Your Leaving Academia Questions About Non Academic Careers For Phd

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Charles asks…

How much “in common” do you need to have for a relationship to work?

Here’s my situation. I’m not complaining, I’m just trying to take it seriously and thinking a lot about it.
I have been dating a great guy for several months now. We have so much to talk about. We share interests like reading, science and theatre, our tastes are similar in music, books and movies, our lifestyles are very much compatible, even our sleeping habits 🙂 But then there are some things where we differ. For example, I’m Catholic, he’s a self-professed “spiritual agnostic”. I come from a “perfect” traditional family, where everyone is very educated and smart, his parents, who are both pretty much working class, got divorced before he can even remember that. He’s the first in his family to go as far as PhD, I’m probably going to be the only one in my family without one (though I’m also smart, I just choose a nonacademic career). We both are rather shy and very sensitive to the relationship, so whenever we talk about things we disagree on, we sort of walk in circles, without expressing strong personal opinions. But then, sometimes we have heated impersonal debates like whether or not abortions should be forbidden by law etc.
So my question is, is it possible to overcome religious and similar differences in a relationship? I want to believe it is, but my personal experience tells me relationships fail even for very stupid reasons. Is there any way to know what can become a big problem and somehow prevent it? Some special ways of talking about those things or dealing with them on a small scale, before they become an elephant in the room? Please try to talk not only about respect and compromise, but also about more specific situations and examples. Thank you.


Blogger answers:

Well…I don’t have any situations or examples, but here me out, opposites attract and so do people with the same interests. Theres is no specific requirement of commonalities you need to have a relationship, all you need is:
A faithful love
A devoted soul
A romantic evening
And to keep her/his heart full


Sharon asks…

Over time, I have grown serious reservations about my PhD supervisor; is my career going to suffer?

For some nonacademic/non-research reasons, I no longer enjoy interacting with him. I am going to graduate soon. I think I am not in a position to use him as my referee for job or anything. I feel sorry for myself, I just know all of his double-standards and self-interested policies, and it will be betrayal to myself if I change my mind. As I am going to graduate soon and work in a very specialized applied science area (where only a few companies offer a job), it will be very hard to land a job without his contribution. But I just have a strong feeling that it will be a betrayal to myself, to all of my beliefs and principles, if I give in. Being consistent with my values and without his considerations, do I have a decent chance for my first job?


Blogger answers:

It is a giant red flag if you don’t have a LOR from your PhD advisor. Employers will think there is something wrong with you instead of him. Since your issues are not professional, you have to seperate your personal feelings from your professional interests. Limit your interactions with him and keep such interactions strictly professional.

Getting a reference from him will not be hypocritical on your part. If your work is good and he did an adequate job as your supervisor, then there is nothing wrong with getting an LOR from him. Plus, if he is as selfish as you say, he will work hard to get you the best job possible because it will make him look good.

I completely understand where you’re comming from. My advisor is a horrible person but a brilliant mathematician. Accordingly, I completely minimized my interactions with him – only meeting when we needed to work some things out for my dissertation. I honestly feared that he would try to sabotage my job search but in the end, he helped me get the best post doc I could have hoped for.


Laura asks…

How to make the most of my gap year (I am a psychology undergrad who wants a PhD in clinical/cognitive psych)?

I appologize in advance for this really long post.

I am currently in my fifth year of a BA/MA program in general psychology. I have finished all of my requirements except for my masters thesis. I will defending my thesis in the spring semester. My ultimate career goal is to become a professor.

However, I want to take a year off between my undergrad and my PhD because I feel like I need it. I want to retake the GREs again and have time to really take my time with the grad application process but that is not going to happen right now because I am scrambling to get my thesis done by the spring. Also, I have no publications right now, but we are working on things for publication and my CV may reflect that if I wait for a year. From a purely nonacademic perspective, I feel like I also need the year because I have had some rough spots during the past five years (I have bipolar disorder and I dealt with a few episodes) and I need a break from classes and would like to do something else for a change. I would prefer to do something that will enhance my CV.

