Posts Tagged ‘career change’


Career Change – Your Next Project

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Reflection

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.

  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. Rinse and repeat. And, like with your research, celebrate a job well done.

11 things you need to know about leaving academia

Written by Blog Editor. Posted in Reflection

I’ve been working on the Leaving Academia project, on and off, for three years now. And there are 11 things that I absolutely know are true about leaving academia. They are:

1. You can do it. You can leave academia and survive. You can leave academia and THRIVE, in fact.

2. It is incredibly scary. Figuring out what to do in your post-academic life can feel like one giant question mark pressing down on you with a weight similar to that of writing a dissertation; with enough time, though, and enough self-reflection, you will figure out what you want to do.

3. Your whole life won’t come tumbling down into shambles if you leave academia.

4. You have tons of options for your post-academic career (even though it may not feel that way), many of which have nothing to do with your area of study, but have everything to do with your core skills (e.g. project management, policy analysis, consulting, organizing).

5. You are not crazy if you want to have a satisfying job in a city you actually like and to have your partner and family living with you and to live near your friends.

6. You might not switch immediately into your dream job right away but you will get to your dream job a hell of a lot more quickly if you bail from academia now rather than never (in fact, in my case, I didn’t want to jump into a challenging dream job; first, I wanted to just take an intellectual break with an easy job that had solid pay and fab benefits). It might take a few years for you to select the organization that you really care about and climb your way into the job of your dreams. However, just because you might start out closer to the bottom than you would like isn’t reason enough to stay in a career stream that might not ever offer you any satisfaction at all.

7. If academia WAS your dream job but you’re tired of living in the adjuncting/contract teaching trenches, there are other options for you to use your passion for teaching/learning, your communications skills, your love of reading and your skills at writing and researching. Remember, people — this is the knowledge and information economy we are living in. A.B.D.’s and Ph.D.’s hold enormous currency in this era.

8. One really big secret: most people outside higher ed don’t give a shit if you leave academia, so don’t bother feeling guilt about leaving. Sure, some people like your grad supervisor or your faculty chair might be disappointed. But are you really going to make yourself responsible for their feelings, while totally denying yours? Come on. Leave that parent-child dynamic back in your family of origin where it belongs.

9. One other really big secret: a lot of people will actually be jealous of you if you leave academia. Sure, their jealousy might come out in the guise of contempt and guilt-making (oooh, if only I could name names and point fingers, here!). But just like the boy who is cruel to the girl he has a crush on, those unhappy people who try to rain on your bold career change have their own problems to sort out. Don’t make their problem your problem.

10. I also want to challenge the idea that once you leave academia, you can never go back. I have heard of a handful of examples of people returning to academia, either decades later as they channel their post-academic professional successes into academic work or as they return simply as adjunct/contract faculty. The sands of academia are shifting and my hunch is that the re-formulation of universities into job farms and knowledge-provision centers, and with the increase of private money (oops, I mean “partnerships”) into universities, that the door does not slam shut as firmly as it used to.

11. The other really, really big secret: You deserve better than the life you may be having and the treatment you may be getting in your grad school career. Grad school and adjunct teaching can suck out your soul; being on the tenure track can be fraught with fear as you wonder if this is what you really want to do, and if you want to do it in the city you’ve ended up in. You don’t have to put up with it any more. You have all the skills and resources you need to plan out a realistic, do-able career change. Just look at some of the people who have done just that: Buffy Sainte-Marie (Ph.D. Fine Art, University of Masschusetts), Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales (A.B.D. Finance, University of Alabama), Bust magazine founder Debbie Stoller (Ph.D. English, Yale), and the hottest one of all: the incredible Miuccia Prada has a Ph.D. in political science. Miuccia Prada! If that doesn’t serve as inspiration for becoming satisfied and successful in life beyond academe, I don’t know what does.

Is there anything I’ve missed? What would you like to add to this list?