Graduate Professional Development

In the Department of Applied Physical Sciences, we fully appreciate that our research accomplishments would not be possible without the hard work and dedication of APS graduate students. When we train graduate students, we not only commit to helping them build world-class research skills, but we also commit to nurturing well-rounded, professional scientists who are competitive in a wide variety of possible careers. UNC-Chapel Hill is home to a vast number of career and professional development resources, and we are here to help connect you to those resources so that you can make the most out of your time at UNC.

Professional Development Elements

Taking advantage of professional development opportunities during your time at UNC helps you to build the skills that will make you successful in the career of your choice. The following professional development elements represent different degrees of involvement in various opportunities, from developing core competencies, to participating in workshops and career-specific activities, to experiential learning opportunities such as internships.

CORE COMPETENCIES

As a graduate student, you should develop skills that allow you to actively participate in academic research and scholarship. Skills include learning how to define a research question, plan a course of action to address the research question, generate and test theories, and execute a research plan with persistence and self-motivation. For Graduate School programs that support academic development, click here.
Graduate students should learn how to communicate effectively both orally and in writing and should be able to tailor their communication style according to audience. Students are also expected to learn how to work on a team, resolve conflicts, and build relationships. For Graduate School programs that support communication, click here.
Your graduate career should prepare you for the career of your choice. Graduate students should learn how to 1) conduct yourselves according to the ethical standards of your field; 2) plan for and reach goals and milestones; 3) lead a team; and 4) conduct yourselves in a manner consistent with the professional expectations of your chosen work environment. For Graduate School programs that support leadership and professionalism, click here.
Finally, graduate students should work to build skills in career development. This includes setting personal and professional goals, defining a plan of action for achieving those goals, developing materials to market yourself for jobs, and learning to find and use resources that will help you be competitive for jobs. For Graduate School programs that support career development, click here.

GRADUATE STUDENT CAREER CLUBS

The mission of the ARIC Association is to prepare graduate students and postdoctoral fellows for a career as a principal investigator in a research-intensive environment by helping them develop the skill set required to be competitive in the current job market. Learn more about ARIC here.
FuSE welcomes graduate students and post-docs interested in science education, administration, and science outreach. Its focus is to develop job application materials, provide career exposure opportunities, and build skills/experience relevant to teaching-intensive careers. Learn more about FuSE here.
The Graduate Business and Consulting Club (GBCC) is focused on exposing current graduate students, professional students, and postdoctoral fellows interested in the sciences and business to career paths beyond academia. Learn more about GBCC here and on its LinkedIn page.
SPAG is an organized forum where students, postdoctoral fellows, faculty, and staff can learn about and advocate for science policy. Their mission is to promote the role of science in public policy and to expand public access to, and awareness of, scientific innovation. Learn more about SPAG here or follow on Facebook or Twitter.
SWAC was formed to foster the intellectual and professional development of aspiring science writers and communicators at all levels of graduate and postdoctoral training. Its goal is to provide club members with career exposure, writing experience, and training opportunities in science writing and communication. Learn more about SWAC here and read the SWAC blog here. SWAC is also on Facebook.

PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT TRAININGS

The weekly graduate student meetings within APS are a great way to enhance your presentation skills and receive constructive feedback in a low-stakes environment. Even meetings in which you are not the presenter offer an opportunity for you to practice active listening skills, think critically about research topics beyond your own, and learn how to give feedback effectively.
University Career Services is not just for undergraduate students! Visit the UCS graduate student website to access a wide variety of resources and learn about professional development programming for graduate students.
The Graduate School offers extensive professional development programs and resources for graduate students. These include trainings to build core competencies, information about the Graduate Certificate in Business Fundamentals, and individual development plan (IDP) resources.
TIBBS provides innovative career exploration, training, and experiential learning opportunities to give students like you a full and rewarding graduate school experience and to prepare you for a satisfying career. Visit the TIBBS website and the TIBBS ImPACT page for more information, and join the TIBBS email list to receive notices about upcoming events.

EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING

Gaining experience in written and verbal communication is one of the easiest types of experience to weave into your graduate training, and it is also one of the most valuable. Take advantage of opportunities to present at conferences and publish academic articles. Go a step further and volunteer to write articles for a local publication or submit articles to a blog. Explore the Science Writing and Communication Club in the box to the left or take advantage of support from the Writing Center, which also has support for those who speak English as a second language.
Gaining experience in teaching provides you with valuable communication and interpersonal skills, both of which are highly attractive to employers. Volunteer to work as a teaching assistant, offer to mentor an undergraduate student, or participate in science outreach opportunities. The Graduate School offers resources for teaching, including the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching, and Learning (CIRTL) and the Preparing International Teaching Assistants Program (PITAP).
The Enhancing Local Industry Transitions Through Exploration (ELITE) Consortium works with leading life-science companies within Research Triangle Park to connect industry leadership with fellows and graduate students from NIEHS, UNC, & Duke. ELITE creates opportunities by setting up unique visits with local companies to enhance networking exposure. Visit the ELITE website or sign up for the TIBBS email list to receive notices about upcoming events.
Participating in an internship is one of the most immersive and valuable professional development experiences you can have as a graduate student. You can find information about internships through the TIBBS ImPACT program or the UCS internship website. If you have plans to pursue an internship, be sure to discuss this with your advisor to come to an agreement on the timing and duration of your internship.

