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Too many graduate students think that if they excel in their classes, meet their program's deadlines for advancement to candidacy (or Master's thesis defense), and develop good relationships with their professors and advisors, they will be well prepared to enter the job market when the time comes. This belief has never been more false, especially in light of the recent economic crisis. While being proactive and involved has always been a valued quality in graduate students, it is more imperative than ever to make a name for yourself in your graduate program and your field if you want a good chance at landing a job once you complete your degree. That's where professionalization comes in.
Professionalization can be a daunting concept for those who are just starting out in their graduate career, but if you follow a few simple guidelines, the process will be much less painful. Who knows, you might even enjoy yourself along the way! In a nutshell, "professionalization" means the actions and decisions you take related to your growth and prominence as a scholar in your field. This relates to several different facets of your graduate career, including:
- Professional relationships you develop
- Academic/teaching positions you hold
- Leadership roles you take on- Professional associations you join
- Professional conferences you attend
- Articles and books you (eventually) publish
But let's take it one thing at a time. My biggest piece of advice would be to start small and be patient with yourself. Becoming a professional in your field is a gradual process, and you can only gain experience and confidence through experience, which you build over time. Depending on your degree program, you have up to six or seven years to become a full-fledged professional, so take it slow.
THE FIRST STEPS IN PROFESSIONALIZATION
1. Begin within your department and university. The strongest and most important relationships you will forge will be with the faculty who are your immediate advisers and instructors.
- Make an effort to meet professors who have similar research interests. Take at least one class with those professors. Go to their office hours occasionally to touch base and chat about your common research interests or ask for their guidance on what current literature you should be reading to stay current in your field.
- Make friends with graduate students who are more advanced than you in the program. They are a great resource and are often your most supportive and understanding allies in your program.
- Avoid department politics. Yes, there are politics within any graduate program/department. There are professors who don't work well together, certain staff who clash with certain faculty, and even graduate students who don't get along with particular professors or staff. These issues may seem petty to you, but stepping on the wrong foot or offending the wrong person could seriously hinder your success in the program. Ask your friends who are more advanced in the program about any departmental politics you should be aware of.
- Volunteer to participate in department events like new student orientations and open houses, or to serve on a departmental or university committee.
- Attend department events regularly, especially those related to your research interests.
2. Become familiar with your discipline. Get to know the current issues being discussed by scholars in your field, and figure out who the most senior, respected scholars are within that circle.
- Ask your advisor or colleagues what professional associations would be appropriate for you to join. If you can afford to pay the membership fee, join at least 1 or 2 of the main associations related to your discipline (they usually have reduced rates for graduate students).
- Begin to read peer-reviewed journals related to your discipline and research interests (many professional associations publish their own journal, so as a member, you would receive journal issues). Once again, colleagues or faculty advisers are great resources for this type of information. You don't need to subscribe to these journals right away; you can check out the most recent issues from your university library for free. Peruse the articles to get a sense of the type of scholarship being produced in your field, and to begin familiarizing yourself with the writing style of the articles. It could be your article published in that journal in a few years time.
- Join email listserves related to your discipline within your university and on a regional or national level. Many professional associations allow non-members to subscribe to their listserve. Also, different schools or divisions in your university (Division of Arts and Humanities, for example) maintain email listserves that provide useful information about upcoming events as well as funding opportunities, etc.
Like I said, start small. As you become more comfortable in your field and you build confidence in yourself as a scholar, you can slowly start to widen your professional circle. But that comes later. For now, focus on getting to know the terrain, and you can learn how to navigate through the speed bumps and potholes when you're ready.
Best of Luck,
Founder and CEO, EditingWorm.email@example.com
This article is an excerpt from Katrina's book on graduate student professionalization
For more tips on thriving in graduate school and beyond, check out Katrina's scholarly blog: http://editingworm.com/blog/