Five career tips to start the year off right

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Setting goals and planning ahead will position you to succeed in 2017.

By Alaina G. Levine

This is the second of a two-part post about bettering your career during the holidays and the start of the new year. Read the first part here.

Prepping your 2017 calendar is an important step toward meeting your career goals for the year. Credit - Dafne Cholet, CC BY 2. 0

The holidays were a chance to network, get your finances in order, and set yourself up for a successful 2017.

You have a lot to look forward to in 2017. This is the year you will triumph in new ways and advance your career in the direction of your choosing. This is the year you will treat yourself right and do what you know will help you achieve the success you desire. It is not going to be easy. But whether you are quitting a job for new pursuits, finishing a degree or a postdoc, applying for what seems like an unusual grant, or asking someone to coffee to discuss a new collaboration, this is your time to make your mark. Think big.

The holidays were a chance to network, get your finances in order, and set yourself up for a successful 2017. Now, as the year is still in launch mode, there are five steps you can take to ensure that you are as prolific as you want to be.

  1. Take stock and complete your annual report. A company produces annual reports to describe its accomplishments and map those on to the organization’s overall vision and mission. I think individuals should also file annual reports. What did you rock in 2016? What could you have done better? What challenges did you face, and how did you meet them? Those questions can be applied to both your professional and personal life. Pay particular attention to your list of successes from the last year. Even if you didn’t get a raise or land the job of your dreams, remember that you moved forward. Every step you took, no matter how small it may have appeared, allowed you to take the next step—and will contribute to a future leap. Just because you didn’t land that fat grant in 2016 doesn’t mean you won’t get it, or an even better opportunity, in 2017.
  2. Identify your goals and mission for the year. What do you want to accomplish in the coming year? How will achieving your yearly goals help you advance in your desired career? I find that writing this down helps to stay on track for the year. Although there will be plenty of improvisation throughout the year—say, if an unexpected project or networking experience comes along—it’s still useful to have an overall mission for the next 365 days written out. Then check in over the course of the year to see how much progress you are making toward meeting your 2017 goals.
  3. Complete your calendar. Take a few hours to add to your calendar all the activities that you are interested in during the coming year. That includes, for instance, the dates of conferences you want to attend. Remember that conferences involve deadlines for submitting abstracts and applications for travel grants. You should schedule time a few weeks in advance of each conference to email people and make appointments to meet. This year’s calendar should also include the deadlines for awards. Seek out prizes offered by your institution, professional associations, funding agencies, and the local community. Allot time to write personal statements and ask colleagues for letters of recommendation. Next, calendar the deadlines for grant applications. Don’t forget to inquire if the funding agency offers a webinar for would-be proposers, or whether it requires pre-deadline applications that you need to submit in order to qualify. Finally, make sure your 2017 calendar contains the application deadlines for desired jobs.
  4. Plan out your major projects. Whether it’s the culmination of a big project, a presentation at a conference, or a grant proposal, you probably have a milestone event or deadline upcoming this year. Whatever it is, do not only put the end goal in your calendar, but also block off time in the weeks leading up to that special deadline. By adding check-ins to your calendar, you will avoid a surprise deadline that you forgot about until you glanced at that specific week or day.
  5. Commit to a system of organization that works for you. To maintain your productivity, it is essential to adopt a system of organization that is customized for you and your needs. For example, I am a list maker (can you tell?), and sometimes I have lists for my lists that are guided by a master list. It works for me. But I can also see ways to improve my approach to organization. Of prime importance is to clarify what works best for you and ensure that you keep that system functioning smoothly.

Alaina G. Levine is a science and engineering writer, career consultant, and professional speaker and comedian. She is the author of Networking for Nerds, which was named by Physics Today as one of the top five books of 2015. She can be reached through her website,, or on Twitter at @AlainaGLevine.

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