ever having as an undergraduate student. Compiled below are pieces of advice from myself as well as other former and current graduate students in my social network.

  1. Don’t procrastinate/Get your stuff done. This one came up multiple times and I can certainly attest to it. If you’re a procrastinator, for the sake of your sanity, you may want to rid yourself of that quality for the next two years (or however long you plan to be in graduate school).  Many classes base your final grade on just a few large projects/papers and that whole “extra credit if you go to the school play thing” does not exist. Schedule in the time to do your assignments, get into a routine and buddy up with a peer- it keeps you accountable. Sadly, there is no hand holding in graduate school.
  2. Be responsible and realistic. Yes, I know this is very vague, but this applies to many things that have to do with grad school and life in general. For example, be responsible and realistic about your financial situation. Create a budget (trust me this is not my strong point), it would really stink to just run out of cash when you need to buy that book or make a payment on your credit card. Understand your loan situation and don’t be afraid/intimidated to ask questions, it will save you a headache and lots of money in the long run. On a related note, take charge of your schedule and credits- don’t rely on just your advisor. If you’re interested in going abroad (as I did) or taking a class at a another university make sure you have your paperwork in order and that you’ve cleared this with the appropriate offices. This is your education, take control of it!
  3. Stay positive. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and down on yourself. At one point I was working up to 60 hours a week, attending classes four nights a week and still had homework and a fiance to tend to (he did not see me much).  If you asked me now how I did that, I honestly have no idea. Blind ambition would be my best guess. I was, however, determined to maintain control of my schedule so I could at least attempt to budget my energy and time well. In the end, my saving grace was my peers and the certainty that this would all be over  in “insert-number-of-days-here.”
  4. Take time for yourself. This was definitely the most popular tip I got from my network. Grad school is HARD, especially if you’re working full time, completing practicum hours, serving on professional boards (something else I would highly recommend but I’ll save that for another post- along with the importance of developing and maintaining a network) interning and teaching. If you don’t take time out to just chill, your head is most likely going to explode, or you’ll have random crying outbursts triggered by spilled coffee—yes this happened to me. Even if I was exhausted after class on Thursday, I tried to muster up the last bit of energy I had at least every two weeks and go out for a drink with my classmates. It was fun to commiserate with each other and I developed lifelong lasting relationships with many of them.

grad school someecardIn the end, looking back, graduate school wasn’t too bad and- dare I say- it was even nice to be a student for a short time once again. Although I won’t lie, every time I stumble upon my final portfolio—I wince a little.

Kelly Scott is Assistant Director of Career Development and Social Media Outreach at Northeastern University. A social media enthusiast and Gen Y, she enjoys writing about workplace culture and personal online branding. For more career insight, follow/tweet her at @kellydscott4.

On the Importance of Finishing

Image source: chronicle.com/article/PhD-Attrition-How-Much-Is/140045/

Image source: chronicle.com/article/PhD-Attrition-How-Much-Is/140045/

This guest post was written by Lana Cook, a PhD candidate in the English department at Northeastern University.

In my final post before graduation, I would like to reflect on the art of finishing.   As we close up one part of our lives, in my case an educational program, we are most often asked questions about what is next.  We have our eyes pointed to the future, plotting out new jobs and plans.  Having a future oriented mindset is essential for goal setting, but we ought to pay equal due to the past as such reflection can help us better assess what we already possess and what we need to make those future goals a reality.

In the midst of finishing a dissertation and checking off all the graduate requirements, paperwork, and end of year events, I was also trying to set up my future, applying for jobs, taking training courses, and networking for opportunities.  Eventually, I had to hit the pause button on the future so that I could fully attend to finishing up the work of the present. I realized that I needed to finish before I could start anew.   Finishing is more than completing the obligatory tasks at hand.  It is also about reflection, restoration, and renewal.

