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Exploring Options

Career Planning

Career planning involves assessing yourself, exploring your options, making decisions, and taking action to achieve your career goals. This process will help you make well-informed decisions during your time at Northwestern and beyond. Although each person’s experience will be unique, these key points apply to everyone.

Laying the Groundwork

Start early.

Career development is important at every stage of your academic career. Beginning early enables you to build a wide range of experiences and explore a variety of industries—and gives you time to change your mind along the way.

Know yourself.

Take time to explore how your interests and skills intersect with different career paths to help you communicate the value you bring to employers.

Remember that your discipline does not dictate your career.

All fields of study foster a broad range of skills that will equip you for a number of occupations.

Plan ahead, but not too far.

You might become overwhelmed when considering your long-term career prospects. Think instead about what knowledge or skills you want to gain in the next year or two and be open to new experiences that may pop up along the way.

Don’t be afraid to change your path.

Career development is a continual and flexible process that adapts to inevitable changes in your interests and the workplace. No career decision is irreversible.

Progress Towards Degree

Incoming Graduate Students (0–1 year)

  • Familiarize yourself with on-campus resources to help with your career and professional development:
    • Northwestern Career Advancement (NCA)
    • The Graduate School, Office of Graduate and Postdoctoral Training and Development
    • Graduate Writing Place
    • Searle Center for Advancing Learning & Teaching
    • For a comprehensive list of resources and programs, explore our programming.
  • Connect with your department to understand funding policies, opportunities, and timelines.

Early Stage (1st–2nd year)

  • Explore career interests in addition to research interests using:
    • Beyond the Professoriate, ImaginePhD, and MyIDP
  • Meet with NCA advisers to discuss/articulate interests, skills and values
    • Take time each quarter to reflect on when your work leaves you feeling energized, when you feel burnt out, and where there are areas of growth. This reflection can help drive goal-setting from quarter to quarter.
  • Create an Individual Development Plan (IDP) with faculty
  • Explore different student organizations to develop additional communities of support, as well as pursue avenues to further develop collaborative, communication, and leadership skills.

Mid Stage (2nd–4th years)

  • Connect with advisor/PI to explore additional potential mentors – including other faculty, alumni, staff, etc.
  • Initiate more in-depth conversations with faculty/staff/mentors about career aspirations
  • Remember to update your CV and master resume quarterly.
    • Key Resources: Beyond the Professoriate, ImaginePhD, MyIDP, NCA Advising Appointments, NCA PhD Career Development Series
  • Connect with advanced degree career advisors to explore/revisit professional development opportunities to support career goals.
  • Explore opportunities to attend/present at professional conferences, be aware of career development workshops, and networking events.

Advanced Stage (3rd year to end)

Last 12-18 months

  • Seek guidance to prepare market-ready application documents (academic and industry-specific); connect with faculty, career advisers, and campus resources.
  • Meet with your faculty to set clear expectations and timeline regarding path to graduation.
  • Connect with career advisers to better understand recruitment timelines and processes, and plan to attend relevant employer events, info sessions, workshops, etc.