7 Things You Can Do in Grad School That Will Help You in Your Career

Going back to school for a graduate degree is very often a wise career move. It can teach you how to gather, understand, critically analyze, and apply research. But, unless you’re planning on a career in academia, it can take some foresight and planning to ensure you will be able to effectively apply these skills outside of school.

Scholars and practitioners have likely written a wealth of literature in your field in the form of journal articles, conference proceedings, case studies, theses and dissertations, etc… In your program, you will likely be tasked with conducting a review of all this literature at some point — especially if you pursue a thesis or dissertation — and you’ll be drowning in knowledge on your topic. But how do you translate your research skills and knowledge to your career? Here are a few things you can do while you’re in school to help:

1. Study under scholar-practitioners. Take classes from faculty members who work in your industry, or at least maintain strong connections to practitioners in your field. These professors and instructors will have perspectives on current workplace scenarios and can help you learn how to consult research to solve actual, real-world problems.

2. Find the best sources for information. As you conduct a literature review, make note of the journals, conference proceedings and other resources that are most useful to you. Make the most of your lit review time post-graduation by consulting these sources first. Also, a quick search on Google Scholar every few months is an efficient way to see what’s new.

3. Get good at scanning articles. Pay attention during research methods classes! You’ll learn how to assess articles for quality and practical applications beyond the abstract. These skills will help you assess if the research you’re perusing was conducted rigorously and scientifically and will teach you where to look in an article to quickly glean tips you can apply on the job.

4. Save your favorite articles. While conducting a literature review as a student, save the most useful articles in a binder. Or if you don’t like felling trees, copy PDFs of them into a folder on your computer, tablet or a USB drive. You can then easily reference them later and have a place to store new research that you find once you’re back at work.

5. Apply what you’re learning. Being a graduate student can be a full-time job, but if it fits into your schedule, maintain a part-time job in your field while a student. This will be a place where you can apply the knowledge and skills gained from classes immediately in a work setting. This is one of the advantages afforded to online students, who can more easily fit classes into a busy schedule to maintain part- or full-time employment while advancing their education.

6. Learn practical research methods. The question you’re trying to answer through your own research will determine what research method is appropriate. But if you and your advisor decide that various methods could be applied to gather data, pick one you can use later. That way, you can more easily conduct — and maybe even publish — research when you’re back at work.

7. Stay current! Consult what you’ve learned and apply new skills so they are better retained. Carve out time to review new literature, even if it’s just an hour or two every so often, and attend professional meetings and conferences so you remain part of the conversation. Before getting my master’s degree, I rarely if ever consulted scholarly literature and industry research. Frankly, I didn’t know much of it existed and likely wouldn’t have been able to effectively use it. Now, I take the time to find and apply valuable information in my field, such as this industry article on communicating about natural resources. I even have its table of “Bad Words to Avoid” and “Good Words to Use” tacked to the bulletin board in my office.

If you’re interested in learning more about this, an entire body of literature exists on transferring academic knowledge to workplace settings. Admittedly, the articles I found on this topic through a search on Google Scholar made my eyes glaze over, but through my own graduate studies, I’d at least learned how to find and assess this information efficiently.

Going back to school and getting an advanced degree is a smart decision. Make sure you know how to effectively apply what you’ve learned when you return to the work world and you’ll reap the rewards of your graduate education for years to come.

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