Career Development and Exploration 



“Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material and linked web sites are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.”


Deciding what to do after your graduate career is an important process. Here are some resources to assist you on the journey.


Career Development

Career Planning

Career planning refers to a process that helps explore and evaluate personal interests and abilities. The identification of short and long term career goals is complemented by a detailed action plan that helps focus on defined career goals. An action plan may contain 5 distinct steps:

Assess yourself – your skills, values, interests, and more
Explore Career Options – utilize online resources and informational interview techniques
Make a Decision – discuss your options with family, friends, and mentors and make a decision
Take Action – acquire the necessary skills and competencies, get the job
Reflect on the Process – was it a good decision?

Go back to step one and repeat the process frequently.


Self-Assessment and Self-Evaluation

Nobody but you has the knowledge to facilitate the development of a career focus. Therefore any career and life planning starts with a thorough assessment of skills and interests.

Some of the following tools are free, but others are not. Check with your career office to see if your institution owns a license.

•    Assessment tools can help with career planning and beyond. Read more about a Career Assessment Matrix here.

•    It Pays To Plan: Why You Need A Career Map

•    Determine your preferred way of interacting with people by completing a free version of a Myers-Briggs personality test at HumanMetrics.

•    Compare your interests with those of individuals successfully working in diverse career areas using a Strong Interest Inventory online tool

•    A career counseling tool that can help identify career beliefs that might prevent you from achieving your career goals can be found at Career Beliefs Inventory.

•    Additional Self-Assessment Resources:
Bolles, R. N. (2013). What Color is your Parachute? A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers. Berkeley, Calif.: Ten Speed Press.
Fiske, P. S. (2001). Put Your Science to Work: Take Charge Career Guide for Scientists. Washington, D.C.: American Geophysical Union.

Individual Development Plans
The goal of an Individual Development Plan (IDP) is to help you evaluate progress toward both short-term and long-term career goals, and to identify areas that require additional attention and effort. An IDP is a living document that can serve as a guiding document for mentor/mentee discussions. Importantly, an IDP should be a roadmap for developing new skills and address concrete steps for the transition to the next stage of an individual’s career. Many different IDP formats are published. However, the majority of them feature an assessment part and the definition of short and long term goals.

You Need a Game Plan


Preparing Individual Development Plans

Individual Development Plan for Postdoctoral Fellows

Yale University: Individual Development Planning
Networking is a critical career-enhancing activity that leads to relationships with people who can be helpful to you professionally, now and in the future. Individuals within your professional network can facilitate career decisions and the identification of career opportunities.

Networking, Part 1: Making Most of Your Contacts

Networking, Part 2: More Networking Scenarios

How to Network in Graduate School

Networking on Your Doorstep

Networking to a Biotech Career
Networking Today: A Guide for Business Professionals and College Graduates

Naturejobs: Career Toolkit Networking
How To Expand Your Network
Virtually, every person you meet could be part of your network … colleagues, friends, family members, etc.

It is important to realize that a healthy networking relationship should be mutually beneficial. Before you ask somebody to help, you might want to ask yourself how you could positively contribute to the other person’s development.

Regardless, you can expand your network by actively participating in any kind of local, regional, national, or international event. The opportunities to expand your network are almost endless.

You might want to organize your network using internet tools such as
- LinkedIn (professional networking tool) 
                  Read about "6 ways LinkedIn can work for you".
                  LinkedIn Tips
                  Watch “Using LinkedIn Effectively” (NIH “How to” series)
                  Join the NSF GRFP Fellows & Alumni Network on LinkedIn.
- Facebook (social networking tool)
Business Cards
Yes. You should have business cards. Business cards make you more memorable after a conference or any meeting. Only individuals with mutual interests, or with whom you have had a significant conversation, should receive your business card. 

If you do not have business cards, you should print some as soon as possible. Do not worry if your contact card does not include your institution’s logo. It is important that this card includes your name, email address, and phone number. Many online print shops offer to print business cards for free.
When receiving a business card from a new contact, use the back of the business card to write down important key words from the conversation with this person. This will help you in crafting a good follow-up email to that person after you meet them. Develop an archive for the business cards. Also, you might want to try connecting with people who gave you a business card via LinkedIn.

