When it comes to advising, more is more. More relationships and more resources lead to more options and a better experience for GSAS students. That’s why the staff of The Advising Project, launched by Dean Emma Dench in 2019, encourages students to look beyond a single faculty advisor for guidance.
“Harvard offers so many resources,” says Reba Rosenberg, The Advising Project’s director. “When students look to many different mentors instead of just one, they discover new possibilities for their time at Harvard—and beyond.”
Harvard’s Office of Career Services (OCS) is dedicated to helping GSAS students explore those possibilities through an impressive array of resources—from individual advising appointments to career fairs to events throughout the year. Laura Stark, director of graduate career services, invites students to visit, especially if they’re not sure where they want their education to take them.
“We work with students in all stages of their career development, from those who aren’t quite sure what career direction they want to pursue, to those who are already starting interviews and job negotiations,” she says. “Students can come to us at any point, but we encourage them to start visiting early so they can learn about what’s available to them.”
Stark says that OCS also plays a role in helping to open and facilitate dialogue between faculty advisors and students.
“Students view OCS as a safe place where they can talk about their advising relationship, and how it factors into their career plans, hiring processes, and more,” says Stark. “We are thrilled to be a part of the larger conversation about advising on campus.”
Along those lines, OCS last year launched “Talking to Your Advisor About Your Career,” a workshop in which faculty from across GSAS modeled healthy meetings with their advisees. (OCS will again offer the program in January 2021 as the third in its “Job Search in Challenging Times” series.) Stark says that having a public conversation about the topic sends a powerful signal to the advising community.
“The more open faculty are about discussing career directions,” she says, “the more comfortable students are about broaching the topic earlier in their graduate study."
OCS also worked with GSAS’s Office of Alumni Relations to capitalize on Firsthand Advisers, a platform founded by an HBS alumnus to connect Harvard alumni with current students. Stark’s team recruited new GSAS alumni advisers and spread word of the tool among the student population. The result was Flash Mentoring week, a time when students connect with alumni advisers—about 40 percent of whom are now GSAS graduates—for conversations, mock interviews, and resume reviews. Now going on its third year, the expanded Flash Mentoring Month will be January 2021.
"Networking can be an intimidating process,” says Pete Pellizzari, PhD ’20. “What’s great about Firsthand Advisers is that they want to talk to you, so it lowers the stakes and makes the whole process more enjoyable and useful.”
Part of an Advising Village
With uncertainty in the academic job market due to the pandemic, it’s more important than ever for GSAS students to make OCS part of their extended “advising village.” As part of the University’s response to COVID-19, the office continues to offer all appointments, workshops, and career fairs virtually, adding and adapting several to address the effects of the pandemic on the job search.
"The pandemic brought immediate and enormous changes to the working world, especially in the knowledge economy,” Stark says. “We're learning that so much work can be accomplished virtually, and sometimes the virtual environment is even better, more accessible, and more efficient. As students learn, teach, and conduct research, as they network and explore their careers exclusively online, they learn critical skills that will serve them well in their lives beyond Harvard, even when we are all comfortable working together in person again."
Students view OCS as a safe place where they can talk about their advising relationship, and how it factors into their career plans, hiring processes, and more.
While much is different during this pandemic year, one thing that isn’t is OCS’s individualized approach to working with GSAS students. Stark says that she and her colleagues use a self-assessment tool and materials like What You Can Be with a PhD to help students identify their skills, interests, and values. Then, the OCS team builds on that information with reflective and dynamic elements that introduce different paths. The goal is to enable students to expand their options for the future—whether they decide to pursue a career in academia, industry, government, or the nonprofit world.
“We are completely agnostic as to what direction students decide to go,” says Stark. “We just want them to be excited about their future and realize their potential.”
Caroline Rende, assistant director of graduate career services, says that OCS has always encouraged students to explore a range of career options within and beyond academia. The office augments this exploration with programming that includes workshops on writing resumes and CVs and on networking and interview preparation, and larger, more specialized events like “Leveraging Your PhD,” a workshop that helps students explore career options beyond academia.
“In ‘Leveraging Your PhD,’ we bring in eight or so recent alumni from various fields who have gone into industry to talk about the skills that their employers value,” Rende says. “They’re candid about their transition, what they didn’t expect, and what went well.”
The session ends with a networking reception that enables students to connect with alumni one-on-one. Charlotte Lloyd, PhD ’19 in sociology, who attended “Leveraging Your PhD” in January 2019, says the program left her feeling both validated and hopeful.
“When I began at GSAS, I was always unsure if going into academia was right for me,” says Lloyd. “The workshop echoed a lot of the messaging that I’d heard at other OCS events and in individual advising appointments—we do have skills that are valued by employers in industry, and it’s more than okay to think about jobs outside of academia.”
Stark says that hope and validation are something every GSAS student can use more of, especially now.
“This time is uncertain and intimidating, even for Harvard PhD’s,” she says. “We want to remind students that Harvard has many resources for them to leverage as they look to the future—and that OCS is here to help.”