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Just for Graduate Students: Managing Anxiety During an Economic Downturn

 

Feeling anxious about your job prospects after school?  You're not alone.

photo of graduating students in cap & gown During uncertain economic times, graduate students are faced with increased anxiety about the current job market and economy, as well as the challenges of graduating.

In the midst of recessions, potential employees will have to work even harder to enter the workforce, and finding the ideal job may take longer than originally thought. This may be especially challenging for graduate and postdoctoral students to handle if they feel that they have already sacrificed work experience time for an advanced degree and additional training. Unlike undergraduate students, taking a year off to travel overseas or staying in school longer may not be an option. More and more graduate students and postdocs may be rethinking their career plans in order to successfully enter the job market for the first time.

Ways to cope and improve your chances of securing a job during an economic downturn

Continuing your education is never a mistake. Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows a correlation between education level and ability to weather an economic downturn. A graduate or professional degree can give you extra flexibility to shift from one job sector to another during unstable times. With a graduate or professional degree, you are also more likely to earn more and experience less unemployment.

Below are some ideas to improve your employment search:

  • Approach your career planning in a persistent, strategic and positive way to remain more marketable in a competitive job market. Intentional Career Planning, a tip sheet from the UW Career Center, describes the "steps" associated with intentional career planning. No matter what the circumstances, being proactive in the career development process and using your time strategically will enhance your career success.
  • Do not wait. Finding employment, financial resources for education and training internships can take time. Make time in your schedule to work on applications, job searching, and networking.
  • Tap into professional organizations and network in your preferred field(s) to find new employment resources and opportunities.  Not all jobs are formally posted. Let your professional contacts know you are looking for employment. There are several online professional social networking sites as well that can help connect you to people in your preferred field. The UW Career Center provides numerous resources (workshops, events, and more) for getting started, including the following tip sheets:
  • Keep your resume/CV updated. Replying quickly to job announcements can increase your chances. Have your application materials ready to send out quickly when you find an ideal job.
  • Seek professional support and assistance.
    • The UW Career Center provides services for undergraduate, graduate students and alumni. They can help you sharpen your resume, rethink your cover letter, and/or connect you with potential employers and professional organizations in your preferred field.
  • Stay flexible in job titles, employer choice and geography. This will improve your chances for employment.
  • Remember each job is additional training and experience to help prepare you for your next.

Dealing with stress or anxiety

Unstable financial and job markets can create worry about lifestyle, emotional well-being, and future plans. You are not alone in this experience. Stress from such uncertainty and change is normal. The following tips can help decrease your stress during your job search:

  • Stay calm. Pay attention to what is happening, but do not allow yourself to be caught in a panic about the economy or your future. It won't help in the long run.
  • Write it down. By writing down your options and making a clear strategy for your career and education options, you will be able to see the big picture as well as the steps that need to be taken for success.
  • Talk to your department head and/or advisor. If you think you may need to leave school because of the economy, or are having trouble finding work, talk to your advisor, PI, or department head. They want to see you succeed and may have the connections to help you along.
  • Take good care of yourself. The stress of the situation can make it tempting to develop unhealthy habits and negative behavior. If you begin to recognize a pattern of destructive behavior, find a counselor or mental health provider to talk to before the problem gets worse.
  • Develop new skills and hobbies. Developing a career can be mentally and physically challenging. Becoming obsessive is not healthy. Take time to find a productive, non-work-related hobby. This can be a rewarding experience that brings creativity to your life and helps reduce stress.
  • Remain proactive. Keep searching and exploring the wide range of options still available to you. 

Some level of career anxiety is normal and can be healthy; however it is easy to become too obsessed with career development. Signs that you might be overly anxious about your future include:

  • Having trouble concentrating
  • Feeling helpless about your career and educational plans
  • Having trouble managing your current responsibilities because you are distracted by thoughts of your future
  • Being unable to enjoy the company of friends and family because you are distracted by your career or educational plans
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Muscles aches or fatigue

If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by stress when thinking about your educational or career plans, seek help from a mental health provider.  Resources for UW community members are listed below.

Rethinking your career and educational plans

If you need to take time off from classes due to the economic downturn or personal issues, consider creating a list of career-advancing alternatives, such as:

  • Entry-level work in a related field
  • An internship or fellowship in a relevant organization
  • Participating in government training and work programs such as Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, etc.

Stay active and engaged with current events in your desired career field even if you choose to accept a position in a completely different field for the time-being.

UW Resources for students, staff, and the community

  • UW Career Center provides career and job search services to UW students and alumni. The Career Center can help you explore careers and academic options, develop job search skills, and facilitate connections with employers.
  • Mental Health Clinic at Hall Health offers a variety of high-quality mental health and counseling services to the students, faculty, staff, and alumni of the University of Washington. 
  • UW Counseling Center provides developmentally-based counseling, assessment, and crisis intervention services to currently-enrolled UW students by psychologists and mental health counselors.
  • UW CareLink is a comprehensive faculty and staff assistance program available that provides professional support for issues that can affect your personal and work life.
  • Crisis Clinic: 24-Hour Crisis Line offers an array of support services to everyone in King County. This toll-free telephone service provides immediate, confidential assistance for people in emotional distress and in need of help.

References

Table A-4.  Employment status of the civilian population 25 years and over by educational attainment.  Bureau of Labor Statistics. http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.t04.htm.

Better Job Searching in a Recession. Kate Lorenz, CareerBuilder.com / UW Career Center. 6 January 2009. 

As economy sours, students worry about job prospects. Dateline University of California Davis. 23 January 2009. http://www.dateline.ucdavis.edu/dl_detail.lasso?id=11063.

Alumni and students anxious about declining economy find ramped-up career help at Cornell. Cornell News. 30 October 2008. http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/Oct08/careerServices.sk.html.

Job-Seeking College Seniors Need More Persistence, Resilience in Current Climate. News at Washington and Lee University. http://www.wlu.edu/x27520.xml.

Smart Career moves in a tough economy. Binghamtom University Career Development Center. Available at http://cdc.binghamton.edu/parents/smartmoves.htm.

Get Another Life. Chronicle of Higher Education. http://chronicle.com/jobs/news/2008/03/2008031101c.htm

Alternative Career Anxiety: A Reckoning with Lingering Doubts. Science Careers from the journal Science.

Looking for a job in a Tough Economy. Binghamtom University Career Development Center. http://www2.binghamton.edu/career-development-center/quick-reference-guides/looking-for-a-job-in-a-tough-economy.pdf.

 

Authored by: Hall Health Center Health Promotion staff

Reviewed by: Hall Health Center Mental Health Clinic staff, January 2014