So far, these are the options I know I have:
1. Gussy up to my department find a TA or adjunct position for that year.
2. Try for a post-bac research training program
3. Stay in the labs I am in now and get publications
4. Look for a paid research position

Is there anything else I can/should do or should consider doing? Do you have any suggestions? What is the most useful/productive way to spend that year? If you took a gap year, did you find it helpful? What did you do that helped the most?

Or, should I just bite the bullet and apply? I think that some aspects of my application might actually be competitive.

My GRE scores may get me kicked out of some piles (I have a 1240: 570 verbal and 670 quant). I haven’t taken the subject test yet, but I got a 700 on my Kaplan diagnostic and I am taking the test in October. But, my GPAs work for me: I have a 3.941 general GPA and a 4.00 in my major. I do not come from a school with a particularly good reputation but I have lots of reasearch experience, an REU, and a few conference presentations under my belt. I also have six months of good clinical experience.

Ugh… I have to take the new GREs


Blogger answers:

From my own experience, I would suggest using the time to broaden your research experience. At the same time you’ll be able to get some publications out and those two things together will make a huge difference to your chances come application time. Is there a chance of getting a paid research position in your current labs? As they already know your abilities, they would be more likely to give you the opportunity to learn a new skill which is complementary to your research. Looking for a job in an unrelated lab is more likely to require you to use your existing skills than picking up new ones.
It sounds like you’ll have a good CV with your research experience and conferences, but allowing time to get a publication or two out and maybe another in the pipeline would (in my opinion) be more important than which school you’re coming from.
From a non-academic perspective too, PhD is going to be full-on! You need a little time to breathe and get yourself back together after the stress of your previous studies. And to get excited for the next stage!
Good luck!


Lizzie asks…

MS/PhD in electrical engineering (Signal Processing / DSP Theory Vs Electrical Power / Energy)?

i graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in 2008…i did my senior year undergraduate concentration in signal processing…but i ended up finding a job in the electric power field upon graduation (i work for a nuclear energy firm where it’s about the power distribution system)…

i LOVE math (even on engineer standards…i solve hard math problems for fun and my other engineer friends think i’m weird for doing so)…so i’m applying to grad schools and i’m trying to figure out which concentration to go into…

as i see it…Signal Processing is very math heavy and academic oriented…stuff that i’m more oriented towards…but i also feel like the jobs are somewhat lacking in this field…especially during the crappy economy

Electric Power…my entire job experience from college onwards has been in this field…while i think there are more jobs in this field (with all the nuke plants that are being built)…i think that its more of a practical / non academic type of field…and does not require much math or theory…also i feel like it’s somewhat cookie-cutter…

what are your suggestions??…i want a career that’s up my alley but at the same time i want job security…


Blogger answers:

Here are my thoughts, based on a 35-year career as an EE in hardware design.

1. I’ve worked in a wide variety of EE hardware-disciplines during my career.

In the 1960’s I designed audio amplifiers, originally vacuum-tube based.

During the 1970’s I designed: logic IC’s, optical satellite attitude sensors, electronic music synthesizers (guitar), HV self-destruct hardware for guided missiles, position-servos for geophysical measurements, phase-locked loops, precision low-noise amplifiers.

During the 1980’s and 1990’s I designed complex analog and digital electronics for ultrasound medical imaging systems. I worked with 100 PhD scientists & engineers in a very exciting, challenging environment — this was the most exciting, challenging intellectual environment available to EE hardware designers during these 2 decades. Also ultrasound system design & team leadership.

Had I continued my EE career into the 2000’s, I would have switched to robotics design.

2. I have always sought out the most intellectually challenging work environments. These are the most fun.

3. In conclusion: Be prepared to master a wide variety of disciplines. Be prepared to return, each decade, for a year or more of graduate-level education in new and exciting fields. Job security demands the ability to adapt quickly to unfamiliar intellectual disciplines.

To paraphrase Andy Grove at Intel: Only the brilliant and highly-adaptable engineer will survive.


Ruth asks…

Alternative Psychology Careers?

I’m looking for career advice in terms of possible career options within Child Psychology or Academia.

Here’s the short version:
I want to teach
I like doing the hands on parts of research
I dislike the theoretical/writing parts of research
Is there any job in Psychology for me?