Professional Development Timeline

Professional development is a career-long endeavor. No one expects you to know everything about the professional world as soon as you walk onto campus for your first year of grad school. Use the timeline below to guide you as you progressively move through the various stages of your graduate training.

YEAR ONE

An Individual Development Plan (IDP) is a tool to help you evaluate your skills, interests, and values, set career and professional development goals, and facilitate communication with your advisor. All APS graduate students will develop IDPs and evaluate them on at least an annual basis to help you set goals for your own development, monitor your progress toward those goals, and talk with your advisor about your future career. The Graduate School offers IDP resources, and myIDP is another great tool that you can explore on your own.
Begin acclimating yourself to the wide variety of careers that are available to masters- and PhD-level graduates. There are a wide variety of tools to help you explore, including events at UNC such as the TIBBS Career Blitz, various career fairs, and online exploration through sites such as Science Careers, myIDP, and Versatile PhD.
Many graduate students pursue funding opportunities during their first year. The TIBBS program offers annual workshops on NSF GRFP and NIH F31 awards; join the email list to receive event updates. You may read samples of successful grant proposals on the TIBBS website.

YEARS TWO & THREE

An Individual Development Plan (IDP) is a tool to help you evaluate your skills, interests, and values, set career and professional development goals, and facilitate communication with your advisor. All APS graduate students will develop IDPs and evaluate them on at least an annual basis to help you set goals for your own development, monitor your progress toward those goals, and talk with your advisor about your future career. The Graduate School offers IDP resources, and myIDP is another great tool that you can explore on your own. In years two and three, you should continue updating your IDP at least annually and monitoring your progress toward your goals.
UNC offers many student-led science career clubs, student associations, and affinity groups. Interact with these groups to get support from your peers, learn more about various career options, and gain experience that will help you successfully land your first post-graduate school job. See the Professional Development Elements section of this website for more information about UNC science career clubs.
A wide variety of career and professional development trainings, courses, and workshops are available to you at UNC. These types of training opportunities generally do not require a large time commitment and allow you to weave professional development opportunities throughout your graduate career. See the Professional Development Elements section of this website for more information about specific opportunities.
It’s never too early to begin developing your job market materials. At this stage, focus most of your energy on developing a CV and keeping it up-to-date, as it is far easier to update an existing CV than to write about various presentations and experiences months or years after they end. If you need help, take advantage of resources through University Career Services and the Graduate School.
Years two and three of your graduate training are an ideal time to thoughtfully and honestly evaluate your skills. Focus on identifying areas in which you could improve to prepare for entering the job market. An IDP is an excellent tool for identifying skill gaps and developing a plan for how to address them. It is much easier to address your skill gaps while you are still a student and have access to the wide range of trainings and resources that are available at UNC rather than waiting until after you graduate.
Gaining experience in written and verbal communication is one of the easiest types of experience to weave into your graduate training, and it is also one of the most valuable. Visit the Professional Development Elements section of this website to take advantage of a variety of opportunities to strengthen your communication skills.

YEARS FOUR+

An Individual Development Plan (IDP) is a tool to help you evaluate your skills, interests, and values, set career and professional development goals, and facilitate communication with your advisor. All APS graduate students will develop IDPs and evaluate them on at least an annual basis to help you set goals for your own development, monitor your progress toward those goals, and talk with your advisor about your future career. The Graduate School offers IDP resources, and myIDP is another great tool that you can explore on your own. In years four and beyond, you should continue updating your IDP at least annually, and you should synchronize your progress toward your goals with your planned graduation date.
In years four and beyond you will likely be increasingly focused on graduating, but don’t let that keep you from spending some time to develop yourself professionally so that you will be prepared to enter the job market. A wide variety of career and professional development trainings, courses, and workshops are available to you at UNC. See the Professional Development Elements section of this website for more information about specific opportunities.
Site visits and internships are great ways to immerse yourself in various organizations and career areas. This process helps you choose which career path is the best fit for you and to gain experience that will make you competitive for the position of your choice. Visit Experiential Learning in the Professional Development Elements section of this website to learn about various pathways to participating in a site visit or internship.
In years two and three you may have begun participating in student career clubs to learn more about specific careers. Years four and beyond are a great time to capitalize on networking opportunities and build your leadership skills by seeking a leadership position in a club or affinity group. Involvement in student groups will help you identify which careers are the best fit for you, prepare yourself for a career in that sector, and build your resume to make you an attractive candidate for your position of choice.
Now is the time to continue to hone your job market materials and begin exploring job postings that are interesting to you, even if you are not yet ready to apply. If you plan to apply for positions that request a resume instead of a CV, use your CV as a reference as you begin crafting a shorter, more targeted resume. Invest some time in informational interviews to get a better idea of the day-to-day working environment of careers that interest you. If you need help, take advantage of resources through University Career Services and the Graduate School.