As a PhD student, I had never heard of a career coach until I started reading Jen Polk's blog From PhD to Life. She was full of encouraging advice for PhD students so when I saw that she was giving coaching sessions I jumped at the opportunity to work with her directly.
At first, I did not know what to expect from working with Jen but I was interested in what hiring a coach would be like. I also knew that being close to a year away from graduation, I needed help. Not just with deciding what career to steer towards after graduation but how to push my progress and finish my thesis on time. I thought that by now I would naturally have graduate school all figured out but my formula of “working a lot” was flawed. I felt that I was being pulled in many directions while making small steps forward on my thesis work. I was worried that I was not functioning to my greatest potential and that did not have the time to help others like I wanted to. I was worried that I did not know what to do after graduate school. After an internship, attending workshops about different careers, and numerous informational interviews with scientists in different industries, I still was at a loss at what career path was the one for me. I know I was not alone in feeling these things, which is why I wanted to share my experience.
I talked this over with Jen and she worked with me first on what was causing me the most anxiety and that was my post graduation plans. She listened as I talked to her about what my character strengths were. I did some exercises on my own that she recommended that helped me arrive at some clarity of what type of career I wanted and what I didn't want. Now, I can worry about that less and move on with my life.
To tackle my time management concerns, she worked with me to break up my “to-dos” into manageable pieces and to develop realistic and measurable goals. I was able to make a workable plan to finish a manuscript. The plan was one that I could accomplish, feel good about and build upon. The plans we made were so easy to integrate into my life that I was able to start building sustainable habits. This increased my productivity to advance my thesis work in an efficient way.
Every step of the process with Jen was positive and encouraging. This allowed me to be free to explore what I really wanted and find the clarity I needed. Of course, everyone's needs are different and Jen works with people on their own goals. This is why a coach like Jen is a great addition to your team of teachers, friends, mentors and advisors.
You can find Jen at http://fromphdtolife.com/ and on Twitter @FromPhDtoLife.
Nadia Ayala-Lopez is a fourth year graduate student in Pharmacology and Toxicology at MSU.