Reflect

Periods of major transition can bring up a lot of mixed emotions from the spectrum of elated joy to sour regret. After graduation, reserve time to process your experience. Write in a journal. Talk to a friend or therapist. Think about where you were when you started your degree. How were you shaped in the process?  What did you gain?  What sacrifices did you make?   What are you most proud of?  By taking the time to reflect on your experience, you will gain the self-knowledge that will put you in a wiser position to start the next stage in your career.

Restore

Restore Relationships

Graduate school can be very time consuming and can take a heavy toll on work-life balance, causing students to often sacrifice leisure time with friends and family.  Spend your newly gained free time with your family and friends, expressing your gratitude for their patience and support.  Find ways to give back to them as they gave to you over the years.

As you finish your degree, take time to thank the faculty and administrators who helped you along the way.  Though you may be finished with your degree, you should continue to maintain the relationships you have built.  Sending a handwritten personal note or card is especially appreciated today in an age of hastily written emails.  Thank you cards are more than polite gesture; they establish relationships for the future.

Restore Spaces

After finishing my dissertation revisions, my desks at the office and at home were crowded with a flurry of papers, stacks of overdue library books, unpaid bills, and junk food wrappers.  Restore your spaces by clearing out your office if you are moving, and organizing your home office. Sort through papers while they are still fresh; scan and file those you want to preserve, and shred and recycle the rest.

Restore Your Energy

Sleep.  Go for long walks. Meditate. Do yoga. Go out with friends. Go on vacation.  It is essential to leave time to rest, ideally away from the stresses of the job search or starting a new position.  Jumping immediately from one position to the next can leave you exhausted. Take some time to restore your energy so you can start fresh.  These last few weeks, I have found myself repeating this quote from the American philosopher William James, “The time for tension in our souls is over, and that of happy relaxation, of calm deep breathing, of an eternal present, with no discordant future to be anxious about, has arrived.”

Renew

Celebrate your accomplishments, and with that positive energy, dream of what is to come. Take stock of what you want out of the next stage in your life, the values you hold, the goals you want to work towards, and take the necessary steps to achieve those.  If finishing is about reflecting on the person you have become, starting is a time for reinventing your identity.  Do not be afraid to start anew. Take stock of the qualities that enabled your educational success and trust that these will carry you through the challenges that lie ahead.  Finally, remember there will be no one straight line in your career path so be open to the many possibilities that you will encounter along the road.

 

Lana Cook - HeadshotLana Cook is a PhD candidate in the English department at Northeastern University. Her dissertation traces the development of the psychedelic aesthetic in mid-twentieth century American literature and film. Lana is a 2013-2014 graduate fellow at the Humanities Center.  She received her bachelors of arts at University of New Hampshire.  You can follow her on Twitter @lanacook or LinkedIn. You can view her portfolio at LanaCook.net.  She is seeking a career in administration in higher education and the arts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What about the Peace Corps or International Development Jobs?

"The Peace Corps works in countries from Asia to Central America, and from Europe to Africa. In each of these countries, Volunteers work with governments, schools, and entrepreneurs to address changing and complex needs in education, health and HIV/AIDS, business, information technology, agriculture, and the environment." Image: www.peacecorps.gov

“The Peace Corps works in countries from Asia to Central America, and from Europe to Africa. In each of these countries, Volunteers work with governments, schools, and entrepreneurs to address changing and complex needs in education, health and HIV/AIDS, business, information technology, agriculture, and the environment.”
Image/Info from: www.peacecorps.gov

This guest post was written by Katrina Deutsch, a Peace Corps recruiter for the Metro-Boston area and a frequent Employer in Residence at Northeastern University. 

When I started my job search my senior year of college, I knew I wanted to work internationally after graduation. Quick searches through my university’s job board left me discouraged, as I was under qualified for most of the jobs I was interested in. I started looking into international volunteer organizations, specifically in health and teaching, as those were the areas in which my past travels fell. I was again discouraged, mostly because so many international volunteer organizations required a fee to participate, and money was something I didn’t have.

