Most PhD students likely assume they are training for a career as a university professor, but there are many alternative career choices for historians. Whatever your field of specialization, employers in a wide range of sectors want someone with your special set of skills. However, many graduate students and scholars don’t know how to make the transition to a “postacademic” career. All too often, they are paralyzed by difficult questions. Will the academy be forever closed to me if I take up a post-academic position? What will my peers and advisors think? Does leaving the ivory tower mean I am a failure? Were all those years in school wasted?
Answering these questions is all part of the process of making a career change. This chapter provides some step-by-step strategies for exploring career possibilities beyond the professoriate. Whether you have an MA, ABD (All But Dissertation), or PhD, you were smart enough to get into academia and you’re smart enough to find a way out.
Fear #1: “But what else can I do with my life?”
You may have never really seen yourself being anything other than a history professor. Envisioning alternative careers can thus feel daunting and disheartening. But once you get started, it can be fun to explore the career alternatives that do exist for students and scholars with a history background. Former scholars who’ve come from the social sciences and humanities have gone on to successful and satisfying careers in areas as diverse as broadcasting, union organizing, school-teaching, non-profit research, fashion, life coaching, and consulting. Post-academics differ from other career changers in a few significant ways, but they can begin formulating their career-change plans using the same basic strategies. Attack the crafting of your post-academic career as you would a research project. Start by consulting up-to-date career planning resources for the best advice on making a career change and how to conduct a job
search. You can find many of those resources right on campus at the career counseling centre. You’ll learn that networking, for example, is a strategy that never goes out of style and applies to all job seekers. Even as you’re trying to figure out what other lines of work might interest you, let everyone around know that you’ll soon to be on the job market. You may face some raised eyebrows and difficult questions, but remember, there is no need to apologize. You can prepare some replies; tell people in a polite but firm manner that “academia isn’t the right fit for me.” Or “I’m excited about pursuing my long-time interest in journalism.” Or “the academic job market has dried up and I’m assessing my other options.”
In some cases, you may be an unemployed contract instructor or a cash-starved graduate student looking for a short-term post-academic job, not a career. Your first post-academic job might not pay the bills while you research other careers. One of the best places to look for the stop-gap job is in the university sector, even at your alma mater. An administrative job in the dean’s office, graduate studies office or alumni office can pay well and allow you to work in a familiar environment. Other jobs that support the university sector can be found in the offices of major funding agencies (including SSHRC), academic recruitment firms, university presses, and so forth. This work can give you the time, money, and breathing space you need before devoting yourself to serious career planning- or you might decide this is where you would like to stay and advance. Historians have found rewarding careers as writers and producers for the CBC, as public and private school teachers, as fundraisers and policy analysts in NGOs and social justice organizations, and so on.
Aside from networking, you can pursue other traditional job-search or career-planning techniques, including conducting information interviews, perusing job postings on the web, consulting a life coach, securing an internship, finding a head-hunter, and joining a job-search club. Another tip that applies to all career-planners is to focus on your passions. Many graduate students sacrifice their hobbies and interests in the name of dissertation research and writing, but returning to the things you loved may help you formulate your career plan. be your dream job, or even in your field of choice. It might be a transition job that helps you to formulate your career plan.
Fear #2: “All I know is nineteenth-century Norwegian textile production,” Or “I’m not qualified for any other job!”
Telling yourself that you’re under-qualified is perhaps the greatest mistake that potential academic-leavers tell themselves. Many academics think the only thing they’re good at is working on their narrow topic of specialization. But nothing could be further from the truth. You are armed with a wealth of skills – many that you had before you even set foot in graduate school – that qualify you for a range of jobs.
In some cases, your academic area of interest will parlay itself into your post-academic career, but this is actually seldom the case. Miuccia Prada, head of the Prada fashion house, has a PhD in political science. Working in fashion might require her to use her research skills, but she probably does not consult her methodology chapter when designing the new spring line. Canadian novelist Camilla Gibb’s PhD in social anthropology likely helps her bring fictional
characters to life, but it’s doubtful she frequently consults her dissertation’s bibliography. Debbie Stoller’s PhD in the psychology of women probably fuelled her desire to start Bust magazine and to write her line of Bitch N’ Stitch books, but she probably did not heavily consult her thesis for either enterprise.
In other words, your qualifications for a new career may not have anything to do with the actual topic of your doctoral research. What is usually more important is that you can transfer skills cultivated in graduate school to the new job. On the post-academic job market, you will be judged not by academic standards – how much do you know about this topic? – but on how well you can do the job. Does this mean graduate school is a big waste of time? Absolutely not! At the very least, graduate school allows you to hone a wide range of skills, sometimes even without noticing it!
Fear #3: “Skills? I don’t have any skills!”
The fear that you have no skills for life outside the academy poses another huge barrier for potential academic-leavers. Thinking about your PhD in terms of transferable skills can be very difficult because graduate students are accustomed to thinking of their skills in terms of intellectual attributes or scholarly achievement. But you can shift your thinking by breaking down the steps you took as a student and scholar, and recognizing the skills that were required to
meet challenges and to progress through the stages. As a graduate student, you are engaged, essentially, as a professional researcher. You handle
huge chunks of information – uncovering it, analyzing it, synthesizing it, finding holes in it, speaking and writing about it, and so on. In the information economy, people who do exactly what you’ve spent years doing are in high demand. Not only do you have a wealth of experience in this regard, but it is second nature to you to the extent that you may not even regard your abilities as a set of skills!
Doing what the career-planning books call a “skills inventory” may seem an either daunting or dull exercise, but it is by far the most important thing you can do for yourself as an academic career changer. To secure a post-academic job, it’s imperative that you reframe your work experience in a way that employers can understand. By articulating all the skills you used in academia and beyond, you will help your potential employer to grasp just what it is you can do.
You’re also affirming for yourself just how talented and able you are. And as you consider what your transferable skills are, more and more career possibilities will bubble to the surface.
Take the example of teaching. Ask yourself, what exactly is involved in my weekly engagement with my students? It may feel like second nature to you but you are using countless skills when you teach. If your resume states, “Teaching Assistant, 3 Years, Introduction to History; Course Director, 1 Year, Eighteenth-Century European History,” you’re not telling your future employer very much. But if you think about the actual tasks performed, you might find skills like the
- facilitated large and small group discussions
- provided oral and written feedback on a weekly basis
- planned and delivered weekly presentations
- conveyed complex information in a clear, accessible way
- used a variety of audio-visual technologies to present information
- developed and implemented grading and evaluation criteria
- responded to student and course director feedback in a timely fashion
- exercised resourcefulness without supervision
- wrote documents tailored for specific audiences (e.g., student handouts)
- set and met weekly, monthly, and yearly goals
This is only a partial and general list to help you start your own teaching skills inventory. Consider the other skills involved in teaching – those you use when attending a course director’s lecture, working with a TA team, reading the textbook, drawing up a lesson plan, grading papers and exams, meeting with students, and teaching students how to write an essay. You will end up with quite an extensive list of skills that are in high demand on today’s job market.
