Published: Aug. 26, 2019 By

During my fifth year in graduate school, I was hit by a car. I sustained a severe concussion and a neck injury complete with dizziness and fatigue. For the first time in my life, I was forced to slow down. The only thing I could do was rest for several months and trust that my body and my brain would heal. 

In the days that followed the accident, with nothing to do but lay on my back in bed and stare at the ceiling, I thought of my grandpa who passed away six months earlier. He had been a collegiate-level football player in the 1940s. He, too, had undoubtedly experienced concussions as a football player—even though they went undiagnosed at the time. He later became a university professor of chemical engineering. And, he was a workaholic—at least that’s what my mom says, as she recalls his coming home from work at 3 a.m. on a regular basis.

He lived with my family and me during the last 13 years of his life, while suffering from severe dementia, memory loss and confusion. In the end, it was our family who was with him when he died. Not the hours he clocked at work and his academic accomplishments.

 "The trick is to keep exploring"I felt his presence with me as I lay on my back and the room spun. And, I thought deeply about something I had recently heard: "Maybe the dead are meant to help the living find their path." Was he helping me find my path by showing me, through the only way I would listen, that I needed to slow down?

In the end, I healed from my concussion and experienced a roller coaster of ups and downs as I finished my dissertation: trying to slow down like my concussion had taught me, but still getting caught up in the frantic sprint to the finish of the marathon that is graduate school.

Ask yourself the hard questions

I went on the academic job market in fall of 2018. After three campus visits and three rejections, I took a hard look at myself and asked these questions: “Where do I see myself in five years? What do I want for myself? And, what do I want out of my life?”

I knew I wanted to help people. I knew I had a gift for time management and productivity. I knew I was a people-person who enjoys connecting with others over shared experiences and struggles.

Soon thereafter, I was offered a job at the Graduate School to assist in the growth and engagement of professional development opportunities and help other graduate students during their time at CU Boulder. I trusted my gut instinct, took the job, and I could not be happier. 

The fall marks a crossroads for many graduate students. Whether you are seeking a career in academia or somewhere else, ask yourself these questions: “What is it that you want? When you look back on your life in fifty years, what do you want to see?” Trust yourself to find the path that is right for you. What are you good at and what do you enjoy?

Read obituaries. What do you want your obituary to say? 

Take advantage of campus resources for exploring career options

Picture of Sarah working on a laptop and notebook with studentI encourage graduate students to consider multiple career paths. At the Graduate School, we partner with Career Services to bring a multitude of workshops and online guides to our students.

When applying for jobs in academia, you need to prepare several documents: a cover letter, and also research, teaching and diversity statements. Because these documents require specific academic conventions, consider consulting Career Services' Academic Job Documents Guide. 

While exploring academic or nonacademic jobs, take advantage of the following additional resources: 

Sarah Tynen is the graduate program manager at the Graduate School. She completed her PhD in geography in May 2019.