But there was always one organization I kept coming back to – the Peace Corps. I knew what it was; as I had met Peace Corps Volunteers traveling in Swaziland my first summer abroad. I also knew my mother would object. After more research, I decided to apply to the Peace Corps and thought it would be best to not tell my parents about my application. After all, I wasn’t sure I would receive an invitation, so why get them worried for no reason?

PEACE CORPS FAST FACTS:

  • Established on March 1, 1961 by John F. Kennedy
  • Currently serve in 65 countries; have served in 139 countries
  • 7,209 volunteers and trainees currently in service
  • Work in the areas of education, health, environment, community economic development, youth in development and agriculture
  • Annual budget of $356.25 million

The Peace Corps appealed to me. First, I did not have to pay. The Peace Corps is a U.S. Government Agency, and funding comes from the government. In fact, the Peace Corps was going to pay me at the local level to volunteer! Second, it was a 27 month commitment, and I was hoping to work abroad for at least one year, which is something most other organizations did not provide. Third, I felt that the experience I would gain through my Peace Corps service would give me the skills I needed to qualify for the jobs I wanted.

First Group of 51 Peace Corps Volunteers, Aug 30, 1961. The first group of 51 Peace Corps Volunteers, Ghana I, arrives in Accra to serve as teachers. Image/info from http://www.peacecorps.gov/about/history/

“First Group of 51 Peace Corps Volunteers, Aug 30, 1961. The first group of 51 Peace Corps Volunteers, Ghana I, arrives in Accra to serve as teachers.”
Image/info from: http://www.peacecorps.gov/about/history/

TIPS FOR THE PEACE CORPS APPLICATION:

  • Speak to a Peace Corps Recruiter about your skills and qualifications
  • Prepare all necessary documents, including transcripts, financial obligation information, and reference contact information
  • Complete the application within 30 days from starting
  • Be prepared to answer questions about your medical history
  • Tell your parents you are applying to the Peace Corps when you start – the more information and time they have to learn about the Peace Corps,  the easier it will be for you and your parents!

Unfortunately for my parents, I received an invitation to serve in the Peace Corps as a Secondary Education English Teacher in Nicaragua. I accepted my invitation and departed for service the summer after graduating.

The Peace Corps developed my skills and abilities far more than I had anticipated.  I gained valuable language skills and nearly three years of international development experience (I extended my service beyond the two year commitment).  I also discovered a passion that tied all of my initial career goals together: international education development and policy.

After Peace Corps, I attended graduate school to receive my master’s degree in international education policy. I hadn’t planned to attend graduate school so soon after college.  However, I knew that my experience and a graduate degree would make me competitive for many of the jobs I was interested in.

TIPS FOR APPLYING TO GRADUATE SCHOOL:

  • Consider the Peace Corps Masters International or Peace Corps Fellows program, combining graduate school and Peace Corps
  • Make sure you’re passionate about what you plan on studying – don’t go to graduate school just to go to graduate school
  • Reach out to alumni from schools to hear their experiences
  • Consider all variables, not just the name or reputation of the school: Do they offer financial aid? Is it located in an area that has good job or internship opportunities? When was the program established?

As I dove back into full job search mode, I now had real experience and knowledge of international job search resources.  My graduate school internship at an international education non-profit turned into a full-time job, and I worked there for two years before returning to work with Peace Corps as a recruiter.

I don’t know what my next job will be or where it will take me.  However, I do know that I have the skills, experience, and passion – and the resources – to continue my work in international development.

RESOURCES FOR THE INTERNATIONAL JOB SEARCH:

Katrina Deutsch is currently the Peace Corps Recruiter for the Metro Boston Area. For more information on the Peace Corps, application process, and when Katrina will be at Northeastern, you can reach her at kdeutsch@peacecorps.gov. Learn more about Katrina’s Peace Corps experience here

5 things to consider when choosing a graduate program

This guest post was written by our new student blogger, Emily Brown, a graduate student in the College Student Development and Counseling program.

