Degree and Career Management

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Graduate school is a critical time to work on building your professional skills, establishing a network, and planning for your future career. There are numerous specific skills and competencies that you will need to develop during graduate school in order to successfully complete your degree; however, there are also many things that you will need to learn that will be specific to your future goals and potential career paths. Your time is limited so aligning acquisition of these skills using the same activities can help in achieving work-life balance. To make the best use of your time, it is important to start your degree by clearly understanding what you are required to achieve while studying at the university, what your current skills are, and where gaps exist that can be addressed with actionable steps. Networking with professionals in your field and building a plan for career development now, while you are beginning your graduate studies, will help you to focus your energy and take advantage of opportunities during your degree to develop the specific connections and skills that you will need when you transition to a career. 

The activities below will guide you to… 

  • Complete an individual development plan for your career development. 
  • Connect with an alumnus in your field to learn about important resources and strategies for succeeding at grad school and beyond. 
  • Assess your progress to date in developing core graduate skills and competencies, reflecting on gaps that you need to fill during your degree. 

Important Concepts 

Finding opportunities to build professional skills during your degree will help you graduate sooner and aid in your transition to a career post-graduation. There are many classes of skills and competencies that exist in a professional context. For definitions of ’31 Core Competencies’, take a look at Resource 1. 

Graduate degrees lead to a diversity of high impact careers both inside and outside of academia. Many of the skills you will obtain during a graduate research degree are transferrable to and will help you succeed in your future career. Awareness of the skills you need for the workplace, and how you can develop these during your graduate training, is useful for transitioning successfully to the workplace after graduation.  

As a graduate student, you have access to a diverse network of alumni who can help you develop this awareness by sharing insights about opportunities, experiences, and resources that they gained (or wish they had gained) during graduate school that have helped them be successful in their careers. At the same time, as a professional, networking with alumni can expose you to different career paths and possibilities post-graduation. Building this network now will help better situate you as a graduate student and help prepare you for life after graduation.  

Another important tool for managing your grad school progress and preparing for your career transition is to create an individual development plan (IDP). An Individual development plan (IDP) is a tool used to help you assess your skills, reveal skill gaps, identify your career goals, and plot and track actionable steps that you will take for career advancement. There are many examples of IDPs online but check out Resource 2 for one example developed by the Medicine By Design Healthy and Inclusive Labs initiative. A further good practice is to discuss the goals set in this document annually with your supervisor.  

Another useful document created in collaboration with the School of Graduate Studies is the Graduate Outline. This document highlights key activities to complete during the beginning, middle and final years of your program, and reflection questions to expand your thinking at different times during your degree. Note this document was developed in the context of a PhD program and therefore if you are an M.A.Sc. student some of the suggested steps are likely not applicable.  

Suggested Activity – Individual Development Plan  

Estimated time: 45 minutes

  1. Visit the myIDP website created by Science Careers using the link for Resource 3 and register for an account. 
  2. Using the sidebar on the left-hand side of the screen, navigate to the ‘Assessment’ section and complete the skills, interests, and values assessments. 
  3. In the ‘Career Exploration’ section, the results of your assessments will be used to give you a picture of what opportunities are available for graduate level scientists and how your skills fit within different career paths. You will also find resources to read more about different opportunities that fit well with your skills, interests, and values. 
  4. The tabs in the ‘Career Exploration’ section also provide you with prompts for actionable steps towards exploring career paths, including attending networking events, talking to people working in your field, and creating plans for potential career options. Use these tools to reflect and fill in information to start building your IDP. 
  5. In the ‘Set Goals’ section, you will learn about and practice creating SMART goals to aid with your advancement. In the final section of the website, you will think about how to implement the plan that you have created. 
  6. Based on the output of the myIDP complete the IDP summary form (Resource 2) to identify aspects of the myIDP you wish to discuss with your supervisor. Set a time to discuss this with your supervisor for feedback on your goals. Focus on goals for the next 6-12 months of your program as these can be more specific and actionable. 
  7. Continue to revisit and update your IDP as you progress through grad school (suggested frequency is once per year). 

Suggested Activity – Perform an Alumni Informational Interview  

Estimated time: 2 hours to arrange, conduct and reflect upon interview

  1. Using U of T Engineering Connect (Resource 11), LinkedIn, or your personal network, identify an alumnus whose career path interests you. This activity is most impactful when you find an alumnus who you do not have a personal relationship with, and someone who has sufficient distance to understand how their graduate degree has impacted their career: look for an alumnus with at least 5-10 years of work experience.  
  2. Contact your alumnus to arrange a brief informational telephone or in-person meeting to discuss their graduate school experience and the skills they gained from their graduate degree that have been most valuable in their career.  
  3. Your interview should focus on the strategies and resources (on-campus as well as off-campus) that helped them succeed in their post-graduate career, as well as the types of activities or strategies that they feel would have been helpful in retrospect.
  4. Refer to Resource 12 for a list of sample questions that you could potentially ask your interviewee. Preparing a list of questions before your interview will help direct your focus. 
  5. During the interview, take notes on some of the important advice and resources that you learn about. How can you apply these in your own graduate journey?

