From time to time during the course of graduate study, students may experience a sense that they are receiving different and even opposing views on how to approach their professional development during the graduate years. On the one hand, faculty are dedicated to training students to achieve the highest level of scholarly skills possible; they tend to see their primary role as training the next generation of scholars who will advance knowledge in their field. On the other hand, GSAS and the Office of Career Services (OCS) urge students to prepare themselves for a broader range of options in the larger world and offer services to help.
I would argue that these seemingly opposing messages can be interpreted in a way that avoids a sense of opposition: Developing scholarly strengths is a superb way of enhancing options in the wider world. By raising your consciousness of this potential, you can view key scholarly activities—such as teaching or writing a fellowship proposal—as valuable stepping stones for moving in any number of directions. To help raise consciousness, I have written a new edition of my online publication, Scholarly Pursuits, that is focused more directly on those experiences and skills that are an integral part of the doctoral program, which can add up to a powerful form of professional development, no matter what career path lies ahead. The publication can serve as a map; it seeks to identify those key experiences and skills that can enhance career options and to guide students in taking full advantage of them over the course of the doctoral program and beyond.
Looking at the fuller picture, Harvard is a major research university; engagement with scholarship is what our faculty does best, including the training of new scholars. In this role, faculty can make an enormous difference in the professional development of students, guiding them to specialize in scholarly areas that play to their strengths and interests and helping to ensure their highest performance and the highest use of their potential. On the other side of the equation, students who choose to enter a doctoral program in a given field surely do so for love of scholarship, love of field, nicely matching the passions of faculty. By now, many students are open to career possibilities in the wider world, but still they come, ready to immerse themselves in the process of scholarly training, often for seven years or more. It is precisely this readiness to immerse themselves, this love of the field, that produces high-quality skills and experiences, and these in turn are increasingly valued in both academe and the wider world. There are, to be sure, other steps to take in preparation for a career outside of academe, and these are best pursued with the help of the PhD advisors in OCS.
OCS has also seen a recent growth in students exploring larger questions, like what it means to have a fulfilling career and a fulfilling life. As part of this development, a new Humanities and Social Sciences Graduate Career Group has formed, with an agenda that grew out of a workshop launched by OCS PhD advisor Laura Stark, “Designing Your Life after Harvard.” The group guides students in a process of self-examination, challenging them to take a fresh look at their priorities and what matters most. The very steps of going through this kind of self-examination can provide a model for dealing with future stages in life. For the time being, it complements nicely the above suggestions for raised consciousness about what is most valuable and worth pursuing during the graduate years.
If you have any questions about your fellowship applications, make an appointment to see Cynthia Verba, director of the Fellowships Office.
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