We’ve established that going to grad school isn’t always a good idea and that it is a huge commitment of time, money, and energy. Once you’ve made the decision that grad school is right for you, you’re still faced with the daunting task of choosing a program. There are a few key things to keep in mind when working through the process:

  •  Location. An easy way to narrow your choices at the beginning is by location. Are there places that you are simply unwilling to live while pursuing your degree? Do you plan on continuing a job in your current location? I knew I wanted to keep my full-time job as long as possible, so I only researched graduate programs in the Boston area. Conveniently, Boston still has a lot of options, but narrowing my search that way made it feel more manageable.

    Image from fastweb.com


  • Reputation. Just like when applying to undergrad, it’s easy to get caught up in schools’ reputations. Meeting your own academic goals and needs should be your top priority so remember that just because it’s an Ivy League doesn’t mean it will be a good fit for you. Graduate programs can vary greatly within the same school so it’s important to research programs and faculty members specifically to determine a good match.
  • Requirements. There are admissions requirements, and then there are program requirements once you get in. Before applying, you’ll have to compare the program requirements with your own credentials. Is there a minimum GPA requirement or certain prerequisite classes? Do you have to submit GRE scores? Make sure you meet these requirements and include all required documents before hitting send. Additionally, most graduate programs will require some sort of experiential learning outside of the classroom. It might be research, an internship, or other practical experience. Think about what will be most beneficial to you and how you can balance your coursework with an unpaid interning or researching.
  • Passion v. Realism. As a career services groupie, I am all about following your passion when it comes to education and career. However, when making an investment in that passion, it’s important to consider what kind of opportunities will be available to you once you complete the degree. Talk to alumni of the programs you’re considering and ask about their experiences in the program and how it prepared them for their current job. Do their jobs appeal to you? You can find alumni to speak to by asking the admissions office or searching on LinkedIn (it’s not creepy, I promise).
  • Cost. Once you’ve hit send on the applications and the acceptances start rolling in, you’ll have more decisions to make. Of course the financial aid a school offers will be a factor in your decision, but it’s smart to also consider the cost of living where the schools are located. Maybe that school in New York City offered you more financial aid, but are you going to spend those savings on one trip to the nearest Whole Foods? You have to be realistic about the cost of school as well as living expenses and make decisions that make sense for you financially.

Once you’ve made it past step one, deciding to go to grad school, make sure you do your due diligence researching programs to find the one that is the best fit for you and will propel you toward your career goals. Location, reputation, curriculum requirements, cost and career opportunities are all key factors to consider and will help narrow your choices and ultimately select the right graduate program for you.

Emily Brown is a Career Development intern and a graduate student in Northeastern’s College Student Development and Counseling Program. She is a lifelong Bostonian interested in the integration of social media into the professional realm.  Contact her at e.brown@neu.edu.

Tackling the Dreaded “Personal Statement”

anne post pic

This post was written by Anne Grieves, the Pre-Law and Graduate School Advisor at Northeastern University Career Development.

Personal Statements.  Two words you might be dreading if you are thinking about enrolling in graduate school.  As the Pre-Law / Graduate School Advisor, I have not yet met a student who was eager to write one (but maybe after reading this blog, some of you out there will be).  Why do we dread them?  Two of the biggest reasons are that 1.  it’s hard to write about yourself and 2. you may not know where to start.  So, if this is something that is looming in your future, let’s reframe it and break it up into steps.  A personal statement is an opportunity for you to share something personal and meaningful with the admissions committees.  It should make the reader want to meet you.  Some people may encourage you to read some sample statements before attacking your own.  I would not.  You will, in some way, be influenced either by the content or the formant such that yours won’t be completely yours.

First: What to Write (what makes you YOU):  If you are stuck because you don’t know what to write about, don’t worry. There are a number of topics to consider but each of them needs to create a positive impression of you.   For example, are there any hobbies that represent who you are? Is there something about your personality that you admire? Do you have an opinion about something (make sure it’s a “safe” topic – no politics, religion etc.)?  Is there a person in your life that may have influenced you in some way.  Any topic could be made into a GREAT statement but any topic can also be a bad one.  Make sure that the statement is not simply an essay or a story that’s  engaging and interesting to read but does not go into depth about you.  By letting yourself write freely, you are unlocking and unraveling your stories.

