Yesterday, the MSU Grad School hosted an event called “How to Find a Job Outside Academia, Even if You Aren’t Sure that You Want One.” The speaker was Dr. Susan Basalla, co-author with Dr. Maggie Debelius of “So What Are You Going to Do with That?” Finding Jobs Outside Academia.
Clearly, this whole question has been on my mind and I started blogging about it last week. It was interesting to note that the post got so little comment here: I was inundated with DMs, emails, and facebook notes after I posted it. People wanted to talk about what I had written, but just not out loud.
The statistics the authors cite in the book are startling, and remind me of why I feel so hell-bent on looking beyond the ways of the academy for my career path. 30% of History Phds are working at a tenure track position. For English it was 40%. Social Sciences/Education (my field) fare hardly better. It seems to me that it is only wise to consider a job outside of the academy (henceforth to be called “post-academic” jobs via Dr. B) when they make up the whopping majority of what it is people do with these PhD thingies.
Which brings me to last night’s event. Dr. Barsalla, first of all, is charming, funny, and clearly very smart. I am not sure I want her job, but I know I want to BE her: that confidence, that spark, that zest for living. You can tell: she LOVES what she does. And she has a PhD in English. And has a job. My mind is blown.
And here is where I admit to my startling naivete when it comes to Higher Education. Even after two years working in the College of Arts and Letters at MSU, I completely missed that a post-academic job was failure. Apparently, this is the first and only commandment when it comes to Phd world: Tenure-track or nothing. This still blows my mind. How is it that the whole academic culture is set up to myopically focus on producing tenure-track professors? THIS MAKES NO SENSE TO ME. Really, I don’t get it. And I keep stumbling into conversations where I walk away puzzled because of the way I so highly value my non-academic pursuits when those around in me graduate school world are so focused on what I am publishing. Seriously? This is the way you are going to mentor me in this endeavor? To a dead-end job or no job at all? Um, no thanks. I think I’ll keep barking up this post-academic tree.
I came to my graduate program to be able to take my analytical and research skills to the next level. I wanted to read difficult things, grapple with difficult ideas, talk it over with smart people, and write a few things. As I see it, I get to do all of that, and, more importantly, grow the skills I highly value. I don’t expect my graduate program to spit me out at the end, ready to take on the tenure track. Maybe this path will lead me there, maybe it won’t. I certainly don’t see taking a different career course as failure. My favorite quote from the book is really early, from a Chemistry PhD who became a patent lawyer:
“People always say, ‘You’ve spent your whole life doing this, and now you’re throwing it all away,'”, Mrkisch says. “But they never think to say, ‘What a great stepping stone to other things (11).'”
In the end, the talk was mostly about convincing us, the eventual Phds, that getting a post-academic job was not failure. I still am amazed that people need to be convinced of this, but looking around I see that this myth pervades.
Dr. Basalla also dispensed some Don’ts of the post-academic job hunt, which I dutifully tweeted (and tagged with #jobs4phds) for all of those who couldn’t join us in the room. Here is the archive, in reverse chronological order:
|Interesting to hear Dr. B discuss the attitudes towards searching for jobs outside the Academy. (It wasn’t good). #jobs4phds|
|The term is post-academic, thank you! Not alt-ac. Not a fork, but all available options. #jobs4phds #PhD|
|Dr.B is going to give us the 5 don’ts of the post-academic job search. #jobs4phds #PhD|
|Dr.B: 1st DON’T In post-academic job search: your dissertation is not your biggest accomplishment. Focus on skills, not topic. #jobs4phds|
|Note: outside the academic world, the details of the CV don’t matter. Transferable skills matter. #jobs4phds|
|Dr B’s 2nd Don’t: don’t spend more time on job boards than on networking. Get out and meet folks!!! #jobs4phds|
|Dr. B suggests that networking starts with Google stalking. I’ve got this part down. #googlestalker #jobs4phds|
|Dr.B’s 3rd Don’t: don’t underestimate the value of your non-academic pursuits. #jobs4phds|
|Dr. B notes that things without footnotes have value. #jobs4phds|
|Dr.B’s 4th don’t: don’t be afraid to start low. Think of this as a career switch–and high performance means rapid advancement. #jobs4phds|
|Dr. B’s final don’t: don’t do it all at once and don’t wait until the last minute. Start peeking beyond the walls of this tower. #jobs4phds|