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One thing my college counselor in high school never told me is that none of my plans after high school would go as planned. Flash forward a few years and I have an academic advisor who is helping me plan out the next few years leading up to my career. Also, doesn’t go as planned. Jumping to today, I have my graduate degree five years later than I had planned. While advice is something that I always welcome, I have decided to take a step back, take a deeeeeeep breath, and sort out my options. Here are a few things I did or should have done that may help you with your plans after you have completed your graduate program.
1. Celebrate a Little
Method of Celebration: Throw a party, go on trip, have a ‘treat yo self’ day. This really depends on what you fancy. International travel is an attractive option, but is also not realistic for most who have now acquired more student loan debt. If international travel is not an option then invite some people over for a celebration.
Why It’s Important: Celebration for our accomplishments is validating. Validation for the decisions that we have made and work that we have done helps us to recognize our own worth as an individual and what we can offer towards a group. In Terrence Deal’s book, “Corporate Celebration,” he states that, “people simultaneously want both - to be apart, me, and a part, we. It is when we celebrate those goals that we have accomplished that we can now be aware of our abilities as a me and capabilities as a we” (Deal, 2015, p. 22).
Don’t Forget: You should have a clear purpose for entering your graduate program in the first place. I know some students who only went to graduate school because someone told them it was the way for them to get ahead of the competition in the job market. So, make sure that you have a plan or idea of what you are going to accomplish with what you now have.
Will’s Tidbit: This is something that I did not do, because I was still working at the time and planning the next stages of my life now that I had more free time to do so. My partner planned a night for us to go to a nice dinner to celebrate my achievement. However, I was not in the right mindset and did not think of it as a celebration. It was not until months later when my degree came in the mail and I added it to my resume that it felt like it was time to celebrate.
2. Employment Options: Jumping into the Career of Your Dreams vs. Reality
Dream Scenario: If you are in a graduate program that requires you to work an internship then you may be lucky enough to turn that internship into a bright new career. Or, if you already know someone who knows someone who can provide the gateway to that dream job, then there is a chance you are set. If either of these are you, then I hope that you are given some vacation time after graduation and please refer back to #1.
The Reality: The percentage of the workforce that holds a graduate degree is increasing, which means that there is the possibility of more competition in the job market. (Carnevale, 2010, p. 3) This obviously changes depending on the location, profession, resume, and a number of other factors. These circumstances mean that you may have to take a position in a different field to wait for the opportunity that you feel is right for you.
Will’s Tidbit: I graduated with a Bachelor's degree in 2011, but had trouble finding work in the state of Arizona as a Social Studies teacher since I did not have enough experience. Adding me to the increasing number of people who fall under the New-Graduate Paradox, it took three years of odd jobs (truck loader, canoe instructor, tour guide, data entry…) before I was able to land a job in my field. I was lucky enough to have started my career before going back for my Master’s degree. Bachelor’s Degree = The Reality. Master’s Degree = Dream Scenario (eventually).
3. Self Reflection
Personal Growth: With all of the trials and tribulations that you have been through in working toward this day of completing your graduate degree, it is time to think about what worked and what didn’t work. Self-reflection leads to personal insight. This awareness is important for examining our own interactions with others during times of conflict and cooperation, which gives us insight into ways to improve those interactions and ourselves. Reflecting upon who we were before entering graduate school and who we are now can lead us to better understand the growth that we are capable of.
Goal Setting: You have set a goal for yourself. You have accomplished this goal. However, if little effective feedback is given, then your own self-efficacy can diminish. Many times the amount of feedback that we are given on our work is not enough to make us feel accomplished. In regards to students (we are all still students), a study on self-efficacy by Dale Schunk states that, “For learners to evaluate their progress, it is essential that they receive goal progress feedback” (Schunk, 2003, p. 162). If we are not getting enough feedback, then we have to reflect on our accomplishments ourselves to ensure that we are able to make the appropriate goals for personal growth.
Will’s Tidbit: I have always been tough on myself when it comes to reflection. After my own goals have been accomplished, I am very critical of the value of what I have done. So, I usually have friends, family members, and my own students give me feedback on my work. It does not always have to be the professor or professional that give you feedback. While I would feel professionally validated if professors gave better feedback, it does feel personally validating to get feedback from those who you trust.
In the end, whatever you decide to do after graduate school is your own decision, but take some time to consult others, reflect upon your own success, and by all means please remember to celebrate.
Deal, T. (1998). Corporate Celebration: Play, Purpose, and Profit at Work. Berrett-Koehler.
Office of Public Management. Employment Demographics, 2006, https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/data-analysis-documentation/federal-employment-reports/demographics/2006/partone.pdf. Accessed 18 Nov. 2017.
Carnevale, Anthony P., Recovery: Job Growth and Education Requirements Through 2020, https://cew.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Recovery2020.ES_.Web_.pdf. Accessed 23 Nov. 2017.
Schunk, Dale. Self-Efficacy for Reading and Writing: Influencing of Modeling, Goal Setting, and Self-Evaluation. Retrieved from http://www.psy.cmu.edu/~siegler/418-Schunk.pdf