You also developed other practical and marketable skills in your academic life. For example, you didn’t only write a Master’s thesis, course papers, or a doctoral dissertation. You also managed large volumes of information, established a data-storage system (both electronic and hard copy), and edited manuscript copy. You were a creative thinker, you adapted and navigated your way around unanticipated barriers (of the intellectual variety), and saw projects through to completion. You worked independently but consulted others for their expertise. And don’t forget all those “soft skills” that a PhD helps you cultivate:
- you are a master/mistress of time management and meeting deadlines
- you have superior organizational skills
- you learn things quickly and grasp complex ideas easily
- you are disciplined, motivated, and a self-starter
- you enjoy a challenge
Once you learn how to articulate your transferable skills, you will be able to explain in a job interview how well your background – graduate school and all – prepared you for the line of work described in the job ad. Thus, you might not have specific experience working in the notfor-profit sector, but your teaching skills demonstrate the creativity you used to communicate complex ideas, something that not-for-profit organizations need when consulting stakeholders
and the media. You might not have the background called for when applying for a job with that multi-national software producer, but your experience shows you’re a quick learner.
Fear #4: “But how can I turn my ten-page cv into a one-page resume?”
It can be an emotional, even demoralizing, process to “gut” one’s scholarly cv and convert it into a resume. But writing a skills-based resume (rather than a chronological one) that highlights those transferable skills you’ve worked hard to identify will demonstrate just how “hirable” you really are in a range of employment sectors. To find out more about crafting a solid, up-to-date resume, consult one of the many job resume books, websites, or writing services available.
Thorny issues will come up, so best to be prepared. For example, some ABDs wonder if they should mention the years spent in graduate school, or explain why they left without earning the PhD. If you’ve converted the time spent in graduate school into transferable skills, then by all means mention it. But you do not owe a potential employer an explanation for why you left without a doctorate.
The matter of references can be difficult, even for the most successful graduate student. Nonacademic employers will typically ask for names of people to whom you directly reported, which may – or may not – make your doctoral supervisor the best person to provide a reference. If you left academia largely or partly because of a difficult or destructive relationship with your supervisor, you will not want this reference. But do not despair; there are others you can ask.
Remember, you need referees who will speak to your ability to show up on time, grasp concepts quickly, stay focused on tasks and meet deadlines, rather than to the strength of your scholarship. If you don’t have recent non-academic experience, you can use faculty for whom you conducted research and with whom you established a good rapport. You can ask a course director for whom you TA’ed. You could even go back to professors from your BA days if you’re still in touch with them.
However, you should inform your references in advance that the job for which you are applying is not an academic one so that they can shift the standards of praise and evaluation – for example, from “she was in the top 10 percent of my class,” to “she always came to meetings on time and spoke in an informed and intelligent manner.” As with academic letters, it is always a good idea to ask potential referees if they will be able to provide a strong reference for you. If
you sense any hesitation, move on to someone else. If necessary, you might call upon a colleague with whom you edited a collection or worked on a journal. This is not a senior person to whom you reported but he or she can testify to your work ethic and organizational skills.
Here are some additional tips:
- Whether you are consulting someone in an information interview or being interviewed yourself for a position, be gracious and say thank you. It will help get you remembered.
- Be bold. You’ll distinguish yourself from the rest of the pack, prove how courageous you really are (especially to yourself) and affirm that you can take charge.
- Be persistent. When you’ve applied for a job you’re really interested in and you don’t hear back right away, don’t be afraid to call. If you get turned down for your dream job, reject rejection; with persistence, you will land in the sector you want.
- Consider self-employment. If you have a flair for writing, why not try freelancing? If your line of study is marketable, consider consulting.
- While you might not need it, consider training in a totally different field. You might decide history is not for you and that your true passion is to become a social worker or an actor or a chef. Consider taking the plunge.
Making the transition from an academic to a post-academic career can be frightening. The process of transferring to a new and satisfying career can take one or two or even several years. You need to deal with the emotional and psychological issues as well as focus on the concrete work of re-tooling your career. The good news is that very few former academics regret leaving academia after re-establishing themselves in a line of work that rewards them for doing what they enjoy or love. Post-academics in new careers relish the guilt-free leisure time and the freedom from having to constantly turn to funding agencies and apply for research grants. Others earn salaries that are higher than that of an assistant professor. Still others cherish the opportunity to pursue a life-long passion. If you decide that you want or need to pursue a career outside that of university professor, a certain amount of planning, networking, self-reflection, and, yes, luck,
will help you to establish a new and rewarding career.
Sabine Hikel (Inside Higher Ed)
I’m not gonna lie–it’s been an exceptionally busy week here at the Leaving Academia HQ. I’ve been doing a lot of work with some really lovely clients this week, and that’s meant I haven’t had any time for blogging. The upshot, though, is that by working with such interesting people, I’m getting all kinds of ideas for blog posts (I’m formulating a Glamour magazine-like “do” and “don’t” list for non-academic job applications.
In Kaylen Tucker’s first Leaving Academia post, an ultra-awkward exchange with a well-meaning but clueless professor becomes fodder for post-academic career planning:
When I was applying for dissertation fellowships, I asked a friendly and accomplished professor in my department to help me write a winning statement of purpose. She patiently helped me to fine tune my application and when our session was complete, I felt that I had a real chance at being selected. She reminded me, however, about how very competitive these kinds of things were, and cautioned me not to get my hopes up and to come up with another plan should I not land a post. As a seasoned graduate student, I of course, had a lot of pots simmering. I wasn’t offended, thinking it good, sound advice. But the advice that she gave me next has kept me up at night and has influenced the way I think about the value of a humanities Ph.D.
She asked me if I was looking for a job. I wasn’t, but as one who was accustomed to hustling, always looking for the next thing, I wanted to hear what she had to offer. “Have you heard of Trendy and Terribly Overpriced New Shoe Store?” I told her that I’d been in that store many times. I was confused … but curious. “Well, I know the owner,” she continued, “and they’re looking for help. If you’re interested, I could put in a good word for you.”
