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Professional Development

Guest Author - D. Lynn Byrne, Ph.D.

Hoping to work in academia when you finish your degree? Is your vita a little on the lean side? Think about incorporating some of the below activities into your schedule now!

Research/Teaching Assistantships: Assistantships are a great way for graduate students who have no prior experience in academia to get their feet wet in a subject they already have some knowledge of. In order to qualify, you may have to be enrolled full-time; but, the advantage for you is that the workload for most assistantships is part-time (10-30 hours per week). Most assistantships are also paid (not very well, usually, but any little bit helps) and you may even qualify for university benefits while you are employed (health, dental, etc.). Visit with the Dean/Chair of your Graduate Studies Department for information on RA/TA positions.

Experiential Seminars: Experiential seminars are a lot like internships or student teaching. You usually sign up for a class and have a seminar director to help guide your experience. Then you’re matched with higher education teaching or research opportunities either on o r off campus. The major differences between an experiential seminar and an RA/TA position are (1) you’re usually not paid for the experiential seminar participation and (2) you receive some sort of credit towards your degree. Your graduate advisor should be able to provide you with information on upcoming experiential seminar opportunities/requirements.

Publishing in Peer Reviewed Publications: One of the major hurdles many graduate students who are interested in working in academia face after graduate school is proving their potential value to an employer. Many institutions of higher education look for incoming employees to have established reputations in their fields. To do this, you need to try and publish while you are in graduate school.

If you are interested in possible publication opportunities, visit with your graduate advisor, the chair of your thesis/dissertation committee or the Dean/Chair of your department and the Graduate Studies Department. These individuals usually have knowledge of publishing opportunities currently available in your field and should be able to guide you. If you are not yet comfortable with attempting to publish on your own, suggest that you are willing to work as a researcher for or as a co-writer with an already established professor or research group on campus.

Participating in Professional Conferences: Attendance at professional conferences is great; but participation is even better. Even though you have not yet earned a degree in your field, there are still opportunities for you to participate in a professional conference as a student.

Poster sessions are great ways to exhibit your expertise and current research interests to your colleagues at professional conferences. These sessions allow you an opportunity to professionally display your name and work in a visual manner in a space where you will have a tremendous opportunity for exposure.

Panel discussions give you an opportunity to verbalize your expertise and opinions on a matter. The scope of your participation will likely be limited and the time allotted for your piece of discussion may be short, but this is a great opportunity to demonstrate to colleagues that you are a knowledgeable contributor to your field.

If you are interested in participating in a professional conference related to your field of study, have a chat with your graduate advisor or the Dean/Chair of your department. These folks are likely to have information on current conferences and the opportunities available for student participation at these conferences.

Are There Other Opportunities Not Mentioned Here? Oh, absolutely! It would be impossible to cover every opportunity for professional development in a single article. If you’re searching for additional means of expanding your vita beyond the pale, you may also wish to look at: fellowships, study-abroad/exchange opportunities, county/state/federal/other research projects, field research opportunities, and the list goes on and on.

The point is, earning your degree is a wonderful accomplishment. But, if you want to work in academia—researching or teaching—you really ought to think about expanding your skills set and increasing your opportunities for professional exposure while you are a graduate student and have ongoing access to professionals (staff and faculty) that can assist you with this endeavor.

Until next time! Lynn Byrne

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