Launch Like A Rocket Applies to Grad Students, too.

My work neighbor, UC San Diego, is launching a program to support graduate students. Keeping in mind that research universities’ missions are focused on professor research, then graduate students, and after that undergrads, this is an idea I could see really taking off through all kinds of schools for all kinds of degrees.

Odds are you’re not at UC San Diego, so how can you access these kinds of opportunities, whether working on a bachelor’s degree or a graduate degree? Their plan has a four-fold approach:

  1. Career Nights
  2. Certification in leadership, teamwork, and project management
  3. Communication workshop
  4. Career Services expanding their offerings to include grad students

These are pretty simple to replicate with some initiative on your part. Career nights are basically a small lecture-oriented informational interview, with a little bit of Q&A at the end. Set up informational interviews, look for events your career services department is putting on, pay attention to your friends’ parents, look at recent alumni in the area. In my experience, many schools have homecoming/parent weekend events and if they aren’t doing formal things, there are informal ones going on. Stop thinking like a teenager about your parents’ friends. Teenagers see parents as road blocks at worst, generous hosts at best. They are potentially mentors, future peers, and chock full of advice. Make sure you meet parents when possible, and ask what they do, if they enjoy it, how they got there. (Don’t Eddie Haskell the conversation, though.)

Certification in leadership, teamwork, and project management. OMG, this one is a little silly, no matter how great the companies that gave input. Maybe it’s going to be terrific, but the certification idea just makes it verge on ridiculous, IMHO. (My rec for UCSD grad students is to take every single class, get an A, earn the cert, and just don’t tell anyone you have a certification.) Bottom line, effective communication of these skills to a potential employer is going to be in your experience. Are you doing things that are giving you opportunities to develop these skills? Jump in now. You’ve got to be a member and a reliable worker bee in an organization first so you can figure out if it’s a good fit for you, and if you’re a good fit for their future leadership. (These things are going to be a nightmare of drudgery if you aren’t truly interested in the goals and missions.) And some leadership jobs are going to require an election, so there’s no way to come in cold senior year and make this happen. (You don’t need a title to have leadership skills, either–take the lead on a project.)

Communication workshop. This is a pretty good idea, and could be a great thing to push your career services to develop. In the meantime, there’s always Toastmasters. It’s generally free and they have clubs everywhere. I know a couple of new grads who joined 7:00 am breakfast groups after college to quietly improve their skills in this arena, but the beauty of college is that you’ve got a lot of spare time. Join now, and build a local professional network as well as speaking skills. I’m also a fan of tour guide gigs. Every college has admission tours, and I’m sure there are all kinds of similar gigs. Painfully, shy? Start small, get a job that requires small transactions with other people—maybe the library where you need to be quiet. If you’re a great student in a subject, look into tutoring. It’s much less painful to speak to people, individually and in groups, when you know the subject well.

Career services. These people are your best friends on campus (and, hey, they sometimes have student jobs–that’s the equivalent of a front-row seat). If they don’t have a program or class for what you want, talk to them about your concerns. Their whole job is to make sure students launch successfully, and it’s a mission that is increasingly being promoted within colleges. Schools know you (and your parents) can’t afford to spend this much money JUST so you can find yourself. (That is a super important part of finding a career that will make you happy for the long haul, but it’s not the only consideration.)


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