Suggested Activity – Graduate Outline and Skill Inventory 

Estimated time: 45 minutes

  1. Refer to the U of T Engineering gradOUTLINE document (Resource 15). Pay particular attention to the column that corresponds to your current year of study. 
  2. Use the corresponding reflection worksheet that maps to the GradOUTLINE to think about your personal progress and skill development in your degree to date. If you are in the first year of your graduate degree, download the skill inventory survey worksheet for year 1 students (Y1) provided in the activity examples at the end of this module. If you are in the middle years of your degree download survey form Y2-3 and if you are in the final year(s) of your degree download form Y4+ (Resources 16-18). 
  3. Complete the worksheet to reflect on your progress to date in each of the listed categories and consider the points of reflection that have been identified for your specific degree stage. What gaps do you notice in your progress and competency development so far and what are some steps you can take to fill these in the coming months? 
  4. If you have previously filled out a reflection worksheet in previous years compare it to your current one. How have you improved? Did you reach any goals that you set for yourself previously? If you feel comfortable get feedback from your advisor on how they think you are progressing towards the list of action items identified for your degree stage. 
  5. Save these reflection worksheets together and set aside time each year of your degree to complete them. This will help keep you on track to reach your goals and will help you identify the skills you have mastered during your degree. 

Next Steps… 

  1. Building an IDP is another continual process of reflection. Your IDP should be a ‘living document’. Remember to revisit it on a regular basis, revise your plans, assess your progress, find areas for improvement, and think about actionable steps that you will take to implement your plan. 
  2. Beyond simply interviewing an alumnus, you will be establishing a connection with someone working in your field. Creating these kinds of connections is a great way to begin establishing a professional network that can help you find mentorship and opportunities during grad school and your career beyond. Remember, networking doesn’t always have to be formal – you can meet people anywhere! 
  3. Keep a copy of the gradOUTLINE document and your skill inventory worksheet handy and revisit it on a regular basis. As you progress through your degree, it will be important to continue to reflect on the skills you are developing and to make a plan to stay on track and address gaps that may arise! 


Career Reflection to Support Your IDP Completion
131 Core CompetenciesOutline and definitions of ’31 Core Competencies’.
2IDP Summary FormTrainee-Driven Action Plan to help discuss your IDP with your supervisor.
3 website for building your individual development plan.
4 collection of articles examining the life of PhD students and strategies to succeed in grad school and beyond.
5Graduate Professional Development 1: The WhyVideo explaining what graduate professional development is and why it's important. (~8 min)
6Graduate Professional Development 2: Career StoriesVideo discussing career stories of various alumni. (~7 min)
7Graduate Professional Development 3: The What and HowVideo overviewing the three steps of graduate professional development. (~8 min)
8Graduate Professional Development 4: Step One: Reflection Using the IDPVideo explaining the process of reflection via creation of an IDP. (~20 min)
9Graduate Professional Development 5: Options After Graduate SchoolVideo talking about career options after grad school. (~6 min)
10Graduate Professional Development 25: Creating the CareerVideo about creating your own career pathway and opportunities. (~9 min)
Informational Interviews and Preparation to Engage with Interviewees
11 of T Engineering Connect Community.
12Informational Interview QuestionsSamples of questions that you may want to ask during your alumni interview.
13Graduate Professional Development 6: Step 2: Meaningful EngagementVideo about tools and resources for finding meaningful ways to engage in professional development. (~10 min)
14Graduate Professional Development 7: Informational InterviewsVideo explaining how to conduct an informational interview. (~11 min)
Reflection Worksheets and Degree Outlines
15U of T gradOUTLINE - Chemical Engineering and Applied Science PhDOutline to help you map goals for your degree.
16Grad outline – personal progress – Y1Reflection worksheet for the first year of your degree.
17Grad outline – personal progress – Y2-3Reflection worksheet for the middle years of your degree.
18Grad outline – personal progress – Y4+Reflection worksheet for the final years of your degree.
Job Application Resources
19Graduate Professional Development 8: Step Three: Storytelling - Marketing YouVideo teaching strategic communication through storytelling. (~8 min)
20Graduate Professional Development 9: Storytelling - NetworkingVideo providing tips for effective networking. (~8 min)
21Graduate Professional Development 10: Storytelling - The Job ApplicationVideo giving an overview about job applications and how to market yourself. (~8 min)
22Graduate Professional Development 11: Storytelling - The ResumeVideo explaining how to write an effective resume. (~10 min)
23Graduate Professional Development 12: Storytelling - The Cover LetterVideo explaining how to write an effective cover letter. (~9 min)
24Graduate Professional Development 13: The InterviewVideo exploring the types of interviews and how to interview effectively. (~14 min)