Ever thought that grad school was just a place to explore new ideas, or a place that celebrated research for research's sake? ...yes, it is (to some extent), but you're only seeing half the picture.
Of course, the work that you accomplish throughout grad school cultivates knowledge & skills for you to be...? To become.. a professor? Great, and so do all the other hundred thousand graduates with a PhD, or 2.
What are you doing to make yourself stand out from the crowd?
According to Kelsky, the moment you begin to think about grad school is the moment your rigorous training as an up-and-coming scholar begins (See chapter 7). This might be a wake up call for some. She insists that you get your"head in the game" earlier than later so that you can build a "competitive record"--in terms of your experience related to teaching, publishing, and networking--all in time for the job market.
I think this urgency is motivated by, as Kelsky points out, "the escalating student debt borne by those with advanced degrees" (9). In March 2014, the US News & World Report reported that "graduate student debt is the fastest growing type of student debt, and graduate students now owe an average of $57, 600. One in four graduate student owes almost $100,000" (Kelsky 9). Although these figures might not reflect what's happening here in Canada, if you don't have scholarships or some kind of teaching/research assistant-ship, then, grad school can break the bank, for some. Be weary of programs that lack funding. The point here is to start early. See if you're eligible for SSHRC & see what kind of research grants your department has to offer. Remember that bursaries work differently from fellowships and research grants. The former is assessed on the basis of financial need whereas the latter is assessed on research caliber. Bursaries don't count toward your CV. (If you don't know what SSHRC is, and you're in the Social Sciences and Humanities, you should).
Anyway, back to the importance of professionalization and why you need to read this book.
For some of us, a course on professionalization might've been mandatory as part of our graduate program. At the institution where I completed my MA, I was fortunate to have served as a graduate representative for a hiring committee. In addition, I had the support of professors who motivated me to think about publishing, encouraged me to attend conferences, and to network with the "right" people.
Still, I wish I had encountered this book sooner. Even though I seem to be on the right track, there's always that voice at the back of my head asking: am I doing enough?
...Because I know there's somebody, somewhere-out-there who has a stronger CV, a stronger record of teaching, stronger connections and so on. You may have experienced the same thing. Does this mean that you should give up and allow your insecurity and doubts to swallow you up whole? Absolutely not! (although a nice, cold glass of beer to calm the nerves might not be so bad). The steps outlined by Kelsky on how to prepare a competitive CV, teaching dossier and research statement are some of the key lessons I took away from her book (see chapters 14-20). Although the book is tailored for the American job market, Kelsky provides useful tips and strategies on everything from where & when to apply for a job, how to deal with rejection, and how to manage interviews and so on. At the same time, there's a lesson to be learned about how it's okay if you choose to leave the Academy. This is truly a comprehensive book that demystifies the hiring process and it provides specific steps and guidelines on what you need to do to prepare yourself for the job market while you're a grad student. The earlier you read it, the better.
As I see my friends graduate and move on with their lives as professors, or as post-docs, I'm genuinely happy for their success, but anxious about my own. This book put things into perspective for me though. It taught me what I can do now and how I can plan, even in the little time that remains, where I see myself teaching and what I see myself doing in the next 2-3 years. This is important because your employer(s) are not going to care about your thesis specifically, but they will be curious to know what you have planned up your sleeve.
As I prepare myself for the job market, (putting 'em battle boots on) I'm definitely more aware of how I can maximize my success, but of course, only time will tell. As my friend said: "Just know how to strategically market your skills and research experience. Every application you deliver should be personalized with its own special ribbon. Each package must be put together with time, care and precision just like your thesis."
To persevere is hard work and it's not meant for everyone. Grad school is not meant for everyone. It will break you in more ways than one. But you get up stronger, wiser and you learn to never settle, but to push yourself to be the best that you can be. And this skill, whether you choose to continue in the Academy, or not, will help you in all walks of life.