Career aspirations and prior work experience

Regardless of their reasons for pursuing advanced studies, students enter graduate school today with more experience and more diverse career aspirations than ever before. For many, it is common to have had one or more career-track jobs before beginning advanced study.

Often such prior work experience sparks a person's decision to pursue a graduate degree, whether it is for love of the discipline, advancement in a current profession, entrance into a new profession, or a combination of these reasons. Thus, if real world perspectives or examples are not valued in the graduate experience, students with prior work experience can feel especially disappointed. Many graduate students want to feel valued for their prior work accomplishments, especially if those experiences were as teachers or practitioners in a field that they are now researching.


  • The Preparing Future Faculty Program, offered through the Office of Graduate Studies, helps graduate students prepare for academic careers by offering structured opportunities to observe and experience a full range of faculty roles and responsibilities.
  • Career Services supports students in exploring a variety of career options and employment services.

Suggestions for Students

  • Discuss with your mentors and peers how your prior work experience influenced your decision to pursue graduate study or relates to your research and teaching. Understand that your career aspirations might not reflect the same interests that motivated your professors. Explain to them how the concepts, theories, and tools you are learning support your own career aspirations.
  • Ask your mentor to help you explore a wide range of professional development opportunities, such as serving on graduate student or department/university committees, and doing service, teaching, or research internships on or off campus.
  • Be aware of new opportunities for knowledge workers and periodically check on the condition of the academic and non-academic labor market in your discipline.
  • Consult your disciplinary association, or the Occupational Outlook Handbook of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, for current data and trends.
  • Offer your mentors periodic updates about how your professional goals are developing, changing, and being enriched by graduate study.

Suggestions for Faculty

  • Ask students about their career aspirations and how they expect graduate education to help them achieve their goals.
  • Ask students how their prior work experiences relate to or have influenced them to pursue graduate study. Have students write about these understandings and invite them to make periodic observations about how they are developing professionally.
  • Ask students how their current scholarship informs their perspective on prior work experiences.
  • Provide opportunities in seminars or group work for students to link theory and practice.
  • Remind students of the "wisdom of practice" and its importance in scholarly and professional development.
  • Realize that career aspirations may shift several times over the course of students' degree programs, so be prepared to help your protégés seek out a variety of job opportunities.
  • Tune in to new economic opportunities for "knowledge workers" by periodically checking on the condition of both the academic and nonacademic labor markets in your discipline. Consult your disciplinary association or the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Handbook for current market data and trends.
  • Help students pursue a healthy balance of professional development opportunities such as research assistantships, teaching assistantships, and special leadership opportunities, such as university or student committees. Whatever their ultimate career choice, your mentees will benefit greatly by learning how their skills apply in multiple arenas.