I should have told her that I didn’t need her help greasing the wheels to gain a retail job. Though I’m bad at math and standing for long periods of time, I think I could have handled that on my own.
I’ve replayed that moment in my head many times, trying to work through the lingering bad taste in my mouth. I finally realized that my irritation wasn’t solely based on her offer to help me get a job that I felt was beneath me instead of helping me figure out a more academic/professional Plan B. No, my exasperation stemmed from the fact that her advice, which I admit was offered innocently enough and in the kindest of spirits, reflected the overall attitude of the department: Academia in narrowly defined terms is everything, and if it doesn’t work out for you—which it probably won’t—there is nothing. If you don’t receive an appointment at University X, you should take your Ph.D. and wait tables or sell shoes until the stars align correctly for you. Nothing against shoes, or those who sell them, but it’s not that black and white, or yellow and blue, or whatever converse combination you fancy. Education is supposed to broaden horizons, not narrow them. So I politely declined the opportunity and resolved to carve my own path.
Well, I didn’t get the fellowship. But I’m not selling shoes either. By the time I finished my Ph.D. in English literature, and after two years of no bites on the academic market, I had decided to pursue another course. I couldn’t commit to another round of the overwhelming job-market process; I was no longer willing to follow the market to whatever city it led me; and I couldn’t stomach the requisite string of adjunct and visiting positions to hold me over until I could land the perfect tenure-track position. What I needed was stability—financial and emotional. I also wanted to feel like I was contributing knowledge to the world, which is why I started the Ph.D. process in the first place. So doing communications for a national education non-profit was a logical next step. My position required me to research, analyze, write, and edit—tasks I had been well trained for.
However, preparing myself for a non-academic job didn’t happen overnight, and I’m still working on fine tuning my mission and figuring out a way to bridge my research interests with my actual job. It’s an ongoing process. But I hope to offer Leaving Academia readers what I have learned about how smart people can figure out a way to harness their power and tackle the world outside of academia.
Let’s say you’re one of those people who has decided to start looking for work outside of academia. You’re either trying to develop a Plan B in case a tenure-track job doesn’t open up, or you’re really just tired of the academic game and want a life change. Maybe you’re kind of a Type A personality who wants to set some plans in place before you make the leap, or maybe you’ve got hefty loans or a family to support and you need to move cautiously. The good news is that making the decision to find a nonacademic career does not necessarily mean living through a period of unemployment. There are some ways that you can move gingerly towards a nonacademic career, steps you can take that will bridge your academic and post-academic life. Here are a few ideas:
- Start your post-academic career exploration while you’re still in grad school. Commit a certain number of hours each week to job hunting/career development stuff like information interviewing, going to your campus career center for a transferable skills analysis, or reading books on résumé writing. In my own case, there was a five-month period between the submission of the final draft of my dissertation and the actual dissertation defense. During much of that time, I was finishing up my teaching and doing some thesis revisions for my committee members, but I was also cranking up my employment-seeking machine: I applied for a handful of summer teaching contracts, registered with a temping agency, started reading job ads, and did some networking that led to my first post-academic job.
- Another way of bridging the post-academic gap is by using the skill that you already know you have — research — in a nonacademic setting. Think tanks, market research firms, policy institutes, consultancies, social service agencies, professional associations, unions, broadcasters, documentary filmmakers, public administration (aka government bureaucracy) — all of these organizations require researchers. Sure, some need people who know how to run stats or have a particular area of expertise, but a lot of them need qualitative researchers or generalists. Some of these positions pay well, well enough to be a long-term position rather than just a bridge to your next gig. For others that aren’t as lucrative, being a paid researcher at a nonacademic organization can give you a taste of what the nonacademic work environment is like.
- Take another skill set you know you have, like teaching. There are more ways to teach than in a university classroom. And no, I’m not even necessarily talking about teaching ESL classes or high school or elementary school. The skills you have as a teacher are transferable to jobs that require a lot of working with the public. You know when you go on a museum/state park/art gallery/Graceland tour and a guide tells you all about the artifacts, and they’re really good at captivating your attention? Or you know when you buy something in a store and someone effectively tells you all about their products? Or you know when you go to an information kiosk for help? Or you know when you go to a public lecture? Or you know when someone shares information at a meeting or conference? They’re using the same skills you use teaching in a classroom. Think laterally about those skills, and you could hit on your bridge to somewhere.
- I’ve had people ask me if I think doing a postdoc can also be a good bridge to post-academic labor. I do think it can be, because postdocs typically have enough flexibility for you to make the time to dedicate to researching nonacademic jobs/careers. If the postdoc pays you enough to be able to buy time for a year or two, it can be leveraged as part of your career transition.
- Finally, adjuncting is something you can commit to for a year or two as a way to pay the bills while you build up your nonacademic contacts. And if you do find a job halfway through the semester, don’t hesitate to quit. After all, there are plenty of other adjunct teachers in line behind you who’d be happy to pick up your contract.
- Depending on your interests, freelancing is something you may be able to do during grad school, adjuncting or while doing a postdoc. If you’re interested in moving into a field like journalism, web design, or broadcasting, doing some freelance work won’t take up a huge amount of time while also allowing you to build up your contacts, get some experience and make a bit of cash on the side. I did my first freelance radio piece for Canada’s public broadcaster right around the time I defended my dissertation, and it was a fun, eye-opening experience that helped show me the world of post-academic possibilities.
There are ways of moving slowly and gradually to post-academic work that might appeal to those who don’t have much appetite for a radical change. They provide enough security to help you build confidence, while still moving you toward a satisfying postacademic career.
One fear that many academics have as they near the end of their academic stint is that they will end up in jobs for which only a B.A. is required. Even worse, they imagine, is ending up back in the same job you had when you were doing your B.A.
And yet, most people who leave academia take very circuitous routes to the work they ultimately end up doing five years after leaving. Almost all of the former academics I’ve ever met, interviewed, or heard about had some type of “corkscrew” pattern to their post-academic careers, rather than a steep upward or downward trajectory.
A really fabulous example of this is a woman named Helen Toland, who you can learn all about on an incredible British career resource called iCould. (I highly recommend this Web site to any career changer; as the site’s tagline states, “It just shows what you can do.” Specifically, there are hundreds of interviews with people doing a huge variety of jobs, including people with what the Brits call postgraduate degrees).
