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Careers Café

The value of a break before (more) graduate school


Moving from an academic environment into the workforce is a difficult transition.

Think about all those highrise office buildings in downtown Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Halifax, … Thousands of people work in those buildings. Then there are all of the people who work outdoors, or from home, or in factories.

I bet you have no idea what most of them do. I know I don’t.

It can be overwhelming.

  • Where do you start?
  • What will you do with your life?
  • How do you know you are making the right choice?
  • Are there even jobs out there?
  • Do you have the skills and experience to get them?

In comparison, graduate school seems safe.

You know what you need to get in. You might even have professors encouraging you to continue your studies.

You are familiar with the academic environment. You know how to speak to these people about your skills, your knowledge, your interests, your plans. You know the terms on which you will be judged and how to do well.

You’ve heard that to really advance in a career you’ll need a Masters anyway…

Hold on a minute!

Going to graduate school only delays this uncomfortable transition and might make it worse. The PhDs I’ve worked with in the Conscious Careers course are just as overwhelmed, more indebted, and worried that their PhD makes them less employable.

There is real value in working through all those transitional feelings now. It may be true that you need a Masters to advance or to get particular kinds of jobs but you will also need experience. You can’t get experience in school.

Turn your assumptions into questions.

  • Get curious.
  • Do you know if you even like this career option?
  • Do you know if you would need a graduate qualification?
  • What if you started and decided that you didn’t want to advance?
  • What if you worked in a particular field for a couple of years and then went in a different direction, one you can’t see now?
  • What if that new field requires a different kind of Masters degree or something else altogether?

Research possible careers. Talk to people. Learn how to write and talk about what you’ve done in ways that resonate with particular kinds of employers that interest you.

Find ways to develop skills and get experience. Volunteer. Take short term contracts. If you can imagine doing a job for two years, it may be a good transitional job.

You don’t need to decide what to do with your life.

You need to take a good next step.

Graduate school will still be there in two years. Juggling a degree and a job and a family might be hard. Having a clear sense of purpose mitigates that difficulty considerably. Not only that, you will be in a better financial position.

There is real value in taking time off and making a conscious choice to go back.

Jo VanEvery is a career coach who specializes in helping academics. Find her at
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