Alternatives to “What do you do?” and “What are you going to do with that?”

It’s not that careers aren’t an important part of our identity, they just aren’t the only part.

When I took my first improv class a little over four years ago, I was careful on the first night of class to ask other people, “How do you spend your time besides coming to improv class?” I phrased it this way because I didn’t just want to know what people got paid to do; I wanted to know how they chose to spend their time.

The most common question I get about my doctoral program after “How long until you’re done?” is “What are you going to do with a PhD in information and library science?” I think a more interesting question is “What do you want to get out of a PhD in information and library science?” Because honestly, who knows what I’ll do? Independent of what I might like to do (and teasing that out is a whole process itself), obviously I’ll be at the mercy of market forces.

But if you ask me what I want to get out of it, I have a great answer:

I want to spend some time in a situation where my number one professional priority is acquainting myself with the evidence about what works in libraries. I want to understand qualitative research methods better. (This was really my #1 desire and I think I’ve done a really good job of working on this.) I want the opportunity to think deeply about what effective library services for youth look like and how they can facilitate exploring passions.

Isn’t that more interesting than “I mean, maybe teach future librarians? Or just be a better librarian myself?” I think so.

If you want to get to know people better than just these surface questions without getting too awkward and personal, here are some questions you might try:

  • What’s fun for you right now?
  • What kind of expert are you?
  • What do you want to learn/try next?
  • What kind of people are you hoping to meet?

They’re good questions to ask yourself, too.

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