As Helen explains, she got her Ph.D. in biomechanical engineering, in part because she just happened to be good at school, because she thought that was what her parents would want, and because she lacked the confidence to admit to herself what she really wanted to do. Any of that sound familiar? Once she finished her degree, though, she decided to pursue her dream of working in the media, and is now a producer at BBC Radio Ulster working on an entertainment program. How did she get there? Hard work and perseverance, it sounds like — but also a willingness to do the grunt work needed to get the job of her dreams.
From her brief description, it sounds like Helen was both “on the dole” and working in a coffee shop for a couple of years once she’d finished her Ph.D. before she finally got on board as a full-time staff producer. It’s quite easy to imagine that being a Ph.D. working as a barista would involve struggling with some pretty intense feelings of shame and regret. And yet, doing that first, low-skill, non-academic job was well worth it to Helen because it gave her the time to build up contacts and do enough freelance contracts to build up the experience she needed to be offered a staff position.
But all too often, the idea of taking a crummy job strikes so much fear in the hearts of academics that they would rather stick with the devil they know — even if the money is just as bad (if not worse) and the career trajectory leads to an equally dead end.
Yet it is typically that first post-academic job that gives one an opportunity to detox from the traumas of academia (you know, like feeling dumb much of the time), which itself helps create the conditions for movement into a better, more professional-level job. It also offers a chance to get some experience in a different sector. This looks good on a résumé, of course, but it’s more important than that. That first job outside of academia — no matter how crummy — is a new kind of training ground, one where you un-learn so many of the conventions that you never even realized you were absorbing along the way.
That’s where you find out that people speak differently, think differently, and move at a different pace than inside academia (typically much more quickly, depending on the sector). It’s where you learn how to really leverage and transfer some of your skills (for example, your ability to absorb new information quickly really does come in handy when you’re a barista learning the names of 30 different specialty drinks). And it gives your brain the chance to adapt to the demands of a new environment.
What this adds up to, then, is a priming of the pump. When you are ready to move on to your dream non-academic job — the one in which you are able to be more fully yourself — you’ll have more skills, more confidence and more preparedness than you would otherwise have applying for that job straight out of graduate school.
Some of the transition jobs that former academics I know have taken include note-taking in college classrooms for students with disabilities, transcribing, working retail, office work, dog-walking, house-cleaning, researching for television channels, and other research contracts. One person I interviewed worked for an arts nonprofit in which he had to fundraise his own salary. In my own case, I worked as a closed captioning editor while making cash and contacts on the side doing freelance writing, podcasting, and radio producing.
It’s wise to bite the bullet with a job that’s below your skill set if it offers you a chance to deploy a grander career development strategy while you’re doing it. That would include jobs that are strictly time delineated (unlike adjuncting, which expands to fill the time you have), offering you a chance to network and build up contacts in your desired field. It leaves you with enough energy to do information interviewing, freelancing, job shadowing or interning (whichever suits the target field best). And it offers just enough money to pay the bills, but not so much that you’re tempted to stick with it over the long haul. Finally, it gives you enough mental resting space to detox from your academic experience, which in turn provides you with an opportunity to research and daydream your next career move.
By: Joshua Newman
In December, Inside Higher Ed graciously brought me down to the Modern Language Association conference in Philadelphia to meet with grad students about non-academic careers. On the flight from Toronto, I busied myself with reading a book called Women, Work and the Art of Savoir Faire. No, this was not an attempt to distinguish myself from my other MLA-bound passengers who had their noses in Cixous and Keats. It was something I picked up at the airport in the hopes that it might have some nuggets of wisdom that I could use at this stage in my own career.
In it, author Mireille Giuliano writes that life is lived in episodes and phases. This is especially the case for career changers, particularly academics who end up parachuting into a non-university sector job.
This is something that the newly-minted Ph.D.’s that I chatted with at the MLA seemed to understand: Life as a Ph.D. is just one stage of a life that may resemble more of a patchwork quilt than a slow and steady climb to academic career fame.
And yet, it seems as though a broad discussion about post-academic careers is slow to catch on. While Ph.D.’s scramble to assemble a “Plan B,” little more than hand-wringing seems to actually be going on in many university administrative offices. Yes, there are some universities that are trying to provide a modicum of helpful advice, offering two-hour resume-writing clinics and the like. Others, like the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, Canada, take the task a bit more seriously by offering week-long workshops on non-academic careers.
But where is the vigorous discussion about post-academic careers that is long overdue? The facts about the state of the job market are in, and everyone knows how dire the academic job prospects are. Yet little action has yet to be taken inside most professional associations, departments and graduate schools regarding meaningful alternatives.
It is alternatives that should be stressed because trying to stem the bleeding in the academic job market is futile. No amount of union action, funding reallocation or campus protest is going to change the fact that the very nature of the university itself has changed. Tenure is not what it once was. The reliance on contract labor that persists now is not a temporary, recessionary stage. It is is simply a part of a larger pattern of labor market restructuring across North America that has been in place for the past two decades. The very fact that 70 percent contract labor in a department could be considered a tipping point — yes, 70 percent — speaks volumes about how deeply and fundamentally the shift towards contingent labor has set in to the university.
The persistent failure to truly face just how much universities are exploiting casual labor frustrates me. I also feel totally dismayed when I read comments such as this:
Despite everything, some students remain stubbornly optimistic. Joshua Newman, a political science Ph.D. candidate at Simon Fraser University and president of SFU’s Graduate Student Society, believes the academic job market is experiencing a “temporary low” and will soon turn around. “If teaching is your main goal and you are willing to wait it out, as long as you keep up a heavy research agenda and publish as much as possible, then finding a job is just a matter of time,” says Mr. Newman.
How does this kind of attitude square with the Ph.D. I met at the MLA who was from a prestigious west coast university, on her second book contract and still had not landed a tenure-track position? How much time, how many years of making peanuts and how high do the opportunity costs have to go before a trained professional throws up her hands and quits?
Lest anyone think I am simply being pessimistic, let me set the record straight. I am a notoriously glass-is-half-full kind of person. In fact, I have been accused, here in the august pages of this magazine, of being overly optimistic. But Little Miss Sunshine draws the line in the sun-kissed sand right here: Don’t hold your breath for those academic jobs. Instead, start planning out your non-academic career — now.
This is not about having a bad attitude. It’s about looking at the cold, hard reality. In the Canadian case, here it is, in the starkest of terms: in 2007, 4,800 people in Canada earned their Ph.D.’s. How many jobs were waiting for them that year? 2,616. Yeah, about half. But of course, competition for those jobs was not just restricted to those who got their doctorates that year. It was shared among foreign Ph.D.’s, Ph.D. students still finishing their dissertations, and several earlier cohorts of Ph.D.’s who were still job-hunting. Plus, the competition for fewer jobs is becoming greater and greater because graduate enrollments are up: in Canada, graduate enrollment was up 62 percent in 2007-8 than 2001-2.
