Strategies and resources for graduate and postdoctoral students to increase the relevance of word-of-mouth referrals and internet research.

As a graduate student or postdoctoral researcher, especially one new to a new institution, it can be daunting to find the professional, career, academic, or personal development resources you need. No two research institutions are the same, but all are similar in the complexity of their structures and policies and in their frequent reliance on tacit knowledge to navigate these processes and relationships.

New graduate and postdoctoral students follow two common paths to find personal, academic, professional and career development resources:

  • Research on the Internet
    • Advantages : familiar; builds on research strengths developed in undergraduate and higher-level graduate courses; and private.
    • Disadvantages: difficult to reach and analyze tacit knowledge of the jargon and acronyms used in each institution’s professional, professional, academic and personal development fields and offices; difficult to find accurate and up-to-date resources among all the advertisements and search results; and can be difficult to assess the reliability and relevance of source content.
  • Word of mouth recommendations
    • Advantages : specific and relevant recommendation to services, resources and programs; opportunity to ask clarifying and follow-up questions to your source.
    • Disadvantages: requires a level of vulnerability to both request and offer referrals; the referrer may not have thoroughly explored the options with the same parameters and considerations as the requester.

Fortunately, there are tools and strategies to maximize the benefits and reduce the drawbacks of both approaches.

Leverage relationships

One of the emerging trends and best practices in graduate and postgraduate education development is the partnership between campus services and student and postdoctoral groups. Some of the most rewarding and impactful work I have done over the past decade has been working in partnership with groups to design and deliver personalized career sessions. The benefit to a service provider is an assured audience of engaged participants; for attendees, the benefits are a personalized session delivered at a time and place that suits them. If the partnership is initiated by an elected student or postdoctoral representative, and there is enough transfer or succession planning in this group, then it can be an ongoing and mutually beneficial partnership.

Leverage expertise

Practitioners are often happy to share their tacit and professional knowledge of resources and their favorite theories and practices with any postgraduate or graduate student who logs on. It’s a good strategy to examine their websites, peer-reviewed publications, or gray literature to familiarize yourself with how they describe themselves and their approach to their work. Because these areas of graduate and postgraduate development are also areas of academic and professional study, the same reference and citation checking best practices apply.

Below are five specific trusted sources to start research in the development of any postdoctoral or graduate student.

This column, Responsibilities may include, is written and supervised by members of a Canadian professional association dedicated to graduate and postgraduate development (the Graduate and Postgraduate Development Network) and edited by qualified journalists. These articles contain a mix of career advice, network-developed programs and career trajectory profiles. It is an excellent starting point for articles and references to additional sources. Many of us also write for our sister article series, Carp Careersorganized by a joint professional organization (the Graduate Career Consortium).

GPDN has a mandate and vision to advance the field of graduate and postgraduate development nationally, and one of the activities is an annual career symposium. This is an opportunity to participate in workshops with facilitators from other institutions – we all have different approaches, theories and practices that we use to achieve the same goal. The 2022 symposium is scheduled for October 25-27 and includes keynote addresses by David Mendes (from Dad PhD), and Daniel Munro and Creig Lamb (of shift-insights).

Mitacs is an organization that partners with research institutions across the country to provide professional development sessions for students and postdocs, and they provide forms of work-integrated learning and launch pads to industry or entrepreneurship.

Finally, the forthcoming report entitled “Graduate and Postdoctoral Development: Toward a National Strategy” includes a table of resources that various institutions across Canada have made available not only to their own students and postdoctoral fellows, but publicly so that anyone can use them. Many of these resources have been or will be described in Responsibilities may include.