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ImPACKful Tips

Career Exploration: A Reason for Being

Ikigai? What’s that? It is a Japanese phrase and roughly translates to a reason for being.

Ikigai is what most people search for in their lives. It is a hard thing to obtain fully as it involves aligning:

  • what you love (your interests), and
  • your skills (and continually seeing them improve)


  • something the world needsand
  • something you can be paid to do.

Step One: Determine Your Interests and Skills

There are several online tools available specifically for graduate students and postdocs to use to assess their skills & interests.

One great resource is ImaginePhD, developed by the Graduate Career Consortium. While it is billed for humanities and social sciences, I find ImaginePhD incredibly useful due to the breadth of resources and career fields it covers.

ImaginePhD and other online resources are used to create what we in the career development field call “individual development plans” – IDPs. Specifically, these resources focus around the concept of aligning your skills, interests, and values with potential careers.

Taking online skills and interests assessments through ImaginePhD, myIDP, ChemIDP, or myPath, among others, is the first step in the career exploration process.

An important point here is that your skills are more than your technical ability and know-how. Think carefully about the transferable skills you have obtained during your graduate training or postdoc.

Transferable skills include (see some good verbiage here):

  • Communication (written & oral)
  • Project Management (managing multiple projects & deadlines)
  • Teamwork & leadership
  • Problem solving (being able to assess an issue and determine a solution)
  • And more!

Step Two: Matching Interests to Potential Careers

Your interests and skills map on to potential job families which you need to further explore to determine which careers in those families may fit your values and other parameters important to you – work/life balance, salary, autonomy, work travel requirements, etc…

For myIDP, the career paths are focused on science-related careers but also touch on how your skills and interests map on to careers in science policy, science writing, and sales/marketing. For more on getting the most out of myIDP, see a series of articles that appeared in Science Careers.

ImaginePhD also has a nice career exploration worksheet you can print out and hang somewhere prominent to remind you of potential careers that align with your skills, interests, and values.

It also, importantly, emphasizes the next steps required in your career exploration process. Those include exploring careers through connections, building necessary skills where they are needed, and eventually applying for positions.

Career PACKways Program

New in 2020-2021! The Graduate School’s Professional Development Team and Office of Postdoctoral Affairs are offering a 5-week development series focused on the career exploration process.

The Spring 2021 Career PACKways program begins Thursday, February 25th.

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