The difficult, crummy truth is out there for everyone to see: You can be the smartest, brightest, most-published person coming out of your degree program and STILL end up without an academic job, simply because the positions aren’t there. So why not seize this moment as an opportunity and not an occasion to dig yourself into adjuncting hell?
I’m not against optimism. I’m not against holding out for what you really want. But I am against the drinking of the academic Kool-Aid. The idea that being a tenured faculty member is the only way to achieve personal and professional satisfaction, or that a university classroom is the only place where one can teach, or that non-academic careers don’t offer intellectual stimulation is, quite simply, rubbish. It is a hasty conclusion drawn by people who have never worked outside of academia. Come on! Why are you going to listen to those people, anyway? Put your analytical, scholarly hats on for a moment: the idea that non-academic jobs are somehow “less than” is an idea that is fostered by … academics! It is not a view that is grounded in research (and if it is, please forward this research to me c/o this magazine), it’s not founded in experience, and it’s counter to the happy, post-academic work reality of thousands and thousands of Ph.D.’s.
I’m not suggesting that now is not a time for political action. It most certainly is. The unions that are fighting for something approaching fairness in the hiring and compensation packages of adjunct professors are doing critical work. If you are doing that work, I applaud and support you. But I would also suggest that you — individual little you, not political-hat-wearing you — spend an equal amount of time and energy cultivating your own “Plan B” career.
If you are currently spending any time at all fighting political battles in your department or university, divert 50 percent of that energy to planning your non-academic career (how? Read this book). If you watch TV for more than 5 hours a week, spend 50 percent of your TV time building your non-academic network (how? Read this article). If your university is undergoing a hiring freeze, spend one hour a week reading a book about non-academic résumés (like this one). If your university canceled a hire, spend two hours a week brushing up on non-academic Web sites (like this one). If your university laid off or did not re-hire any adjunct faculty, spend three hours a week doing information interviews (information what?). If folks in your department took early retirements and slashed your photocopying budget by 50 percent, see a career coach.
Then, do the most important thing you can do when you get your non-academic career: tell everyone you know. Scholars out there have to know that there is life outside the ivory tower that is far more personally and professionally satisfying than adjuncting ever, ever could be.
Does the phrase “career change” terrify you? Do you think “former academic” is a special kind of slur? Does the idea of the non-academic job search make you want to hide under your bed?
If you’re at the point where you want to make a non-academic contingency plan, or you think you’re ready to admit that academia isn’t the life for you, you don’t need to plunge in to the depths of managing your career change all at once. You just need to understand the nature of what you’re taking on. As it turns out, academics are actually uniquely well-positioned to embark on the process of a career change because so much of what’s involved is about creating and executing a research plan. That’s right, smartypants career changer — you’ve just stumbled upon your next research project.
Like any other project, it’s good to get a sense of what needs to be done before you dive in. So here is a list of 10 components to check off on your project plan as you go about doing your research.
- Begin with basic research. The first thing to do is a preliminary assessment of the existing material in the field of non-academic career change. Lucky for you, the small amount of info that’s out there is slowly growing. There are the books you can buy (starting with Basalla and Debelius’ So What Are You Going to Do With That?). But the bulk of the advice and insight can be found online: Alexandra Lord’s Beyond Academe, Paula Chambers’ WRK4US listserv, Julie Clarenbach’s Escape the Ivory Tower are three great places to start. And of course, there’s the Leaving Academia column I write here, plus my blog (where you’ll find links to a social networking site).
- Expand your research to human subjects. In other words, sniff out former academics for advice, encouragement and potential contacts. You can use alumni databases to find out where graduates of your university have gone, and of course, you should be using the requisite social media platforms. But the best way of finding academic expats is word of mouth. As I’ve said many times, once you start looking for former academics, you can’t go to a single social gathering without finding five of them. Ask them about their experiences. Find out how they made their way into their next career. Ask them if they know anyone you can talk to.
- Start thinking about what you can offer the world beyond your disciplinary boundaries. This, to me, is a critical, critical step. Many academics I’ve talked to get hung up on the question, “But what kind of job can a Ph.D. in [insert your discipline here] get?” Don’t limit your imagination to jobs that seem to spring directly from your disciplinary background (oh, you’re a poli sci Ph.D.? Get a government job! You’ve got an English degree? Go into book publishing!). God forbid Rachel Maddow would have chained herself to a desk job inside the State Department, or that David Duchovny would have restricted himself to being an adjunct English lit professor for the rest of his life. Instead, do what they did: get clear on what your skills are (then see #4 on following your passion). Your path into the non-academic world will likely not be through what you know but what you can do: planning, organizing, writing, research, presenting, liaising, chairing a meeting/committee, translating complex ideas into simple ones, organizing a presentation or conference, etc. Spend lots of time — like, lots of time — figuring out what your skills are. Don’t know how to do that? Start with Google and go from there.
- Reflect on what your beliefs and interests are and what you’re really passionate about, then focus on your key research problem. Focus in on the area where you want to conduct your career search the way you set out the parameters of your research. One way of doing this is to zoom in on what you care about most. The former academics I’ve talked to who are happiest are the ones who found work that aligned most with their values, even if it had little to do (on the surface) with their area of research.
- Identify the obstacles the way you identify gaps in the literature, and then develop strategies to deal. OK, so you’ve figured out that you really want to, for example, turn your gardening hobby into your main gig. Let’s say you want to open a flower shop. You’ve got the planning skills, the knowledge about plants and you worked at Wal-Mart for a few years during your B.A. But are you lacking basic bookkeeping skills? Take a night course. Volunteer for an organization that needs office help. Ask a local florist if you can job shadow him or her for a day.
- Plunge in. After that period of reflection and rumination, the point comes when the fingers hit the keyboard and the feet hit the pavement. Attack the execution of your research with the zeal you attack your scholarly hypotheses. The tricks you used to get your dissertation written can be the same you use here — time management, balance, knowing when you feel most capable to tackle a big problem, etc.
- Crank up your networking machine. This aspect of your career research never, ever stops. Find out ways you can help others. Talk to anyone and everyone you know who has an interesting job and find out how they got into that line of work. Get a volunteer job for an organization or cause you really believe in and make yourself useful. Make a spreadsheet of your contacts and incorporate this into your research. Keep being open to meeting new people and developing new relationships.
