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Career Services: Helping Students every Step of the Way

November 27, 2018


“What do you want to do after graduate school?”


This is the question that every PhD student dreads hearing. There are so many career paths that students with a PhD can follow after graduating, and it can be quite overwhelming to chose which path to take. Fortunately, Career Services offers many resources that can help students choose a career. Dr. Joseph Barber, Senior Associate Director at Career Services for graduate students and postdocs, talks about the resources offered by Career Services and shares some tips for easing the process of deciding the next steps after graduate school.


The first thing to keep in mind is that it is never too early to go to Career Services. During the first and second years, students can go to Career Services to learn about the different resources available at Penn, and how to use them effectively. Career Services works with students in the early stages of graduate school to devise a plan on what they can do during their time at Penn to help with their career development. Students in their middle years can go to Career Services to help develop their professional skills, such as communication, teamwork, and leadership skills. This is also a great time for students to get involved in different groups on campus and to gain different experiences outside of the lab. In their final years, students can come to Career Services to go over application materials, such as resumes and cover letters, and work on interviewing skills and negotiation strategies that can help them become stronger applicants for the jobs they are seeking. One of the most easily accessible resources offered by Career Services is the website itself, which addresses a wide range of topics, such as how to prepare a resume or cover letter, advice on networking, links for finding internships and jobs, and so much more.


While the Career Services website is abundant with information, many students may find it helpful to make in-person appointments with career advisors. There are different types of appointments students can make. Walk-in appointments are useful for quick questions, or for getting a general overview of the types of resources offered at Career Services. These are held on a first-come, first-serve basis every day from 2-3 pm everyday at Career Services in the McNeil Building. Additionally, walk-in appointments that are primarily focused on BGS students and postdocs are held on Wednesdays from 12-2 in 501 Stellar Chance. The most common type of appointment is the 30-minute one-on-one appointment. These appointments are good for having more in-depth discussions on broad topics such as “how should I prepare for this event?” or “what should I do next?” These appointments are also useful for reviewing documents such as resumes and cover letters. For those who may be intimidated by a one-on-one appointment, group appointments may be a better option. Here, students work together in groups of two or three to explore a variety of careers or develop their professional skills. Career Services also offers one-hour mock interviews, which are meant to help students prepare for upcoming interviews. The advisers at Career Services will devise a set of questions, based on what you are interviewing for, to simulate questions you may be asked during your interview. These mock interviews are recorded, played back, and discussed for feedback. Appointments can be scheduled by calling Career Services, but students are encouraged to make appointments through their Handshake accounts.



The Handshake platform provides a way for students to make appointments, and to see what upcoming workshops, events, and career fairs they might be interested in attending. Not only does Career Services post useful information on Handshake, but it is also an excellent way for students to engage with potential employers. When students activate their Handshake account, they are asked about career interests and job roles that they looking for. Based on these answers, students will see job and internship postings from employers they might be interested in.


Dr. Barber describes Handshake as a smart system; “The more people select, the easier it is for us to make sure people are receiving relevant things.”


Students can further tailor the kinds of listings they see by liking job listings and following different employers. Additionally, students can sign up for career communication channels through Handshake. These monthly newsletters offer an overview of upcoming events, and other information about resources available to students. For CAMB students, Dr. Barber suggests the “PhD students in STEM fields” option in particular.


Choosing a career path can feel very overwhelming, especially for PhD students who have so many options after graduate school. Career Services helps ease this process by guiding students and providing an extensive number of resources.


When asked what he enjoys about advising graduate students and postdocs, Dr. Barber says, “I think many people think they’re alone in this journey, when really everyone is going through the same thing, and being able to tell people that is really reassuring.”


No matter where you are in your PhD, remember to take advantage of the helpful resources available at Career Services.


To learn more about the wide variety resources offered by Career Services, including how to set up a Handshake account, visit the general Career Services website  and the specific PhD student pages





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