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Careers Café

New beginnings


This is a post for those readers who are starting something new this fall:

  • a PhD program
  • a tenure-track job
  • a new role like director of graduate studies, head of department, etc.

Although you may have officially started already, it is the beginning of the fall semester that will feel like the real beginning.

Stop at the beginning of the journey to look at the road ahead.

(You might want to write these questions in a notebook and free write some answers.)

What is the destination on your horizon? Try to describe it in terms that are not fixed to one particular outcome but capture the important qualities of that outcome in enough detail that you will still recognize it even if the sign says something different than what you expect.

What do you want from this role / job / program?

  • What skills do you want to develop?
  • What networks do you want to cultivate?
  • What knowledge will you gain or create?

You are prepared for this

Remind yourself of the things that have brought you to this point. You are taking this step because you are ready for it.

  • What skills do you have that you think will serve you?
  • What networks do you have to support you?
  • What knowledge do you have to contribute?

What are you feeling nervous or unsure about?

It is normal to feel nervous. This is a new path you are taking. There are things you don’t know about the institution, about the people, and about yourself.

Unexpected things will happen. What do you need to feel confident that you can handle the unexpected? What is your equivalent of a first aid kit in the glove compartment, a spare tire and jack in the trunk, and a CAA card?

Don’t worry if you haven’t thought about this. You are thinking about it now.

  • Make a list of various sources of information and support, inside and outside your institution.
  • Identify skills you think you will need and brainstorm ways to learn those skills.
  • Put together a support team you will meet with regularly (though maybe not frequently) or who you can call on when needed.

What do you know about yourself?

  • How do you recharge?
  • In what conditions do you do your best work?
  • What systems have been working for you so far?

Set yourself up for success by building in things you know work for you.

  • Schedule time for the activities that give you energy (extroverts need regular social time; introverts need regular alone time; put your exercise routine in your calendar; etc).
  • Set up your office appropriately.
  • Communicate to others about how you like to receive information and how your process information.

You can do this!

Whatever journey you are embarking on, we wish you well. Pause occasionally to look up, remind yourself of the destination, check for alternate routes that weren’t visible when you started out, and adjust your emergency kit. Then carry on.

Jo VanEvery is a career coach who specializes in helping academics. Find her at
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