- Know that there is going to be a lot of healing and grieving to be done. There is a lot about career change that is fun and exciting, but making the decision to leave academia is not just about switching jobs. It’s about shedding an entire identity that you built up over years or decades. You can’t move out of that situation without feeling some amount of loss. It’s like a breakup: you know that you don’t want to stay in a relationship with that person, but that doesn’t mean you’re not going to go through a period of mourning.
- Consider enlisting the help of some professionals — a life coach, career coach, psychotherapist or counselor. I’m going to plug my friend and colleague Jamie Ridler because she is amazing at helping people from all over the world open their eyes to new paths their lives can take (plus she’s a former academic, to boot, so she’s a coach who knows where you’re coming from). You could also hire a résumé coach or other professionals who can help you with identifying your skills and crafting your résumé.
- Rinse and repeat. And, like with your research, celebrate a job well done.
Networking is a word that can strike fear in the heart of even the mightiest wanna-be academic ex-pat. It’s something you know you’re supposed to do, but aren’t sure how to do it. You’ve heard it’s not the sleazy activity that the word connotes anymore, but you still haven’t got the faintest clue where to start. Not only that, you might feel especially behind the 8-ball if you’re one of those academics who claims not to know anyone outside of academia. How can you network your way into a non-academic position if the only people you know are other academics?
I’ve got five straightforward steps you can use to start plugging in to non-academic jobs (including that whole “hidden job market” hoo-ha) today. Think of them in a pyramid formation — steps that you take moving from the bottom of the pyramid to the top.
1. Tune in to your existing contacts. The best place to start with networking is not by signing up for an impersonal networking event or by starting a cold calling campaign. It’s by reaching out to the people you already know. These people form the base of your networking pyramid.
Here’s an exercise that will appeal to the truly Type-A among you (and will begin to appease those who insist they don’t know anyone who works outside an academic institution): take out a piece of paper, an Excel spreadsheet or a contact management tool like Plaxo. Make a list of every person you know. Yes, every person you know is a contact. I’m talking family, friends, former profs, former co-workers, your massage therapist, online friends, Facebook buddies, staff at the gym, people you play sports or Scrabble with, the concierge of your building, your department’s administrator, that cutie-pie librarian, the director of the cat shelter where you used to volunteer, the health food store clerk you chat with every Saturday morning, and so forth (there — you still think you don’t know anyone outside of academe?). And don’t forget: your academic contacts (grad students, this includes your supervisor) also have non-academic contacts, so don’t leave them out (if you’re emotionally ready for that).
Reach out to those people (in person or electronically) and let them know you’re job hunting. Yeah, that might feel really weird, depending on how deeply entrenched you are in your academic career. But people these days will understand that most scholars need to be making backup plans.
Plant the seed in the brains of folks who know you that you’re looking for a job, and ask them if they would keep you in mind if they hear of anything. Be prepared with some kind of answer when they ask, “What kind of work are you looking for?” And then, once you’ve had that conversation, look for ways you can give all of those people a helping hand.
2. Take to your online networks. Moving up your networking pyramid, you go from the people you know in person to the people you know online. Let your contacts on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn know that you’re job-hunting. But heed the advice that most social media folks are espousing these days about not looking desperate. Instead of updating your status to, “Am desperate for a job in MegaDesirable Town. Any leads?” try to write updates that demonstrate your initiative in the job-search process. “Just had a great conversation with @thejobsguy about a potential consulting job in Austin,” or “I love how idealist.org makes job searching so easy,” will convey the right message. While you’re at it, use those same online tools to start connecting with people who are in the line of work you want to get into.
3. Next, move from the people you know in person and online to people you haven’t met before. This means reaching out to any names you collect from your existing contacts, or responding to introductions to third parties that your existing contacts have extended to you. This usually means entering the land of the information interview. There is lots of material online (and, of course, in books like So What Are You Going to Do With That?) about how to set up and what to say in an information interview. Don’t forget: an information interview should be brief (20 – 30 minutes) and it should be a chance for you to shut up and listen, not talk about yourself (unless you’re invited to). Ask for names of other contacts you can reach out to, but don’t expect anyone to be doling out job offers. And for the love of Eagleton, don’t forget to send a thank you note afterward (both to the person who referred you and to your new contact).
4. Next up: make yourself useful. This means reaching out to strangers in a capacity where you can actually do good and show off your skills at the same time. In the online world, this means contributing to listservs, showing your expertise on a blog and providing good links on Twitter. In the real world, this means volunteering, getting on a board of a worthy organization, offering to take notes at a convention where people in your desired sector will be, and look for opportunities to solve problems.
5. At the top of the networking pyramid is good old cold calling/e-mailing. Have an organization in mind where you’d love to work? Know of a sector or role where you’d jump at the chance to use your skills? Get on the horn and explain your situation. Like with the info interview, be brief, be gracious and don’t expect anything other than a chance to chat and learn. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how frequently people are generously willing to talk to you about their own career paths into the job they’re doing. If there’s a good connection there, keep in touch. Ask for more contact names. Return the favor.
Networking often doesn’t yield immediate results. It can take a long time of you moving your way up and down the networking pyramid for you to land in front of the person who’s going to hire you. You are going to want to develop your elevator pitch, and come up with a friendly, brief answer to, “You mean you don’t want to be a university professor anymore?” (and its variants). It’s true that including fellow academics in your non-academic job search can mean suffering through some potentially awkward moments. But don’t be a Hector Projector (“He thinks I’m a failure that I’m quitting teaching!”) and keep your purpose (viz. switching careers) foremost in mind. And remember, networking is just one more component in your new research project — the one that will land you in your next career.
Did you hear the one about the humanities Ph.D.?
Last month, Inside Higher Ed reported on the Graduate Education Initiative of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, an effort to reform the humanities Ph.D. from being a decade-long hellride — OK, OK, I’m paraphrasing with great liberty, here — to being an appropriately-funded six-year experience. Over a 10-year period, $85 million was spent on improvements — including more generous aid packages — at doctoral humanities programs at 10 research universities. Researchers then tracked those students through their degree progress, following up on what happened to them when they left their programs (regardless of whether they finished the PhD or not). The findings of the research appear in Educating Scholars: Doctoral Education in the Humanities.
Great experiment, right? How many of you have fantasized about being able to finish your damn degree, if only money wasn’t this constant monkey on your back? Well, it turns out that money is only one factor of many that determines how long it takes to finish. Instead of rocketing through their degree programs, participants in the study only made minimal improvements (and in some cases, extended typical completion times). Completion rates and time to completion saw such modest improvements, in fact, that researchers were doubtful a six-year degree “could be achieved in any general way in the humanities.”
