Explore Your Options

Professional and career development is ultimately about choice and decision-making—determining what’s the best path to follow based your needs and your future. As you prepare for a career in academia, business, government, or industry, keep these three guiding principles in mind.

  1. Your professional development has already begun, and it extends throughout your career, so establish goals early—and often—and seize the opportunity to develop as a professional.
  2. Multiple facets of your professional self are involved, including academic, instructional and leadership development.
  3. Collaboration is required. Work with mentors or colleagues who can help you develop the knowledge, skills, and experiences that will equip you for a wide range of job opportunities.

Build Your Professional Network

Your professional success depends on both what and who you know. A professional network gives you the connections that aid you in your first job search, move you in your early career, and yield benefits throughout your career. Engaging in professional activities now will help build the core of your network. The people you serve with on committees or meet at conferences will be the people with helpful advice or inside tips for you down the road. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

  • Host a departmental speaker. Offer to pick up the guest, escort the speaker on a campus tour, or take your guest to dinner. These informal interactions provide you with opportunities to meet someone new and develop networking skills.
  • Join interdisciplinary groups on campus. Meet graduate and faculty scholars—with similiar research interests—from other disciplines.
  • Don't just attend conferences—participate in them! Before you go, practice your elevator speech (a 30-second intro of you and your work). At the conference, go to meetings, ask questions, and introduce yourself to others. When you get home, send thank you emails to the people you met, especially those who were most interesting or helpful.
  • Do volunteer work or get a job for the summer. You’ll meet people from the community and industry.
  • Pick a mentor with a strong network. A mentor with a strong network can introduce you to new people and encourage you to engage in different groups. Don't completely rely on others but use this to boost your own efforts. Being assertive and making a name for yourself is the best method.
  • Keep in contact with departmental alumni. Graduate students who finished their degrees a few years before you or who are in classes behind yours can be excellent contacts.
  • Attend talks hosted by other departments. Introduce yourself to faculty and students you haven’t met yet.
  • Join professional organizations. Look for ways to get involved at a regional or national level. Serving on committees is a great way to meet people and gain valuable experience working with a dedicated group.
  • Join a professional networking site like LinkedIn, maintain an informative and attractive profile, and actively promote your skills and interests.
  • Offer your experience or expertise. Serving in the community introduces you to new people and provides you with a network when you need to draw on others' expertise.

Reach out to others, and don’t worry if you’re not successful every time. Building a network takes time and effort, and not everyone will be ready to meet you. Frame your interactions positively and go into each meeting expecting a positive outcome. With a little practice, you’ll grow comfortable introducing yourself to new people in a variety of situations. By doing so, you’ll be well on your way to building your professional network.