Elevator Pitch
An elevator pitch is a short, verbal summary of your professional background and goals. This brief pitch should pique curiosity. An individual might craft several elevator pitches that address different audiences (e.g. other scientists in your field, scientists in other disciplines and even non-scientists.

10 Tips for a Winning Elevator Pitch

The Elevator Pitch

Your Career in a Sentence – How to Craft an Elevator Pitch

The Perfect Elevator Pitch To Land a Job



Career Exploration

Informed Career Decisions

The goal of graduate school is to equip you with skills that prepare you for many different careers. Such skills include analytical and critical thinking, tolerance of ambiguity, problem defining and solving, quantitative skills, presentation and writing skills, information gathering and synthesizing, and teamwork. In addition, as a graduate student you acquire deep, discipline-specific and conceptual knowledge. You can continue using the knowledge and skill base to follow an academic career track. However, a graduate degree allows you to follow any career path. To make an informed career decision it is essential to gather and analyze career area specific information that may include:

Educational Requirements

Typical Tasks


Work environments

Development potential

Salary ranges (,


Put your research and analytical skills to work and find your niche that allows you to become successful and satisfied!

Career Areas

Every career path is unique. Many elements contribute to your career path.
Professional goals, personal goals, timing, identifying or creating opportunities, and perceived expectations from others are only a small selection of such elements.
The following career stories give a sense of how individuals became successful professionals in their career areas.


Areas Resources
Educational Careers at Universities, Colleges, and Schools: Professor at a Medical School at a State University
From the PhD to Professor
From the PhD to Science Education and Research
Assistant Professor at a Liberal Arts College, Part 1, Part 2
Science Teacher
From the PhD to School Teacher 
Careers in Writing, Editing, Publishing, and Outreach: Medical Writer, Part 1, Part 2
     Careers in Science Writing (NIH “How to” series)
From the PhD to Science Communicator
From the PhD to Journal Editor
     Careers in Science Editing (NIH “How to” series)
From the PhD to Science Publishing
From the PhD to Science Outreach
     Careers in Science Education and Outreach (NIH “How to” series)
Careers in Industry:

From the PhD to Industry Postdoc

Careers in Industry (NIH “How to” series)
Transitioning from Academia to Industry
Careers in Regulatory Affairs (NIH “How to” series)

rom the PhD to President & CEO

Careers Policy, Tech Transfer, and Patent Administration: From the PhD to Research Policy
     Careers in Science Policy (2011, NIH “How to” series)
From the PhD to the U.N. Security Council, 1540 Committee
From the PhD to Patent Law
    Careers in Patent Processing (NIH “How to” series)
Careers in Tech Transfer (2011, NIH “How to” series)
Careers in Tech Transfer (2013, NIH “How to” series)
Careers in Other For-Profit Areas: From the PhD to Medical Science Liaison
From PhD to Entrepreneur
From the PhD to Equity Research Analyst
From the PhD to Management Consulting
Careers in Government: Careers in the Federal Government (NIH “How to” series)
From the PhD to Criminalist
Careers in Government (NIH “How to” series)
Careers in Other Areas: From the PhD to Career Counselor
Careers in Grants Management (NIH “How to” series)
Technical Advisor at a Non-Profit Organization, Part 1, Part 2
Careers in Global Health (NIH “How to” series)
Careers in Epidemiology and Behavioral Sciences (NIH “How to” series)

Additional Resources:
PhD Career Case Studies (20 Career Videos from the UK)
Career Paths (Articles and videos from about divers career paths)

Informational Interviews

Informational interviews are conversations between a job-seeker and a specifically selected professional. Typically, the job seeker determines which conversation partner can help accumulate information about a specific job or an employer. The job seeker reaches out to the conversation partner to initiate an informational interview.

Benefits of Informational Interviewing
Six Steps for Informational Interviewing
How to Find People to Interview
How to request an Interview
What to ask at an Interview