Second : How to Start (start typing, get scribbling):  Don’t think that you are writing a statement, just let the sentences flow.  In your words you will find the meat of your statement and after that you can add the necessary reflection and context.  It will come together.  I promise.  The more freely you can write, the more reflection you will show.  That’s what the admissions counselors want to see; introspection.  So what should you start with? A memory, a person, something about where you grew up, an experience (study abroad, an incident etc.), what you love(d) to do in your spare time.  Take that first thought and see where it takes you.

Third: The Next Step (revise, review, reread):  A personal statement can take up to 7 drafts.  So, pick out the relevant pieces of your story (still, at this point, don’t worry about the length) and make it flow.  Your “hook” may come when you get to the end.  Sometimes the beginning is the last piece to write.

Fourth: Condense  (balancing the statement with the resume): How much of your statement is a recounting of your resume versus your reflection about the experience(s).  How can you take a snapshot of a piece of your past that brought you to this point and made you who you are?  Be careful to not describe an experience with details pertaining to what you did (like you would in a resume).  Instead, focus on what you learned, how you have changed, what you gained etc.

Fifth: What Not To Do (6 of these):

  1. Don’t use quotes.  They have seen them ALL!.
  2. Don’t talk about your lofty goals – you may want to become a judge or a doctor that makes an incredible discovery someday but your next immediate step is getting admitted to the graduate school.
  3. Don’t write about something that puts you into a negative context – if something has happened, show how you overcame that experience.
  4. Don’t be a victim.  Many people have had awful experiences in their lives.  These are the tricky statements.  While you want to share a bit about the experience and how that has become part of who you are today, you want to make sure that your strength and determination are evident throughout and that you came out stronger, wiser, more confident from this experience.
  5. Don’t use humor (unless you can do it well).
  6. Don’t write to impress – be sincere, be yourself.

Sixth: Finishing Touches  (proofread and proofread again):  Find readers to JUST check for grammar.  Find reader you don’t know very well to see what sense they have of you after reading it (and will they want to meet you?).  Find readers that know you.  Do YOU come through in your statement?

Some schools may want you to talk about why you want to go to this particular school.  If they do, yes – answer that question.  If they don’t, your intent and motivation should be implied.

Similar to how I wrote this piece, I just wrote and it came together. Good luck!

Anne Grieves is the Pre-Law and Graduate School Advisor at Northeastern University Career Development. She’s happy to meet with potential future graduate and law students on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. Call the front desk of make an appointment with Anne through MyNEU. 

Last Call: Senior Career Conference Today!

SCC_logoThinking back to my last semester of my senior year of college, I was actively avoiding what graduation meant for me and kept myself blissfully unaware of what I should be doing/needed to do to prepare for life after graduation.  I didn’t graduate THAT long ago (to give you a time frame, Facebook had been invented by the time I got to college) so I can relate to what many graduating students are feeling. One of my biggest regrets was not taking advantage of the people at my university who had tried to prepare me for the future, and not taking advantage of the opportunities to help me figure out what I wanted to do.  If I had done so, I believe my transition from student to new professional would have been a lot easier than it was. I eventually made it, and I was fine, but I could have saved myself a lot of turmoil if I had started earlier rather than later.

The Senior Career Conference, today in Stearns from 12-6PM is here to do JUST that—give you everything you need to prepare yourself for the job search and beyond. The workshops range from Salary Negotiation to Managing Stress on the Job Search and you get to meet with a lot of cool employers at the event—Liberty Mutual, TJX, Philips, Procter & Gamble and City Year are just a few of the employers who will be there to critique resumes, serve on panels, and co-teach workshops with our Career Development Staff.  An added incentive for dropping by is that we have some really cool prizes. Microsoft and TJX have donated special prizes that you can win by submitting your resume, and other prizes will be given to the first 100 students just for showing up.  There is no registration required and everyone is welcome, so stop by to attend a workshop, get your LinkedIn picture taken, or to get your resume critiqued—anything you do at the conference will help you on your way to becoming a new professional and being prepared to the transition.

