How to Create a Summer Plan to Think About Your Career Goals (Opinion)


A few days ago, a very important photo appeared in a Google Photos “remember this day in 20xx” notification on my phone. The photo is of a park bench in the summer sun, the one that sits in the quad on a university campus in Canada. This is where my career path took the decisive turn that led me to what I do now.

I was an unhappy doctor. on a not very useful summer archive trip to the Canadian prairies. I had been brooding for weeks, even months, “I don’t want to continue doing this work. I don’t know what else I could do. I don’t want to continue doing this work. I don’t know what else I could do.

It’s not that I hated the idea of ​​being a teacher. I just knew that in the long run it wasn’t for me. Perhaps this is a thought you also had, seriously or in passing. But I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do – and what someone might want to hire and pay me to do – to move forward.

I had packed a book (this one) from a friend, however, who had moved from a PhD. in English for a job at Google. It was summer, so I had more free time than usual. My archival work done for the day, I sat down on that sunny bench and began to self-reflect on what I needed to do to figure out what might be next for me. The reflection in the sun that I did that day led me directly to my current post-doctorate. career.

It is no coincidence that I had my big breakthrough this summer. Many of you have a lighter or no teaching load, free time for research, and – if you’re smart – for self-reflection. By giving yourself a little more time, you can plan concrete actions to take in small chunks throughout the school year.

Interested in using some of your free time this summer to start figuring out what could happen to you next and what you could do about it? I have a simple four-step plan to get you started. I would suggest not to try to do all of these at once. This kind of thinking work is mentally taxing and requires mental space and time. Do one of the following recommendations, let it filter for a day or three, then move on to the next. Fortunately, it’s still summer, and you probably have that time and space!

List all the jobs and degrees you’ve had, then freely write down why you did them, what you liked, and what you hated. The key to successful career exploration is learning things that you could and would like to do, imagine yourself in them, and best of all, actually do them and see how it turns out. This is the best way to determine what to expect, and you will need to do more. But you should also start by going through all that testing and exploring that you’ve already done.

And you made plenty of them! You’ve probably had summer jobs, side activities, or even old full-fledged careers. You have taught or done AT, you have done research, you have done student work. You may have been on committees, a student government, or a union. List everything you have done that is loosely adjacent to work or education, then write freely from a few lines to a few pages for each. what degree, what you liked (and liked to do about it) and what you hated.

Find the wires. Our brains are designed to find and create patterns, and such patterns can be incredibly useful in guiding the next job you do in exploring and pursuing career options. But these same brains need raw material to work. Your professional and educational background is the perfect raw material. Even if you have had a particularly eccentric career and educational trajectory, there is a guiding force behind what you have pursued and why. Maybe it is a skill that you have that makes you feel great when using it because you are awesome at it. Perhaps it is the desire to learn new things and solve new problems. It might be an itch to explore the world and see new places. Find the threads, the patterns that inform what you have done in your life so far and why, and write them down.

Explain what the discussion threads tell you and what actions they suggest. Now that you’ve identified the commonalities that connect your career path so far, figure out what they’re telling you and what you should be doing about it. One of my guiding threads was the realization that I loved the job where I helped a lot of people succeed rather than focusing on my own success – and, even better, if that success was about getting the important knowledge they had discovered as researchers in the world where it could do good. After identifying this thread, I thought about ways to follow it and what actions I could take. I decided that I would read the transition stories of other doctoral students (just google them – they exist in all kinds of places online) looking for people with jobs that involve teaching and support. researchers. I would scan university job listings looking for these kinds of jobs. And I was telling people at my own university about their jobs and how they got them.

Break it down and program it. Once you’ve decided what you’re going to do to move forward, break those actions down into small steps – so small that you don’t feel any resistance to doing them, if you’re worried about not making them a priority. Then plan when you’re going to do them over the next few months. If you can do 15 minutes of active work on your career exploration plans every weekday, that’s over an hour a week, even in the fall when you come back to a full teaching load, research and administration. You can make a lot of progress in an hour.

It’s summer. Sit in the sun (with sunscreen, please). Enjoy having less on your mind. And use this space not only for research and reading. Use it to also do self-reflection which will get you closer to where you want to be by next summer.

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