This is kind of surprising — money, the great panacea, not solving all our problems? And yet, given all of the other pressures graduate students face while working on their degrees, it’s hardly surprising at all. There are a host of other factors that genuinely impede degree progress, which the commenters on the Inside Higher Ed article ably point out. Most notably, getting stuck in the adjunct track — a track that cash-strapped colleges are only too happy to use — is a major problem.
But commenters on the post also reveal some beliefs that humanities students themselves cling to, which in turn keep them trapped in Ph.D. programs far longer than they could be. For example, the belief that a humanities Ph.D. (unlike a social science degree) genuinely only limits students to careers as teachers is absurd. A teeny bit of time spent with Google and talking to professionals in various professions will reveal that philosophers, lit majors and their ilk end up in just as wide an array of jobs as social scientists. Broadcasting, life coaching, union organizing, the arts, and the non-profit sector are just a few places where humanities folks — Ph.D. in hand or not — end up.
This in turn points to another significant factor that determines degree time to completion: the human one. Faculty, the study reveals, play a key role. For example, providing clear expectations as to when degree requirements should be finished is instrumental in student success.
Departments where faculty members “bought into” the idea of reducing time to degree showed much more progress than departments were the project was encouraged by the institution, but didn’t have faculty buy-in.
Faculty also have an important role to play with respect to attrition rates precisely because of the way money can work in the lives of grad students. In this study, it appeared as though the funding provided to students may have introduced a whole new monkey on some students’ backs: the pressure to stay. Early attrition rates dropped, and for those who believe that if you should quit, you should quit early, this isn’t good news. It appears as though the money granted to students in this effort provided just enough security for them to stay, even if they dropped out later in their degree programs. When it comes to leaving, all you have to lose is your chains, indeed — that, and the modicum of security that a slice of financial aid can provide you. The role for faculty, then? One of the researchers
said that the findings don’t make him think financial aid should be lessened, but rather than generous packages need to be accompanied by frank discussions between professors and students.
These “frank discussions,” though, should ideally be informed by some knowledge of the non-academic labor market, with which most faculty are very unacquainted.
So what did happen to the people who left their programs before finishing the degree?
12 percent ended up earning a Ph.D. either from a different university or another department at the same university. Another 18 percent earned other postgraduate degrees, many of them in business or law.
This is not especially surprising, given that getting more education is in the blood of so many who leave academe. But the career paths of those who left really raised my proverbial eyebrow:
17 percent of those who departed programs reported that they were in managerial positions, 13 percent reported that they were either judges or lawyers, and a majority of the rest found careers in education, mostly at colleges and universities.
Really? Really? They all ended up as managers, judges, lawyers and college educators/staff/administrators? This list does not reflect at all the career paths of the majority of the former academics I’ve met (including those who finished the Ph.D. and those who didn’t). Where are the entrepreneurs and the self-employed? The directors of non-profits? Where are the cultural creatives and magazine publishers? We’re talking about humanities Ph.D.’s, here!
This weirdly restricted array of post-academic careers reported may point to a limiting factor built in to the study: the list of universities selected to be a part of it. They are Columbia, Cornell, Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, Yale, and the Universities of California at Berkeley, Chicago, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Are post-academics from these institutions making different choices than those who attend different sorts of colleges and universities?
I was heartened to see that there was attention paid in the report to gender differences among men and women, and those who had young families. But I don’t think there’s anything to get excited about here:
in many respects humanities departments are treating their male and female students similarly, and that their success levels reflect that.
Back to Humanities Ph.D.’s
Again, we’re talking about the humanities. This finding would be newsworthy if we were talking about engineering programs. But reporting that women and men are treated equitably is kind of like saying male and female nurses are treated equitably by the nurses’ union. What is interesting is the news that women who enter Ph.D. programs as moms don’t finish any more slowly or drop out any more frequently than women who aren’t moms at the start of the Ph.D. Moms: the ultimate multi-taskers. And then there’s this:
Men who are married when they start graduate school are more likely than single men to graduate and to graduate more quickly. Married women, on the other hand, had no advantage over single women, so whatever the married men are getting in support from their spouses is not apparently duplicated.
The implication, quipped Ehrenberg [a study author], is that “everyone should have a wife.”
But really, that’s not news either, is it?
I sometimes get mail from readers who are at the very beginning of their academic careers. They’re looking for advice about how they can situate their research to make themselves as employable as possible when they’re finished. This is, of course, a very smart and practical question — but makes the liberal arts lovers among us sigh a little bit. The thing is, these days, it’s the students with the greatest passion for the liberal arts who find themselves having to ask the question.
I recently heard from someone who is currently in a master’s program and is being groomed for a spot in the Ph.D. program. “I enjoy my classes,” he wrote, “and I’m thrilled by thinking about what I might do for a thesis project, but at the same time I feel a bit torn between pursuing my intellectual interests, and focusing on developing the skills I need for the ideal job I want.”
Testify! Now, this person did recognize that a thesis project and developing job skills don’t have to be mutually exclusive. However, the problem is that once you are immersed in a doctoral program of research, your focus has absolutely nothing to do with your transferable skills; in fact, the higher up you climb on the academic ladder, the more you feel you don’t have any skills at all. The work, then, of convincing yourself that you’re not totally useless once you exit a Ph.D. program is exhausting and emotional. And re-packaging yourself and putting yourself onto the non-academic job market is just plain hard.
I see two solutions for the young academics who think they might want to pursue a Ph.D. program but also want to be realistic about their academic job prospects.
The first has to do with making the process of skills-building during graduate school a transparent one. This involves the kind of regular maintenance and upkeep that most scholars do with their academic CVs. As you move through the different steps of your graduate program — coursework, writing the dissertation proposal, serving on committees, teaching, and so on — keep track of the skills you used to get each of those things done. These are skills that may be invisible to you before doing this exercise, but are quite essential on the non-academic job market. Won a $5,000 scholarship? Mark that down under fund-raising and grant writing skills. Served for a year on the tenure and promotions committee? Tick the make-believe box next to administrative and teamwork skills. Taught an introductory course? Check, check and check for project planning skills, doing oral presentations/public speaking and conducting evaluations.
