Friday, January 27, 2017

Eventually, Your Program Will End (So Plan Your Career Now!)

Some of you are in the first phases of your graduate degree program, others somewhere near the middle, and still others are fortunate to be nearing the end.  One thing we all have in common is a yearning to see what the world looks like from across the finish line, yes?

Well, below we present a voice from that hallowed spot.  Last December, Mike Yetter, one of the founding bloggers here at Project Thesis NIU, completed his doctorate in English with a dissertation on the 20th-century author John Dos Passos.  Congratulations, Mike!      

Now that I’ve graduated, what’s next?

Well, it felt like it took me forever (upon reviewing my transcripts, it did in fact take me forever), but I made it! I admit that during the graduation ceremony, I did stand a little taller, my smile was wider, and I was breathing a lot easier, having relieved myself of an immense burden of my own design. Most important, my children, my committee, my former co-workers, and my old boss – everyone who supported me through my doctoral education – were present at the ceremony, and I could tell how proud of me they were. I stood for pictures, exchanged hugs, etc. And as soon as the ceremony was over . . . BAM! I was hit over the head with a 2 x 4 with a note attached that said: “So now that you’re on the job market, what are your plans?”

Michael K. Yetter (far right) being hooded at the Graduate School Commencement, December 2016

This has inspired the following guest blog to pass on some important advice: Before you finish your master’s or doctoral program, sit down and speak with someone in your department about your future outside of graduate school, because it will come to an end. There were times when I was convinced that I was never going to graduate, and that the English department and NIU were conspiring to keep me in graduate school forever, but that really is not the case. The only person keeping you from finishing that all-important thesis or dissertation is you. Once you do finish the work (and with the help of the Thesis Office, you will finish the work), you need to know what it is you want to be now that you’re all grown up.

Before you get to this point, plot out what will come next for you

I’ve always gone from job to job. I never sat down to give serious thought to a capital C career. Not to mention, I thought the point of graduate school was to avoid such a tedious subject. Now I am in the position where it is time for me to think about the dreaded word. It turns out that I am not the only person in this boat. Some graduate students already know what they want to be when they grow up. Many, though, aren’t entirely sure what they want to do with their degree or their lives after school.

Awhile back, I attended a seminar on jobs in the publishing field. Never did I dream that I had the background, education, or experience for such a career. After speaking with the people who ran the seminar, it turns out that I do. I’ve been an English instructor for so long, life outside of academia never occurred to me. I never planned on being an English professor; I just happened into it. Over the past decade, I’ve discovered that I really enjoy teaching, I’m pretty good at it, and I’m getting better. I know now that I want to remain in the world of academia.

My point is this: because I took the time to attend that seminar, I learned that there are other opportunities available to me career-wise that I never before considered. It reminded me of some of the things that came up in numerous conversations I had with professors, my committee, or dissertation director: “Hey, why didn’t you apply for such-and-such fellowship?” Well, I didn’t know I was qualified or eligible for such-and-such fellowship. Why didn’t you tell me?

I realize now that I should have made more of an effort to think about my ideal career; I should have taken the time to speak with a career-guidance counselor; I should have set aside time to sit with my director, have a cup of coffee, and discuss career prospects.

Is this a conversation you should have the first day of your graduate school journey? No. But it is an important conversation that you need to have at some point, with someone whose opinion you respect, preferably BEFORE you write your thesis or dissertation. Believe it or not, knowing the answer to this all-important question just might influence your choice of graduate courses, not to mention your topic for your thesis or dissertation.

Michael K. Yetter


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