Compared with undergraduate studies, graduate studies provide students with infinite number of choices that range from their supervisors to areas of research. To a reasonable extent, you can pick courses that you take or TA, methods that you use in your research, and activities that contribute to your degree.
However, what many students easily forget is that the end goal is not getting you degree per se, but building your desirable carrier. Not only research skills, but also other skills gained by means of your graduate school experience can contribute to your future hireability. Nobody will tell you what to do and what you need. It is your responsibility to find opportunities and take actions. Here is a list of things that you might like to consider if you are in grad school in a technical field:
- Do research
No, not the research you are thinking about. Research what the job market looks like in your domain. You want to work for Google, Apple, or Microsoft? Research what types of skills they are looking for and what types of projects they have. Better yet, don’t concentrate on one company. Keep your mind open. Think of your specialization, such as mobile applications, malware analysis, etc., and search for companies that look for relevant specialists.
- Start an open source project or contribute to one
Starting an open source project is a great opportunity to stay fit for hard core coding. Joining an existing project can save you some time and this will ensure that you will have something to show for at the end. Remember that annoying bug in program X that you hate so much? Fix it.
This is another way to help tech or any other communities. Whether it is organizing a workshop for first year computer science students or volunteering at a yearly marathon event, you can have a lot of fun and meet new friends. Are you one of those guys that is uncomfortable helping people? Remember that volunteering looks pretty good on your resume and do it.
- Apply for scholarships
The first advantage here is obvious: money! Some scholarships, such as the Google Anita Borg Memorial scholarship, also give you an opportunity to visit corporate facilities and make contacts.
Talk to your supervisor, talk to your peers, labmates, faculty members, etc. about your research and activities. Not only you will know whom to ask for help when you need it, but also you will see how everyone else is doing, and it might make you feel better about your progress (don’t count on it though).
- Go public
Advertise your achievements on all possible public media sites if your contract allows you to. You can publish videos on YouTube, tweet, write blogs, post on Facebook, add skills on LinkedIn, etc. Having a strong presence online with positive content might get you the job you always wanted.
- Find a mentor
Whenever things go wrong or you just need help or advice, it is useful to have someone with more experience in your field and not related to your research project to give you an advice. It could be another faculty member, business person you met on a plane, a friend of a friend, etc.
- Help peers
Participate in Google Groups, go to Stack Overflow and answer questions. It is not only a great contribution to the tech community. Some companies do look at your Stack Overflow reputation before hiring.
- Get fit
This is the toughest one, and it is important. It is the fact: fit people get better jobs. Having good health overall will help you in your stressful grad life, especially during sleepless nights before your defence and other deadlines.
- Have fun
Do not wait until you defend to have fun! Enjoy yourself as you are hammering through grad school because life is too short not to enjoy it. Keep yourself interested in technology, spend time with friends, do crazy things such as bungy jumping and skydiving, and get out and enjoy nature every once in a while.
Although this list is a good place to start, do not stop here. Look for other opportunities to make your graduate experience interesting and memorable.