 

Ashley LoBue is a Career Advisor at Northeastern Career Development. A Boston College graduate, Ashley has over 3 years of experience working in higher education and is a proponent for international and experiential education.

 

Swimming Against the Tide: Alternative Careers after the PhD

source: wisciblog.com

source: wisciblog.com

Sometimes we find ourselves caught in a current, headed toward a known, but undesired destination. It takes a little effort to reset our course, a few strong side strokes to pull us out of the momentum of the moving water until we are picked up by another stream.  For the last six years, I have been training to be a professor.  The English PhD program at Northeastern has taught me to be an astute reader of culture, a critic of discriminatory ideologies, an observer of systems, a writer skilled in argument, and a teacher ready to pass on these skills to a new generation of learners. As I moved along the stages of coursework, exams, and dissertation writing, the tenure track carrot dangled before me. But, half way through, disillusion set in.  I’m not here to share the doom and gloom that clouds today’s academic job market (you can find plenty of that here).  While I enjoy teaching, I wanted to engage with a wider community beyond the university boundaries. Finding an alternative career path takes some effort, but can lead you to promising horizons.  Here’s what I learned along the way.

Search Your Soul, Then Do Your Research

After many years pursuing a PhD, it felt like defeat to turn away from the professor Holy Grail.  But, I could no longer ignore my feelings of disconnection.  Coming from rural Maine, I want to mediate the gap that divides the world of academics and the working class in which I grew up. I brainstormed careers that would serve my goals of public engagement in the arts, community building and cultural education.  After some research, I realized my skills could find a home at cultural centers, publishing houses, museums, historical societies, nonprofits, research and philanthropic foundations. Be open to alternatives if you want your career prospects to widen.

Tap Your Network

When I initially approached my dissertation committee with my career doubts, I feared I would be ostracized for ‘dropping out’ of academia.  My announcement was met with some caring resistance. Trained as professors themselves, my advisors worried they would be unable to give me the alternative career advice I sought.  As my career goals solidified, they helpfully suggested colleagues working in publishing and nonprofits that I could contact for informational interviews.  I also discovered a burgeoning online community of PhDs like me seeking alternative academic (alt-ac) careers. Following the #altac community and tapping my network gave me the language to articulate my growing interests. 

Create Opportunities for Growth

To learn more about arts administration, I began to seek opportunities to test those waters.  I volunteered with the English Graduate Student Association’s (EGSA)  annual conference doing administrative tasks like booking rooms, creating marketing materials, and setting up receptions.  Finding I had a knack for organization, I proposed the EGSA add an art exhibit to the conference.  The first exhibit was a modest two day show featuring local artists, yet, in my mind it was a success as I watched an idea come to fruition.   The next year I dreamed bigger and secured a space in Gallery 360.

Photograph by Genie Giaimo

Photograph by Genie Giaimo

That same year, I dabbled further in arts development by creating an online journal, The OrrisThe Orris was a collective of graduate students, writers and artists who sought an outlet for our creative work.  Eventually, The Orris team disbanded as dissertations, families and careers took precedence, but during our time, we created a media brand, crafted mission statements and editorial policies, developed work flows, strategized marketing plans and hosted community events with a volunteer team, little funds and few resources.  With a little extra effort, you can create your own opportunities to learn new skills and make career connections.

Seek Out Mentors

The Orris experience solidified my desire to work in the arts and culture industry, but it also showed me where I need further training.  Entrepreneurship is a much touted value in today’s world, but to be an idea maker, we must first learn the logistical intricacies of putting ideas into action.  Mentors play an essential role in providing leadership guidance for young professionals. Though I am blessed with a supportive academic committee, in the year ahead I look forward to gaining a new set of mentors to teach me how to be an effective manager and leader.

