I often ponder the skills I use every day to successfully undertake projects in my role as lead of graduate career education at Ryerson University. Whether one-to-one advising, developing and giving presentations, leading meetings, or attending and presenting at conferences, this is my graduate level training in action. I honed my skills for years as a graduate student, and I’m often amazed at the relevance and continuous value they bring to my daily work. We spend so many years labouring in grad school, so why not celebrate our skills and share how to best leverage them for years to come?
Your graduate skills are a key asset
When I transitioned out of my degree, I wondered when I would ever use my overly developed research skills (and I use ‘overly’ because let’s be honest, we hone this skill set to the max in grad school). I also used to worry I would lose the true essence of this well-defined skill as soon as my graduate training ended. In what future job would I need to research as deeply and intently as when completing my master’s thesis?
Well, it turns out the real world had similar expectations of me. In fact, transitioning into my new role was precisely a result of utilizing my research skills, especially in building a business case for the university to invest in me:
- I researched national and international models of graduate career education and dug deeply into their history and offering – just as I did when visiting the archives.
- I analyzed this data and published an extensive report for the dean of graduate studies and my director – just as I did with my thesis.
- I designed a graduate career education model that would speak to our own student cohort that reflected best practices of other institutions – just as I did with original research contributions to my graduate field.
- I became a voice for my department on the benefits of supporting graduate students in career planning – just as I did when speaking on my research at conferences.
Your graduate skill set has no expiry date
The beauty of these grad-level skills is they will never expire, and regardless of when you’ve last exercised them, they are always accessible. In my work, I regularly research best practices in career advising, whether it be via literature reviews, conference presentations, or information interviews. I still think of myself as an investigator, honing my own expertise based on the amazing practices being piloted and perfected by my colleagues across Canada and globally. I’ve had periods of employment where I have not had to leverage these attributes and bemoaned the fact that my skills were going extinct. I worried I had wasted countless hours of research, critical thinking, and analysis for naught.
Yet, my skills never betrayed me. They were, so to speak, hibernating. As soon as I was in a position to leverage them, they were ready to go in full force. I even surprised myself when colleagues asked me what my educational background was, due to the way I approached projects, problems, and initiatives. It was the application of my graduate skills they were picking up on, and I didn’t even realize it was part and parcel of my professional outlook and approach to the work I was doing until it was brought to light.
Your graduate skills complement other developed skill sets
When I decided to pursue a career in student advising, I enrolled in a one-year diploma program to develop a skill set in career and work counselling. The program was far from the graduate training I’d received at the university level, and I wasn’t too sure how the two would come together. I figured my work would rely heavily on my diploma training, and it has. Yet I’ve leveraged my graduate skills to enhance this work, such as articulating the relationship between research and practice. My graduate level research skills, coupled with my diploma training, have been a recipe for innovative thinking and implementation of best practices in career education.
As higher education professionals, we are constantly growing and learning. Leveraging the skills you acquired in grad school is key to enhancing any future employment you delve into. They will continue to be the building blocks of your professional development and growth.
Graduate students are often not aware of the transferable skills they have developed during their years at university and as a result, are not able to articulate them. A useful exercise we use in professional development courses is to ask students to covert their curriculum vitae into a résume´ using the CAR (Challenge-Action-Results) method and to write a compelling cover letter for a particular job of interest. This turns out be be a great exercise in mindfulness and is a tremendous confidence booster.