Lived and Learned: Navigating Post-Graduation Pathways
Written by Siddhiben Patel - Senior Career Services Peer Helper
What am I going to do?
Is this the right path for me - what IS the right path for me?
What if I end up hating my program – won't that be a waste of money, time and energy?
Do I want to do more schooling?
What if I choose the wrong program?
What if I don’t get a job once I’m done?
These “what if” questions have been circling my mind since the end of my third year. Now, as I begin writing my applications for graduate studies, I feel as if I have finally come to terms with my expectations and goals for life after graduation. I consider myself very fortunate for all the great advice and support I have gotten along the way to deciding what my life will be like after I graduate. Does this mean that I know matter of fact which direction my life will take? Absolutely not! But that doesn’t mean that I can’t plan and take steps to help achieve what I envision my future to look like.
"A journey to a thousand miles begins with a single step." – Lao Tzu
In this blog post, I want to share with you the advice I have gotten from current graduate students, career advisors and what I have learned though personal experience about navigating post-graduation pathway. I understand that everyone has a different perspective and journey that has guided them to be where they are. Here, I am simply sharing my own, which may provide other students with things to consider that they might not have before to help them navigate post-grad pathways.
Present Day Reflections
Reflections are such an important and necessary part of any new journey. Not only does reflecting help you recognize your past accomplishments, but also helps guide what your next steps may be. Sometimes it’s difficult to make time for reflection practices since as students, we always have something going on. But, taking a couple of minutes out of your day, maybe when you’re eating, on the bus, waiting for your class to begin, and so on, can be very helpful. Over the past couple of months, I have been keeping a journal. Once or twice a week I would note things into the journal such as what has happened over the past couple of days, anything I’m looking forward to, things I’m worried about, and really anything else that comes to mind. This simple journaling activity has helped me increase my self-awareness and strengthen my emotional intelligence. With the increased self-awareness I have been able to develop through day-to-day experiences, I have also been able to translate this reflection process towards my plans for post-graduation. For example, I aim to be more intentional about what I am currently doing (academics, work, volunteering, extra-curriculars, etc.), why I am doing what I am doing and how it is going to benefit me in the long run. By no means am I saying that you should be all work and no play, nor am I saying that you should only do things that will benefit you in the future. In fact, the focus with these considerations is on the present and if you are indeed making the most of your current situation.
Putting in the Work
The next step after reflection is putting your newly developed thoughts into action. So, have you done research about different graduate school programs? Have you talked to people in that profession or industry? How will you build on skills you might be lacking in order to consider other pathways as options? In part, these questions may have already come up during your reflections. But here, the focus is really on how you will take the necessary steps to translate your reflections into action. At this point, you don’t have to know whether the action you are taking is the right one or not! Over the course of my undergraduate experience, I have come to accept that it’s okay not to have a definite plan or know exactly what kind of career you will end up in. I remember being ashamed of not knowing, especially when everyone around me was eager to hear my plans. When I became comfortable enough to simply say “I don’t know, I’m still figuring it out”, yes people were surprised to hear that, but more opportunities came amid my hopeful unsureness. Some of these opportunities included winning an external scholarship which I was recommended to apply for and getting offered a job in an area that I didn’t have much experience of. The biggest factor in being offered that position was my diverse involvement and not restricting my experiences towards a specific career path.
For the 1st or 2nd year students reading this post, what did you envision your university experience would be like? Is the reality of it any different from what you were expecting? If it is different, what can you do to meet those expectations? An assumption I had at the beginning of my university experience was that things would naturally happen, and I don't need to go out of my way or put in extra energy for those expectations to become reality. Any upper-year student can attest that this is definitely NOT the case. You can’t just expect these amazing life experiences to occur if you don’t put yourself out there and take any risks. If you don’t speak to the peers in your classes or don’t send off that email to the professor who spoke about their research in class, you won’t get the chance to make new friends or partake in undergraduate research opportunities.
"If you don’t go after what you want, you’ll never have it. If you don’t ask, the answer is always no. If you don’t step forward, you’re always in the same place." – Nora Roberts
For the 3rd or 4th year students reading this post, while reflecting on your undergraduate experience thus far, is there anything you regret? Was there a course you wanted to take but didn’t take or wanted to join a club but didn't end up reaching out to ask how you could join? Whatever the case may be for you, really reflect on what you think you missed out on. This will help you start your brainstorming process about what you can do to make those regrets into experiences you can have post-graduation.
Using Resources to Your Advantage
One of my biggest concerns (among the many that I had), was figuring out what programs I wanted to apply for, for my graduate studies. I felt like I had too many interests and I didn’t want to narrow any of them down, in fear that I might miss out. This is where having access to various resources came in handy. I initially met with a career advisor in hopes they would be able to look at my past experiences and what expectations I have of the future and point out the exact program or career that would suit me. Did that end up happening? Unfortunately, no. But on the bright side, I was able to get validation for a lot of my previous experience that I didn’t think really meant anything. In addition, I walked out of that meeting knowing what actions I would take to help me narrow down my options. One of those options was reaching out to current students of the programs I was interested in, via LinkedIn. Honestly, I never really utilized LinkedIn before and thought that it was more for those who are interested in networking in an industry setting. But only after reaching out to those students myself, did I appreciate having a resource such as this. Not only was I able to find profiles of current students of the program I was interested in, but also some of the industry positions they held post-graduation. I ended up reaching out to multiple current graduate students to get their opinions and insights on the program.
Another incredible resource that has helped me in my post-graduation pathways research is the CoBUMP mentorship program. In this program, an undergraduate student gets paired up with a current UofG graduate student and they can determine how often they would like to meet to discuss anything related to graduate studies. Some of the topics I talked about with my mentors (yes there is an ‘s’, I participated in the program for 2 semesters and had 2 mentors who were both amazing – S/O to Jessica Woodman and Melissa Sota!) were reputations of various graduate schools/program, how to funding/finance graduate school, parts of the graduate school application, etc. Their advice was very valuable to me because as much as I can assume about what the process or experience would be like, nothing beats getting the information straight from those living in that moment right now.
Professors and other peers are some other resources that you can utilize. I have found that professors are more likely to offer to meet with you to talk about things not related to course content if you ask to set up a meeting outside of scheduled lecture times. Not only will setting up a meeting give you more time to talk about various graduate options, but also to build rapport with the professor whom you may go to in the future as a potential reference for a graduate school application. Another incredibly accessible resource are your friends and peers. Having conversations with your friends about what they are thinking about as post-graduation pathways is a fantastic way to learn about programs you may not have even considered or known about.
Give Yourself a Break!
There is only so much that you as an individual and student have control over so try not to be hard on yourself about things outside of your control. A graduate student once told me that “if you don’t happen to get into a program one time around, it’s not that you’re not a good student, it’s that in the system, there just aren’t enough spaces.” Along similar lines, unpredictable things can happen (just take the pandemic as an example). If there were things you had planned which did not end up happening or some unforeseen circumstances happened to dissolve those plans, don’t blame that on yourself. Sometimes things are just out of our control, and we must adapt to new situations as they arise.
Hopefully, some of the tips and advice I had mentioned in this blog post resonated with you and you are able to utilize them in your own post-graduation journey. An overall message that I have identified from all the people I have spoken to about navigating post-graduation options is that you don’t have to know it all – but you should have the drive to find out what you don’t know.