Branching out of your program

grad student

Whether your goals in a graduate program are strictly academic or involve something beyond what school has to offer, it is never a bad thing to expand your activities and workload, especially by taking the skills you’ve developed in undergrad and grad school and allowing them to guide your choices.  Most graduate program stipends aren’t livable wages, and not all programs pay your way, so unless you’re lucky enough to be financially comfortable while earning your degree, it’s worth looking for ways to supplement income and boost the skills that will be most important to your future career endeavors.

One great way to work on teaching, advocacy, and lesson plan development is to tutor on campus.  Whether done through a school-sponsored organization or individually, tutoring in the subject you are proficient in can lead to extra income and experience.  Additionally, tutoring allows you to develop contacts that are familiar with your skills.  University writing centers, for instance, are usually open to anyone who attends the school. Undergraduates, grad students, and even professors can use the center for help with their writing, which means that there is a real chance of meeting someone who can prove a good connection or reference for work later on.

Another chance for practical experience outside of the norms for a graduate assistantship is lab work. Most departments and majors have some sort of lab work attached, with chances to do research.  Plenty of professors need graduate students with an understanding of the technology, techniques, and the research to help them run experiments and test theories.  If your graduate program is in biology, chemistry, or something similar, and your goals involve hard practical lab work or something similar, then certainly finding the opportunity in between your coursework will lead to a better understanding of what you’ll be doing and a more well-rounded professional profile when your degree is completed.

If your interests lie away from academic work, then there are other options available.  The skills gained as a graduate student – research, writing, advocacy, critical thinking – can be applied to any number of positions, including corporations that are looking for people to do the more academic work in order to help satisfy investor, company, and government questions about products and ideas.  Thanks to tools like LinkedIn, Monster, and Indeed, you can search for positions by skill and area as easily as by academic interest.  However, no matter what you choose, it’s always best to make sure you’ll be using the abilities that you cultivated during your studies.  They were important for a reason, and you spent too much time on them to not use them in some way.

There are always opportunities available to graduate students outside of the home department, especially when it comes to making a little bit of extra cash.  It’s just a matter of finding those opportunities, and pairing them with the skills that you as an individual have developed and built over your academic life.  If you start there, then you’ll undoubtedly find something that can boost your resume, build your professional profile, and put you one step closer to whatever your ultimate goals.

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Zach Gasior

Zach Gasior

Zach graduated from the University of Michigan in 2008 with his B.A. in English Literature, and from Michigan State University College of Law in 2010 with his J.D. Currently, Zach is teaching Composition at the University of Toledo while working toward his Masters in English with a focus on teaching writing. Contact Zach by email at zgasior@gmail.com.

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