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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Act of Translation: Turning an Academic CV into an Industry Resume

source: mediacommons.futureofthebook.org

source: mediacommons.futureofthebook.org

This guest post was written by Lana Cook, a PhD candidate in the English department at Northeastern University who finishing up her last semester and beginning to navigate the Alt-Ac track.

Translation (n.): The conversion of something from one form or medium into another.

Mixed feelings abound when entering any job market, but transitioning to a different career path or field can be downright intimidating.  Embarking on my own career search, I kept asking myself, can a PhD trained in the academic track of teaching and research move to a career in administration and nonprofit management?  Did I need to go back to school for a business degree?  I researched MBA programs for a quick minute before I realized that 1) I had plenty of education, and 2) I already had all the necessary skills and abilities.  I just had a problem of phrasing. I was too bound to my discipline’s jargon.  I needed to become a translator.

Any skilled translator would tell you that you need to immerse yourself in the foreign language to gain fluency.  In my alt-ac career search that meant researching arts organizations, nonprofits, foundations and research centers, taking special note of how they describe their missions and activities.  I followed community leaders on Twitter and subscribed to industry news.  I carefully read job postings and highlighted repeated key terms. I learned that in administrative-speak “development” meant fundraising, “outreach” meant marketing, “coordinator” meant collaboration. I began to see my graduate work through the perspective of project management. The dissertation, conferences, teaching, and tutoring taught me to how to prioritize multiple high stakes projects and negotiate diverse stakeholders. Graduate school required me to develop organizational systems that efficiently managed logistics and achieved identifiable outcomes.  Revising an academic curriculum vitae (CV) into a resume involved using a new industry language, reframing my experience in terms that would resonate with my audience of potential employers.

Step one was translating my experiences into industry jargon. The next step was revamping my bloated multipage CV that listed all my conferences, publications, courses taken and taught, into a compact, easy to digest, professional resume.  I recommend the following steps for transforming a CV into a resume:

  • Identify your transferrable skills.  Interpersonal communication, organization, following instructions and anticipating needs: these are transferrable skills that are applicable in every career. There are several resources where you can mine language for identifying your personal aptitudes and describing them in professional terms.
  • Condense your history. While an academic CV can be several pages long, resumes are typically one page (two if you have extensive experience).  For graduate students fresh on the job market, keep your resume to one page, focusing on experiences and skills that are most relevant to the desired position.
  • Tailor your resume and cover letter specifically to the position and organization.  Create a long master resume that lists all your experiences, education, every seminar, class, conference, and project you worked on (start this while you are in school so you can keep track of your accomplishments).  Use the master copy to take sections from when tailoring a resume to a specific position.   While cover letter templates can help save time, they can quickly become formulaic. One size does not fit all in today’s job market. Pay attention and respond to the minute details of the job post, echoing the language the employers use and aligning your experience with their needs.
  • Add new skills to your resume.  Many of the positions I was interested in asked for proficiency with administrative software.   Northeastern provides several free options for technology crash courses.  Information Technology Services (ITS) offers one-day courses in the Snell Library classrooms for hands-on help or you can follow online tutorials through Lynda.  I recently took refresher courses in Excel database management and Photoshop, as well as a 4-hour introductory course to HTML.
  • Use your network to workshop your resume.  Identify a professional working in your desired career and ask for an informational interview.  Use the meeting to gain industry knowledge and learn about the career paths people have taken to get there.  Follow up by asking if they could give you some advice on your resume. Visit Career Development and work with a career advisor to refine your job materials.

Translating my resume has given me a confidence boost. I now look at job postings and see open possibilities where before I saw closed doors.  Resources for alternative academics (Alt-Ac) are growing as more PhDs turn to options beyond teaching.  GradHacker dedicated last week’s posts to Alt-Ac, including how to get started on the job search. Follow the hashtag #altac on Twitter to learn more.  Join me on the first Thursday of every month here on the Works as I countdown to graduation.

Lana 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 the University of New Hampshire.  You can follow her on Twitter @lanacook or Linkedin.