Careers Beyond Academia
Exploring non-academic careers:
There are many reasons why doctoral students and alumni begin to consider careers outside of the traditional tenure-track path. Some begin to feel that the academic path that they were on is no longer the best fit for them. Others find that geographic or family concerns require them to expand the scope of their job search. Others decide that in the face of a tight academic job market, it’s worthwhile to develop a “Plan B” whether or not they put that plan into action. If you have found that your priorities and career goals have changed since the time you started graduate school, you are not alone.
Approach your exploration of expanded career paths as you would any other project. This one will have four elements:
- Self-assessment. What is self assessment? Self assessment means taking some time to think about your own definitions of what it means to be happy and successful in a career (and setting aside some of the messages you may have gotten from friends and family, advisors, and peers). What are your interests and values? What are the skills you would like to put into play in your next role? Self assessment can be informal (keeping a journal) or formal (taking a career assessment like the MBTI or the Strong Interest Inventory).
- Research. Read everything–books, blogs, professional association websites–you can about the fields that have caught your attention. Learn the lingo. Most importantly, read job postings (see the Directory section for where to find them). Reading job postings in various fields, though it sounds a bit prosaic, can help you to see where your skills are a match for different positions (and identify gaps that you might be able to overcome with some experience).
- Informational Interviewing. Probably the most important thing anyone contemplating a career change can do is informational interviewing. What is “informational interviewing?” Informational interviewing is having a series of conversations with people about their career. It means talking to them about what they like and don’t like about their work, and what they might suggest to anyone trying to get into the field. Though this may sounds odd if you’ve never done one, it is common practice for most professionals. Still unsure about this? Read these two articles specially geared towards graduate students: “How to Do an Informational Interview,“”What is an Informational Interview,” and “Informational Interviewing 101.”
- Try Something New. Not sure if you would like working in a given field–find a way to try it out. Do an internship or shadow someone for a day. If that seems too bold as a first step, take on a roll in your department you’ve never tried. Organize a conference. Volunteer to manage the speaker series. Work on a digital project at the New Media Lab. Get active in the DSC. Trying something new is one of the most important things you can do to get your career moving in a different directions. If you’re not convinced, take a look at this Penelope Trunk blog post on “Career change: A (relatively) low stress approach” and read Herminia Ibarra’s Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career.
Blogs and Websites
- Beyond Academe
- How to Leave Academia
- Branching Points (for scientists)
- From Ph.D. to Life
- Versatile Ph.D.
Articles and Books
Basalla, Susan and Maggie Debelius. “So What Are You Going to Do with That: Finding Careers Outside of Academia.”
Finding and applying for jobs:
- Information interviewing
- PhD transferable skills
- Using social media in your job search
- Cover letters
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