Here’s the long version:
I’m in Canada. I have a Bachelor Degree with Honours in Psychology. I’m going to complete my Master’s Degree in Psychology in 2 weeks. Then, I will begin my PhD program.

As an undergraduate, I enjoyed psychometric testing and originally planned to go into Child Clinical. But I did not want to focus on autism or childhood schizophrenia, I was more interested in ‘typically counselling’ topics (children of divorce, anxiety, depression, bullying) and therefore I decided Clinical was not for me. I also decided a counselling program was not for me because it’s not academic/theoretical enough.

I enjoyed designing research ideas and critiquing research. I also enjoyed statistics. So I went to graduate school in Developmental Research. My area of focus is shyness and social anxiety in children and I work with non-clinical samples. I’ve been working as a teaching assistant and a research assistant.

I greatly enjoy teaching and lecturing and I would love to teach at the univeristy level some day. I’ve also learned that I love the “hands on” component of research. I love working with participants and administering psychometric tests. I also love really applied research on non-clinical populations.

However, I have learned that I am not passionate about the writing or theoretical aspects of research. Although I enjoy designing research and critiquing other studies and keeping up with important findings, I greatly dislike the thesis writing process and APA style. I also greatly dislike needing to know absolutely every study every conducted on a topic before commencing research on that topic.

I also am concerned about research grants. I find applying for research grants to be largely hit and miss. Some professors always win grants and other never do. I feel I would be better suited for a job with more stability – like a private research company, or a government research centre – in which I didn’t need to apply for grants.

Finally, I am worried because my advisor does not do any “hands on” work. His job is primarily the “theoretical” aspect of the research, reviewing journals, writing grant applications, writing journal articles. He hasn’t even taught for the last two years because last year one of his research grants excused him from teaching and this year he is on Sabbatical. I’m concerned that if I become a professor, I will not be able to do any “hands on” work which I like and instead my career will be primarily “theoretical” work which I dislike. I do not want a career that is entirely reading and writing.

So, because of all this, I’ve become concerned that a career in Academia as a Psychology Professor may not be for me. I don’t want to just be a lecturer – because the salary is not good ($20,000). But I want to teach, and I want to be able to do some research – but I don’t want my career to be dominated by research grant applications and journal reviews.

Are the any alternative career options that might be appropriate?
Are there certain colleges which are less research focused?
Has anyone heard of any academic positions (besides lecturer) that are less reserach focused?


Blogger answers:

First off, congratulations on your achievements! Be proud of what you succeeded at accomplishing -as it truly is remarkable and worthy of acknowledging for your own “sense-of-self.”

Next, in two weeks when you receive your Masters, run as fast and as far as possible from your present work in that particular school!! If you even hesitate, you’ll get sucked into doing exactly what you are very clear that you don not want to do.

Now, the good news -the world needs people like you!! And because of your academic success -and delightful articulation of your thoughts and feelings- you will not have any difficulty in settling in to do what you prefer … In fact, the only way that will not occur is if you “edit yourself” out of the opportunities.

As you know (mentioned in your post), the world does not revolve around theoretical academicians, and there are wonderful opportunities for individuals with your competencies within business, government, and yes, educational institutions (not like the one you presently are linked with).

In my view, the nexus of your situation is that you do not want to fall into the trap of the “traditional” academic dance (i.e., read and analyze a convoy of other theorists … Write a paper that is 80% sourced material, 10% your thoughts, and 10% a blend of the two … Struggle to first find relevant grants and then beat the h*** out of yourself to actually write the grant … And then get restrained by the severely constricted parameters of the grant … And, of course, all the while, be sure your name shows up in a few journals here and there). As I said, run fast and far!!

All-in-all, you must reframe your lens to ignore the foreground of traditional education -as well as anyone and anyplace that puts a premium on that perspective. As such, for your PhD -or maybe- PsyD, seriously screen those schools that come across as traditional … You’ll be bored-to-tears, frustrated and angry and, most likely, become another statistic within the ranks of the ABDs … And educational institutions sit around scratching their heads -and other parts of their anatomy- wondering why sooooooooo many doctoral students do not complete the program!!

Part II to follow ….

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