Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Alternative Careers for PhDs in non Academic Fields

First, the traditional route . . . 

What to Do When You’re Looking For A Job, Part 1
By Gina Barreca in The Chronicle of Higher Education

This gently tweaks the usual advice for following an academic career path. Also see the CHE's jobs section for advice on being on the market the first time: http://chronicle.com/section/First-Time-on-the-Market-/146/

Remember, even if you find the academic market hard to get into, and that Thomas Benton is right  or you simply change your mind about your career, and what to do something different, your time has not been wasted, and the PhD, as Matt Feeney notes, doesn't have to be a trap.

Second, how to keep open alternative doors . . . from an e-mail I posted to a discussion list . . .
I went through a variation of it, though more wisely, you've got your PhD done and have more options, along the lines that Roger laid out -- you can more easily step out of the academy and back in later.

But I prefer teaching part-time to full, like doing creative things (with people who are smarter than me), enjoy (small manageable) projects I can do on my own, and care about and enjoy working around the issues and people in teaching online or with computer technologies.

I also found for a variety of reasons that full-time tenure track would not work, and I had a great place to try that life, with innovative supportive colleagues at the time, a teaching load that left room for projects, and a publishing requirement that made room for other than scholarly press book length work (though they liked that too).

I ended up in a good place.

When I realized I would have to leave, I started by visiting the CHE's job site, http://chronicle.com/jobs/, which had some practical advice on converting CVs to resumes, articles that articulated what I knew but needed to read and hear for morale -- that a lot of what I did and learned in my academic life gave me skills that would work in the business world: I could research, write, plan, manage, teach, think. And that was without scratching the surface. I could technical and educational writing, had some project management experience from working on complex web projects, understood budgets from being cut out of some or from being responsible for some.

So I made two things:

One was a list of all the skills I'd had and the job verbs I could apply to them The other was a map of everyone I knew who worked outside the academy, organized around circles with me in the center, and the closer the person to me, the nearer in the map. It was a visual sense of who I could reach out to and talk to and how close I was to them.

Then I wrote about four or five different resumes, variations of my skills with different things emphasize. I started again with CHE's listing of jobs outside of education (http://chronicle.com/jobs/900/), more as an exercise in reading job ads and practice in matching my skill set.

I also started to look for freelance and small contract work to build up resume where it was weak. I did small manuals, little bits of consulting and such. Anything to build experience. I knew I wasn't staying, by the way, and had a semester of full time work to do this in and around.

During the same period, I began getting in touch with people I knew, including textbook publishers where I'd done review work and had one book out. I chatted informally with a bunch of folk and kept up a running conversation with Kristin Bowen and then Denise Wydra at Bedford/St. Martin's. A conversation that began as getting increased review work and projects eventually turned into a discussion about a potential full time job.

At the same time, however, I began sending targeted resumes out to other entities. One was a web start up that needed a director of document management and technical documentation. Another was with a head hunter who interviewed me as possible client to place. When I went to Boston to interview w/ Bedford/St. Martin's, I had several other interviews with different companies also lined up.

I took the B/SM gig and ended up with a very good job. It allowed me to keep a foot in the academic things I enjoyed, the practitioner side of things where most of my research is reading a lot and talking to instructors a lot about classroom practices and issues, but also its creative because the job involves looking to see what's emerging and where things are going and at what pace, and it lets me teach part time and still do workshops and such. 

So while it's .com and not .edu, a lot edu-ing goes on because it's so closely related to the issues and people I lived in my academic life.

All of which is to say, you're smarter than me; you've done more academically than I did when I reached, by a different road, the place you're at. You have your degree; you have a varied set of experiences.

I remember being both glad that I was leaving and terrified at what would happen next. I found that setting lots of small goals and breaking the search down into manageable steps that gave me a plan, and for me, that began with reading and writing, with plenty of practice at writing bad resumes before I got them to be good ones, with practice at doing some poor interviews before I got comfortable with doing them, and so on helped.