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5 Steps to Achieving Maximum Benefit from Your Degree
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2. Collaborate with others. Share ideas and plans.

Networking with peers throughout your academic career, and beyond, is the most frequently practiced benefit toward professional benefit. Your peers come to the table with many different backgrounds and experiences. Aside from the normal help in homework, problem-solving, course and professor selection, etc., they also can provide invaluable assistance in your career selection. They can provide connections to individuals in your chosen career field that can share their experiences which can help focus your choice of major or career direction. They can enlighten you on the positives and negatives, future direction of that industry, and whether your skills are a good match. Peers can also assist you in setting a plan for your job search to include tasks such as who to contact, how to achieve some name recognition and how to get exposure in your profession.

Before you graduate or narrow in on your career choice, networking provides good information about what the field is like. Use your classmates and their friends to establish connections in your desired career field. Then, make the calls and find out about the job from the insiders. Another benefit is that these connections can guide you in job interviews by providing insight into the field’s current issues, direction, etc. If your connections are within the same organization you seek employment, you can uncover unwritten information about the company and/or the specific job.

3. Seek guidance from other professionals and educators.

Take the time to get to know professors in your area of study. Professors are part of a large learning network that is a databank of ideas and support. They can help you work on leading issues in your field, keep you up to date on current and future issues and help you establish relationships with industry. One way to get the best of all of these things is to get involved in research projects where you are trying to solve an issue faced by your industry. This helps you establish expertise and recognition as an expert. If your professor or advisor doesn’t do a lot of research, get them to suggest other researchers that may have a project you can contribute to. Research almost always provides opportunities to write your own articles to professional journals, monthly letters, and conference proceedings which can give you name recognition. If research isn’t possible, have several professors suggest articles and current research journals to review. But don’t just read them once, become a regular reader of several journals so you can learn about what’s important and what isn’t. Lastly, most professors have relationships
with many professionals in industry and can connect you with industry experts. After all, a lot of industry research is performed by universities and colleges, so academics have a good sense of what is important in their area of expertise. Connecting with industry is essential if you have plans for changing companies after you graduate. Working with industry professionals can give you the inside connections in getting hired.

4. Create opportunities to increase your knowledge in areas in your plan.

As previously mentioned, reading articles from industry journals and other periodicals are a good way to boost your understanding of your chosen
occupation. Joining professional organizations is another great strategy. Most local branches of professional organizations provide access to industry professionals through conferences, presentations and meetings. A good approach is to join one of these organizations and seek an active role. This will put you closer to those already working in the field that can provide you a much better understanding of the field than articles can. Use these interactions to not only gather as much information as possible, but setup opportunities to help specific companies solve some of their problems. Companies like to hire to fill a specific need so find out what some are and fill them.

5. Reflect on your plan often.

Don’t be afraid to change your plan or your path to your goals. As you go through your plan, make notes on which classes are a natural strength or a weakness for you. This information, along with other pertinent information from professors and business professionals, should help you steer your career in the right direction. If your grades aren’t the best in your chosen career field, it becomes vital that you collaborate with professionals in that field to determine if you need to improve your abilities in that area or you may be just fine with what you know. This is even more critical if your degree is in a different field than you are currently working in. You should develop a list of skills and experiences required to excel in that field and then work on checking each one off until you have what it takes (all before graduating).

The days of the protean career path are long gone. Companies won’t hold your hand and guide you through your career. Most likely, they won’t provide much help at all. It’s your job to set up your career for success.

Todd Rhoad has a MSEE from the University of Missouri-Rolla and a MBA from Indiana Wesleyan University. He works as a senior engineer for a leading edge research and development firm in Austin, Texas.

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