By keeping track not just of the outcomes of your academic success but the actual skills you used to produce those outcomes, you’re well on your way to combating the all-too-common feelings of simultaneous overqualification and underqualification that plague newly minted Ph.D.’s. Moreover, when you go to write your two-page employment résumé, your skills won’t be invisible to you. You’ll be just that much more prepared to speak fluently about what you did in school and what you can offer to prospective employers.
Anyone who wants to pursue a life of the mind and yet also feel confident about their employability at the end of the Ph.D. experience should make the job of tracking their skills a crucial and vital component of their time in graduate school. Any time you update your CV, update your skills inventory. Update it, too, whenever you jump over a fresh academic hurdle.
The second way to broach the quandary of wanting to conduct academic research and not be stuck jobless at the end of the academic road is by taking a more mercenary approach with your work. So far, I have not met a single former academic who was able to apply their research directly into a non-academic job. However, I have met lots of former academics who realized in retrospect how their research happened to intersect with their post-academic work.
But if I were going to go back and be really strategic about my research, this is what I would do. I would take time to think about an organization that I’d really love to work for. It could be an organization that uses research (like a non-profit or health care agency, for example), conducts research (like a corporation or think tank) or commissions research (like the federal government). I would try to develop contacts inside of that organization and do some information interviews. I would let them know what I loved about the organization and how I could see myself working there in a research capacity. And then I would ask them about what their needs were. I would find out about their problems, their stumbling blocks, the issues that they face. And then I would dedicate my research to solving their problem.
I would keep in touch with them over the years, through staff turnovers, office politics and, perhaps, through their own internal solving of their problems. I would accept the risk that my research itself may be outdated by the time I finish, or that the solution I had developed was not workable or consistent with their organizational culture.
But the point of the exercise — other than getting a Ph.D. — would be to demonstrate my deep knowledge of the organization, my commitment to the organization’s cause/mission, my strategic thinking skills, and my savvy at attempting to keep one foot in the academic camp and the other foot in the “real world.” At the end, even if the organization didn’t hire me, I’d still be able to display those attributes (knowledge, commitment, strategic thinking, savvy) to another employer who would value that kind of worker.
Those are two totally different approaches that young researchers could take if they’re concerned about life after the Ph.D. Are you a young researcher working some kind of post-academic angle? Do you know anyone who chose their research with a job in mind? Or someone who turned their research project into a career? I’d love to hear about it.
These days, it is axiomatic in career-search circles that using the social web in your job hunt is just a smart thing to do. Why turn your nose up at Twitter, Facebook, blogging and LinkedIn when they are rife with opportunities to network and connect with prospective employers? I agree with this line of thinking, but I think there are some very particular reasons why employing web 2.0 technologies is especially wise for academics considering a career change.
1. It’s about identity construction. The Lacanians among you are going to love this. When you create a profile on a site like LinkedIn, for example, you have the opportunity to present to other professionals a narrative about your career trajectory that makes sense to them — and to you. Using words to help create a post-academic identity is something that will translate your skills to a wider audience and also does wonders for your own sense of self. Note: Lying is out. But, as with the process of creating a resume, you can accentuate the positive (creative, hard-working, whiz at troubleshooting) and minimize the pesky details (turned down for tenure? No one need know).
2. It boosts your sense of professionalism. If you’re a graduate student, you’re likely an avid Facebook user. But are you on LinkedIn? You might not be, thinking that LinkedIn is for professional networking and you’re not a professional. Well, guess what? You are apprenticing for a professional position, even if you do spend most of your days in your pajamas and do your writing during the commercials aired on Ellen. But your contacts on LinkedIn don’t need to know that. What they do need to know, however, is what you’re doing now, any interesting work you’ve done in the past, and what kind of opportunities you’re looking for in the future.
3. It’s an alternative to job banks. On Twitter, there are people (like @thejobsguy) who simply write 140 character blurbs about job postings. This is a fast and easy way to get a sense of jobs that are on the market, so you can gauge what interests you and what doesn’t.
4. It makes networking easier. Following someone on Twitter — especially if they follow you back — provides you with an opportunity to connect with any number of people you wouldn’t ordinarily have access to. Fostering an online relationship with someone is one important aspect of your job-hunting networking campaign.
5. It showcases your current self, and the self you want to be. One of my clients has had tremendous luck at leveraging LinkedIn. She’s a tenured prof, and she discovered through LinkedIn that people she knew in and before grad school work in precisely the organizations that she’s applying to. She’s using those contacts to find out more about what it’s like to work for the company and who the people with the decision-making power are, as well as to get introductions. These old contacts likely would never have thought of notifying her about job postings, for example. But LinkedIn is a polite, professional way of signaling your interest about your next career move to people who may be in a position to help you.
6. It shows how committed you are about moving into your next career. Writing regular status updates on Facebook and Twitter about your professional ambitions is just a smart thing to do when you’re on a job hunt. Another way of really showing off that you’re serious about changing fields is by starting a blog. Launching one on a topic that has nothing to do with your current area of research but has everything to do with what you dream about for your next career signals to future employers that you’re in it for the long haul. Blogging can be a powerful way to signal what you know about a topic, but it’s also okay to start a blog on a topic you know nothing about. Ironically, chronicling a learning process is something that contributes to you becoming an expert in that field because you are providing concrete evidence for the knowledge that you are accumulating. Who’s going to be interested in that expertise? Your next employer, of course.
7. It opens your eyes. On Twitter, you find out about all kinds of things people do for a living (and certainly the number of people who call themselves “marketers” trying to sell you their services!). It gives you an opportunity to learn about all the different kinds of work everyday people do. Right now, I’m following life coaches, a prostitutes’ rights organizer, a burgeoning film producer, a movie critic, Web developers, researchers, stay-at-home moms, bloggers, etc. Every day, I learn a little bit about their corner of the world.
8. You can meet cool people. I have met and fostered connections through Twitter, which is just plain old fun.
9. It makes you employable. More and more companies are Tweeting, launching Facebook pages, and even building their own social networking tools. Whether you dream of going corporate or self-employed, corporate or public sector, being able to note on your resume how handy you are with web 2.0 technologies will only impress.
10. It helps combat stereotypes about Ph.D.s. One stereotype about Ph.D.’s is the idea that we all have our heads tucked neatly up our own behinds. There are a number of ways to combat that, but running a blog on a topic that has NOTHING to do with your area of study is a quick and easy way to demonstrate to employers and other contacts in your network that you do have your finger on the pulse of one aspect of business and contemporary culture. Running a blog in particular will show that you can write in plain English, for example, thereby beating back the notion that you can only use $10 words and run-on sentences. It shows that you can — and do — come down from the ivory tower once in a while.