Beyond Academia 2014 in Hindsight: Organizers Reflect Upon BA 2014 and Look to the Future

Thanks to everyone who helped to make the Beyond Academia 2014 conference such a rousing success. From organizers, to speakers and panelists to the hundreds of attendees, everyone played their part in making the conference the premier career education and networking event at UC Berkeley. With the 2014 conference in our rearview mirrors, the Beyond Academia organizing team would like to take this moment to reflect upon our own experiences in organizing and producing this event as well as to make some bold predictions for the future!

Els van der Helm, PhD; Junior Associate Consultant at McKinsey & Company; PhD in Psychology, UC Berkeley; Co-founder, Beyond Academia

The keynote speakers, Peter Fiske and Ellen Levy each hit the nail on the head in their tips for PhDs thinking of venturing outside of academia. Specifically, the idea that success lies ahead for the PhD who can be a “solutions person,” rather than simply the one who points out the problem. As a PhD now in business I recognized so many of their points and their tips and tricks will come in handy in the next couple of years! Both speakers were incredibly inspiring and made my head spin with the possibilities that lie ahead in the next 10 years of my career!

DSC_5643During the conference, I met so many inspiring speakers, as well as inspired students! I felt it was a perfect collision of enthusiastic and curious minds with the wise and incredibly helpful minds. I simply cannot wait until next year! The atmosphere of Beyond Academia is so unique and powerful; but more than that, Beyond Academia distinguishes itself from other conferences I have attended by the energy put in by the organizers, speakers and conference attendees.

This important distinction is one major reason for the success of Beyond Academia, and it also encourages engagement long after the conference is finished. I thought it was so cool to see a number of speakers who were attendees last year (I was one, and there may have been a half-dozen more); not to mention the folks who have already landed a job this year, and who will return again next year as speakers and panelists. The role models we have found, and the networks we continue to build will be valuable resources for students for a long time to come!

Georgeann Sack, Postdoctoral Neuroscientist, Feller Lab at UC Berkeley; Outreach Director, Berkeley Science Review

I left the 2013 Beyond Academia Conference feeling manic with excitement over all of the possibilities for PhDs. As a first time attendee, I found the conference to be a wonderful opportunity to sample many different careers. The conference is also an ego booster. It is a reminder that we should be proud of the work we have done to get our PhDs, and that the skills we have learned along the way are valuable in many settings. Since then I have done the work of figuring out what I want to do and have volunteered my time to start doing it. I returned to the 2014 conference with a goal. I want to get a job as an Outreach Director. With this focus I was able to effectively network and get tips specific to my job hunt. The real power of this conference is in the one-on-one conversations you get to have with the impressive collection of speakers.

Claire Oldfield, 4th year PhD student, Neuroscience

After months of preparation, organizing panels, securing the venue, advertising the conference to friends, the big event crept up on us two weeks ago. The Beyond Academia team is a wonderful group of 10 graduate students and a postdoc from neuroscience to history and astronomy, coming together in a truly collaborative effort to make this event a success. It was so rewarding to see everything coming together, the first attendees checking in and getting their programs, our inspiring keynote speakers motivating the troops, and the flurry of information that followed with the workshops and panels. For many attendees, it was the first time they grasped the plethora of job opportunities available to them and the excitement was in the air.DSC_5797

Here are all these smart, talented people, those still in training, those who are shooting for an academic job but are being smart about exploring other options, those who already have their minds set on other career dreams, professionals who have made the big transition, some who took the leap yesterday, others who have already made their marks in the world. Beyond Academia creates a unique sense of possibility. Thank you to all our attendees and speakers, I feel inspired.

Jane Hu, 5th Year PhD student, Psychology

I attended the first Beyond Academia in 2013, and it gave me the inspiration and support to look into non-academic jobs. In the last year, I’ve tried my hand at science writing, secondary education, and consulting for Bay Area startups. I wanted to encourage other students to explore their career options, too, so I joined the Beyond Academia organizing team.

I was amazed by how much attendees took advantage of the event. In their welcome speeches, our co-directors, Mariana Garcia and Sahar Yousef, encouraged everyone to talk with speakers and to network; people really took that advice to heart. Last year, I recall people looking apprehensive about approaching speakers or having lunch with them, but this year, I saw speakers surrounded by eager attendees almost constantly. I loved seeing how proactive attendees were about forging connections and asking for advice.

Graduate student and postdoc career education has become a major priority not just at Berkeley,  but other institutions around the nation, as well. Since the information and advice at Beyond Academia can benefit students from any institution, we’ve used social media as a tool to connect with students outside of Berkeley. During the conference, speakers, attendees, academics from other schools, and former PhDs were tweeting up a storm. Some live-tweeted insightful quotes from speakers; others raised questions (e.g. Is a postdoc necessary for an industry job?), or just tweeted about their general excitement. It was also a great tool to connect speakers and attendees, and for speakers to follow up on things they mentioned in their panels or workshops (for instance, we shared a link to Doug Kalish’s workshop slides, and Sandra Aamodt posted some writing tips for students after her panel). You can follow us at @BeyondAcademia.

One comment I came across on a feedback survey suggested that we include more people of color in our panels. The Beyond Academia team is completely supportive of this idea, and we’re excited about including more diversity among our speakers. We’d love your help in achieving this. If you know of anyone you think would make a good panelist for next year’s conference, please send us your suggestions at info@beyondacademia.org.

Robert Nelson, CPhil, History; Adjunct Lecturer, San Francisco State University

Twice during the course of the conference I was referred to as a “unicorn,” a mythical humanities student often discussed but rarely seen. In a room full of scientists and engineers, I confess to having felt a like a fish out of water at times.

Beyond Academia was conceived and constructed by students in the sciences, and the first two conferences largely reflected their interests; not by willful omission, mind you, but as a concrete example of the strength of their professional networks in the fields of science, engineering and technology. That’s not to say that there weren’t panels and speakers of interest to the humanities. The entrepreneurship and consulting panels appeal to a broad section of students from all disciplines, and I’m thinking also that Celia Sepulveda’s wildly popular sessions about media and communication were of interest to anyone regardless of one’s of academic field. But the evident split between the needs of humanities PhDs and PhDs in the physical and life sciences is constantly on my mind, and it’s an issue that Beyond Academia intends to address.

From the perspective of an historian, I look at students in the sciences with a degree of envy. It seems to me as if their skills are more complete and more relevant to the growth sectors of the economy. Humanities students, on the other hand, have a number of skills that, while no less important, seem “softer” and less translatable. We know how to research, gather information, organize it and present it in a manner that is both logical and argumentative. Our experience in paying the bills by teaching has also given us valuable years of presentation skills. We are strong in languages and we have sharp analytical skills. But where does that leave us as job seekers? And significantly, who can help us take these skills beyond academia and into our careers?

That’s my personal challenge for the future of Beyond Academia. Our next conferences will include more content and resources for humanities students, and we hope that doing so will help to bring the magic of Beyond Academia to a much wider audience.

How was your experience at Beyond Academia 2014? Would you like to write about it? Send us an article pitch at blog@beyondacademia.org, and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible!

Image credits: Jahlela Rose Hasle