As I begin my final semester and finalize my dissertation, I am eager to see where this new current will carry me. In this blog series, I’ll share my experiences on the alt-ac job market as I count down to graduation. From now until May, join me on the First Thursday of each month for resources on turning CVs into resumes, identifying transferrable skills, the value of networking, and developing your professional persona online.

Lana Cook - HeadshotLana Cook is a PhD candidate in the English department at Northeastern University. Her dissertation traces the development of the psychedelic aesthetic in mid-twentieth century American literature and film. Lana is a 2013-2014 graduate fellow at the Humanities Center.  She received her bachelors of arts at University of New Hampshire.  You can follow her on Twitter @lanacook or Linkedin

Conquering the grad school application process

Kassi Stein is a senior chemical engineering student hoping to get a PhD. She is interested in bioengineering research and is actively working to connect students across the college of engineering with research opportunities. You can usually find her at the lab bench or in the Capstone computer lab.

Applying to grad school is really daunting. REALLY daunting. Undergrad applications were bad enough, and now I have to go through it all over again? Great. But as I’ve been chugging along, I’ve found that the process really isn’t so terrifying as long as you have a plan of attack. Here are some ideas for how to conquer your application process.

image from eatsimpleloveyoga.com

Research programs ahead of time: You know what’s stressful? Doing things at the last second. You know what’s not stressful? Leisurely browsing websites. Most schools have a pretty extensive admissions site, so go through it. If, like me, you will be pursuing a research-based degree, look at what research is actually happening at that school. It could be the absolute best program in the world, but if they don’t do anything that interests you then you probably won’t be happy there. For example, some of the top ten chemical engineering programs have relatively little research happening in biotech areas, so I won’t be applying there because biotech is the field I want to be in. Good advice I’ve gotten is that you should look for at least three professors you could see yourself working for at any schools you’re considering. If you haven’t the slightest clue where you want to go, some useful places to start might be your professors or colleagues on co-op. You could also think about what part of the country/world you want to be in and see if there are any schools there that offer what you want to study.

Know what materials you need to submit: Every program is different and may require you to submit different documents. Find out if you’ll need to send a hard copy of your transcript so you can get that sent out ASAP. Make a list of what you will need to write, including personal statements, research proposals, resumes (though everyone at NU should already have a nice one of those!), etc. Some of the schools I’m applying to require essays in addition to a personal statement, like an essay on diversity, while others require a statement of intent that is different than the personal statement. Make sure official standardized test score reports (e.g. GRE) get sent if they are required. You don’t want to miss any component or all your hard work will be for nothing!

Start brainstorming: If you’re used to writing lots of essays, something like a personal statement might come easily to you. If you’re anything like me, you feel a lot happier with numbers than with words, especially if those words have to describe your life. Either way, a brainstorm is a good way to generate big ideas that can be the focus of any written work you need to submit. I started by writing down the things that are most important to me in life, what I want to do in grad school, and what I want to do when I graduate to get myself started. Just the act of getting ideas down on paper starts the flow of the writing process, and before you know it you’ll have a draft. If you’re really stuck for ideas, have a conversation with someone who knows you well. Case in point, my best friend was able to point out all the things I’ve done that might make good fodder for a personal statement while I was sitting there panicking about what to write about.

image from izquotes.com

Get feedback: Have someone else proofread. Get someone else’s opinion. Things that make perfect sense in your head can be complete nonsense to another person, something you won’t catch if you’re the only one reading your work. For example, I can never tell if I’m being too technical, so I have asked non-engineers to read through my work and tell me if they understand it. Also, it’s a rare thing to write a perfect first draft, so other people’s feedback will hopefully help you revise. I’ve revised my personal statement at least ten times at this point, including a total rewrite.

Don’t give up: Feeling stuck on a certain component of the application? Go away and come back later. Clear your mind and refocus. It’s much more productive to come back with a clear head and get to work than to bang your head against the keyboard for hours.

So there it is. Hopefully something here will help you along the way. Remember that this should be about taking your life in a direction that interests and excites you, so keep your chin up and stay positive! Best of luck!