Beyond Beyond Academia

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You have now attended Beyond Academia, and explored some non-academic career options, expanded your network and are polishing up your resume (not to mention your thesis/manuscript/conference paper). Now what? The steps between figuring out what you might want to do and actually doing that thing can feel daunting, and it is easy to feel isolated during the process. Over the past few months, I have been attending the “Beyond Beyond Academia” lunch series: an informal monthly meeting of post-docs, research specialists, and graduate students, focused on discussing the job-search process, from discovery through interviews.  The group provides advice, support, and a sense of community for attendees.

Beyond Beyond Academia’s most recent meeting took place on a Friday afternoon on the outdoor tables outside of Brown’s Café.  The attendees, mostly post-docs, arrived with lunches in hand. One brought a folder containing copies of their resume.  As we crowded around one of the small tables and started to eat, the first of the progress reports began. While the meetings are unstructured, a rhythm has developed. Active job-seekers report on the steps that they have taken since the last meeting and share their goals for the upcoming month, adding a small amount of accountability to the self-driven process.

At this meeting, a post-doc discussed their first phone interview with a firm where they saw themselves as a potential fit. After hearing about the company at Beyond Academia and making a connection with a hiring manager at a University-sponsored panel, they set up a phone interview.  This narrative was peppered with questions from other attendees. Where did you hear about the panel?  What did you do to prepare for your phone interview? What questions did the interviewer ask and how did you answer them?  Have you made contact with X, a personal connection who works at that firm?  The tone of the conversation was informative and helpful, offering interview strategies and advice for professional networking.

After the progress reports, the conversation shifted to elevator pitches, a topic that had been suggested at the last meeting. One attendee, who has been actively interviewing for some time, offered tips to us about structuring our pitches, and even provided insight from a CEO on ways to answer tough interview questions.

As the lunch wound down, we began to discuss the job-search in more abstract terms. We strategized ways to “sell yourself” to employers who may not have experience hiring PhDs, framing your specific skill-set in a way that makes you seem like an asset to the organization. We also talked about the particular challenges related to being a non-US citizen searching for jobs in this country, and the pros and cons of mentioning personal and family life during the interview process.

This last set of topics represents what, in my opinion, is one of the most valuable aspects of the informal Beyond Beyond Academia lunches.  These concerns are often unspoken, or at least treated as secondary, in formal career development settings.  By removing formality, this group has created a sense of safety and solidarity, an arena in which attendees can openly discuss their fears and anxieties about all aspects of the process. In the small number of meetings I’ve attended, these fears have ranged from not having a corporate-appropriate wardrobe to immigration paperwork nightmares, and each has been met with sensitivity and helpful advice from other members.

At the end of the lunch, plans for the next meeting were made. It was determined that a Dropbox folder would be set up for attendees to upload their resumes for advice and peer review. The group, which has increased in number each month, has outgrown its current venue, and new spaces have been suggested.

Bridging the gap between learning about all of the amazing opportunities available to PhDs and actually securing your next position is a difficult and daunting step. The Beyond Beyond Academia lunch series has provided a supportive environment, as well as a great networking venue, for PhDs all along the job-seeking spectrum, and I highly recommend joining or forming one yourself!

by Katherine Scheibel, contact at kscheibel@berkeley.edu