Graduate School Meditations · Professional Development

Communicating Professionally as a Graduate Student

In the Fall of 2018, I was part of the inaugural cohort who successfully completed the UCSC Graduate Division’s Professional Communication Certificate Program.  I want to share (and remember) some of the most important concepts that I took away from this experience.  Participating in this program, or in programs with similar goals and deliverables at any other institution, is a good decision for professionals to continue to gain skills.

Professionalization Perks Swag

This program offered the opportunity to get a professional headshot taken by the university photographer (see her excellent work in the “About Me” page).  This opportunity was free to participants, and it is the type of thing one will need moving forward into the job market, not to mention to maintain a professional digital presence.  My previous photo was a heavily cropped picture of me at a wedding, which was nice but definitely had a bridesmaid vibe that just doesn’t quite send the right message.

We also had the opportunity to design business cards (my design is the featured image of this post), which will come in handy once I start attending conferences and networking more broadly.  This was fun to work on.  Once I settled on the idea of a word cloud for the side opposite my contact information, going through the process creating content with this design in mind helped me to think about the words I wanted to group together to create a sense of the different skills and areas of experience that I have.  I wanted the card to be useful in various settings, such as an academic conference setting, academic job interview, or a nonacademic job interview.  This meant I had to highlight more than my areas of research.  I had to include and articulate the skills that I could bring to an organization as an employable candidate.  My only criticism of my final design is that the font size of my contact information is pretty tiny.  Be sure to PRINT out a version and look at it before sending it to print, or just opt for font size in the 8-10 point range. I used canva (an easy to use design site) to make the cards.

Finally, we had the opportunity to have a professional video recording where we presented our work.  I did not exactly participate in this, though I did a mock talk, because I was unprepared with the conclusions and scope my recent research project on Lindy Hopping and black female subcultures of the 1940’s/50’s.  However, there will be a chance to do this again, so I will be jumping in on it.

Power Point

I mainly use Power Point as a pedagogical tool in my classrooms.  This is in part to keep myself on track, but also to make discussion questions visible for students.  What I took away from our session on this topic was that I based my powerpoint style on how I had seen others use it (often poorly).  I learned how to style and streamline my slides to make them interesting to look at but also to keep their main use as visual aids during discussion and instruction.

I realized I was putting to much information or too many questions on one slide and needed to break them up so that the students could focus.  Alignment also matters.  It is easier to focus on and read a left aligned bit of text.  I also realized that I had the opportunity really utilize the course content (which was visual) to make my slides more interesting.  So, my slides went from dull to (I think) beautiful and/or creative.  Here’s an example from my horror films class of guided discussion topics that shows how my slides transitioned after this session (dull on the top and interesting on the bottom, of course):

And this really did not add much time to the production end of making my in class slides.  I would even say that I am proud of the slides!  Before this session my slides were just a means to an end, and now they are doing double work.

Public Speaking

As a graduate student, I have been working on my anxiety with public speaking as a matter of necessity.  Speaking up in class, reading from my work, etc.  Also, being in front of the classroom once a week has helped with this.  The classroom has been for me the main stage, so to speak, for accustoming myself to public speaking and thinking on the fly as a public speaker.  When I moved from the desk to the front of the room, at first, I was hella nervous, shaky voice, shaky hands, couldn’t spell anything on the board all of a sudden, or I’d get manic and kind of become impulsive.  Anyway, we talked about simply knowing who you are and where your comfort level is.  Somethings to think about is how I might move my body in jerky and distracting ways.  Walking around slowly is preferable to swaying in place.

Professional Website

Well, obviously, I have been working on this, and though it is far from perfect.  I want to remember the ways in which my website can more accessible for folks who need assistance from software, such as screen readers.  This can be done by putting in alternative text for images in the metadata.  Also, if you are a graduate student or do not want certain information circulated, you may not want to have any documents attached to your website that have your phone number.  So, I now have a version of my résumé and C.V. without my address and phone number attached to this website.

C.V. and Résumé

For C.V.’s you want to foreground the essential information.  I had dates organizing each item on my document, but this is really not what people reading a C.V. are reading for.  They may move along and find this information when, and if, it matters to them.  Résumés can be organized around skills.  Organize content top down, what is most important to your audience.  So, know your audience and organize accordingly to them and your purposes.

Research Posters

Research posters have a typical design, but it is possible to get creative.  Information should flow and be as limited as possible.  Color schemes should be limited–1 or 2 colors.  Or analogous colors.


You gotta do it and make some time to build up your connections.  Don’t put graduate student as your summary or tag-line or occupation.  Frame yourself in other ways.