Exploring Imagine PhD

Written by
Karen Costa

Jan 4, 2018

Jan 4, 2018 • by Karen Costa

I am definitely a child of a new era, where a career is not a lifelong commitment but rather a continuous opportunity to seek new challenges and to entertain my talents. In truth, I no longer just look for jobs. Instead, I pursue career goals that will allow me to use my skills in support of the greatest good.

As such, I consider myself a connoisseur of career decision-making websites; you name it, I've tried it. That's why I was so excited to try out the new Imagine PhD career-exploration tool and speak to one of the team members who was part of its creation, Dr. Derek Attig. Attig is the director of career development in the Graduate College of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and part of the Graduate Career Consortium, the group that brought Imagine PhD to fruition.

Career Exploration and Assessment

Imagine PhD's website launched in October 2017, and its primary mission is to fill a void in career development for humanities and social sciences PhDs. Attig notes, however, that this free site is open to other populations as well, including tenure-track faculty looking to make a career change, potential graduate students and people like me who are always looking for a chance to explore new career opportunities.

It's important to note that Imagine PhD is not just a site to access job listings, although it does link to listings in various fields. No, it's much more than that. The self-assessments on this site are robust and include the options to evaluate your skills, interests and values. Attig sees the emphasis on values as particularly unique and important. “Graduate students are very mission-driven,” he says. “It's important for them to find career paths that align with their sense of mission. That's not always apparent through a skills or interest inventory.”

Values Assessment, Not Just Skills

In fact, the values assessment was one aspect of Imagine PhD I found most enlightening. Rather than providing me with recommendations for specific job fields, my results offered questions that I might consider when reviewing job descriptions or in that important interview moment when a potential employer asks me if I have any questions about the job. For example, because balance was one of my highest-scored values, I might ask potential employers about the expectations to be accessible outside of work. Another of my highest values was flexibility, a value Attig sees in many graduate students. He says, “They like being able to control when and where they work. They want to be able to work from home, the library or the coffee shop. A values assessment forces you to consider these sorts of things.”

After completing the values assessment, I moved on to identifying my skills (evaluates current abilities and experience) and interests (what you enjoy and what you want to avoid). Some of my skills included the ability to work as part of a team and to meet goals with limited supervision. Resolving conflict and problem-solving were in my top-five list of interests. While nothing in my results shocked me, it was empowering to see these skills and interests listed in black and white.

One of my career challenges is that I experience a certain level of imposter syndrome, doubting my own talents. The results of my assessments reminded me that I not only have a great deal to offer in my current fields of college teaching and writing, but that I'd be a great candidate in other areas as well. Imagine PhD categorizes jobs into job families. Mediation and human services were two job families I hadn't considered for myself, and Imagine PhD directed me to a wealth of information about professional organizations, training opportunities, podcasts and blogs about these fields. Other examples of job families include entrepreneurship, higher education administration and K–12 education.

A Tool for Evolving Careers

For humanities and social sciences PhDs, they too will find careers they might not have previously considered, what are known as alternative academic careers, or “altac.” Attig says that while the traditional faculty track is represented on Imagine PhD, it's one of 15 potential job families users can explore. This makes the tool particularly beneficial to women who might have unique needs in their job search, be less interested in taking a traditional path or who are looking to redefine what a PhD path looks like in the 21st century. “The purposefulness with which Imagine PhD was built to address the needs of users at a variety of stages in their careers is very useful for women who might be more likely to seek flexibility rather than a straightforward trajectory,” Attig says.

While this tool can certainly be used by individuals, there's a team at the Graduate Career Consortium currently working on designing an Imagine PhD curriculum that could be integrated into graduate programs. Attig specifically sees a great potential in using Imagine PhD as part of the student-faculty mentoring relationship. Since assessment results are saved under the student's free account and there's a goal-setting section, faculty and students could work together to set clear career-exploration goals over the course of the student's academic program.

As traditional and alternative academic careers continue to evolve, Attig promises that Imagine PhD will adapt. Of particular importance to him is the number of graduate students who've been involved in the design of the tool, helping their team to be continuously responsive to the needs of their users. Imagine PhD aims to truly address the needs of humanities and social sciences PhD students by directly seeking their feedback on the tool.

For this WIHE writer, Imagine PhD helped me to reimagine my own gifts and talents. I plan to continue to access its valuable resources as my career evolves. If you're interested in learning more about Imagine PhD or bringing this tool to your campus and students, visit www.imaginephd.com.