From grad school to your future career: Top career planning strategies for grad students

Career planning during grad school is like paving the way for a successful future — it provides direction, purpose and a competitive edge in the job market after graduation.

January 23, 2024

By: Vanessa Hayward, career development advisor

As a career development advisor, I encourage students to think of grad school as a pivotal time for career development, in addition to the academic growth it offers. For example, it’s an opportunity to hone critical skills such as communication, problem-solving and project management — skills that are transferable and highly sought after by employers.

This message was reinforced at this year’s Career Symposium hosted by the Graduate and Postdoctoral Development Network (GPDN) and sponsored by the School of Graduate Studies.  The GPDN aims to educate and inspire Canadian grad students and postdocs to develop and take action to achieve current and future career goals.

In case you missed the conference, here are three takeaways to help you integrate career planning activities into your graduate studies.

1. Parallel planning

Phil Miletic, PhD, career advisor at the University of Waterloo described that parallel planning involves exploring various career options at the same time, deepening your understanding of strengths and interests, intentionally expanding your skillset and preparing for a range of scenarios. Parallel planning can help you feel less pressured about making the “right” career choice and focus on a more strategic and adaptable approach to your professional journey. This self-awareness can help you can tailor your academic pursuits, research projects and extracurricular activities to align with your career objectives.

2. Strategic networking

Within your graduate program, you have a unique environment to connect with professors, industry professionals and like-minded peers who share your interests. Conferences, workshops and seminars are great opportunities to expand your network and gain insights into real-world applications in your field.

Joanne Lieu, a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto, shared the significance of effective networking and provided practical tips for graduate students to maximize their opportunities at events and conferences. Lieu proposed a three-phase approach: (1) preparation, (2) connection and (3) growth. This begins with setting intentions, considering the event context and identifying key individuals to connect with. Reviewing attendee lists and inviting people to meet up during the event can be effective strategies to make the most of networking opportunities. Then, following up after the event and staying connected over time are crucial in nurturing professional relationships that can open doors to mentorship, internships and potential job opportunities.

3. Investigate labour market information

Regularly investigating labour market information, industry trends and emerging technologies allows you to align your academic pursuits with the evolving demands of your chosen field. Drawing from her experience as a former PhD student and recruiter in the private sector, Rebecca Maymon advocated for graduate students to explore the employment sector using their research skills — identifying questions, researching public information, participating in informational interviews and engaging in work-integrated or experiential learning opportunities.

By integrating labour market information with insights about your interests, values and skills, you can strategically navigate potential career paths and identify options within specific employment sectors.

In conclusion

By integrating career planning into your academic journey, you are not only maximizing the value of your education, but also setting the stage for a successful and fulfilling career. So, embrace the challenges, seize the opportunities and chart a course toward a future where your passions and expertise lead to a rewarding professional journey.

You don’t have to navigate alone — the SSC career counselling and job search coaching team is here to support you.

Additionally, the School of Graduate Studies (SGS) provides opportunities for graduate students to attend the symposium every Fall. Be sure to follow the SGS events page for details about the GPDN and other career and professional opportunities for grad students.