It’s Never Too Soon and It’s Never Too Late

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No matter where you are in your academic career, it’s never too soon to plan for your academic future. Although it may seem impossible, you should think about your goals for one, five or even ten years in the future. Decisions you make right now can have a huge impact on your career. Just a little advance thinking can avoid problems later.

Grad Students

If you are selecting your dissertation topic, think about:

1. What kind of career you are hoping for? Academic or other?

2. What is the availability of positions for people graduating within your specific domain? Of course, you should pursue what you are passionate about; but frequently, people have more than one passion!

3. Will that dissertation advisor be helpful and supportive? What kind of record does (s)he have with his/her former grad students in terms of how many finish their dissertations within a reasonable time period? What kind of person would you work best with – do you need a hands-on advisor or do you prefer to check in from time to time? Find out if you and the potential advisor are a good match.

Post Doc, Researcher, and Faculty

Even if you are only a few months into your new position, ask yourself this:

1. What 3 people would you ask to write you a recommendation?

2. Do you have an idea of what they would say about you?

3. If you are further out in your career, do you have a publication schedule in mind?

4. If you continue to write and publish at your current rate, will you make tenure? If no, then what positive steps can you take to change this state of affairs?

Practical Tips and Action Steps

1. Make 3 “quick and dirty” timelines – for the next year, five years, and ten years. Don’t spend more than five minutes on each – the idea is to get yourself thinking. Leave some blank space to be filled in later

2. Allow yourself to dream big – it’s ok to have an exciting vision of the future.

3. Keep these timelines in mind over the next week or so, and fill in some of the blanks.

4. Is there anything you should do right now to make sure those future visions come true? Try to think in terms of small, concrete steps, such as: a. I will visit one other researcher’s lab today to start networking b. I will spend 10 minutes looking at the paper I am writing to see if it can be broken into two publications


Don’t get nervous if you now realize what plans you should have made in the past. Just start planning now – in 5 years you’ll be glad you did. The small steps you take today will add up to big differences in your life.

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