Want to Transition Away From Academia? Where to Start?

BA2014_newLogo_garamond_generic_logoIn recent years, the post-academic movement has picked up steam, led by motivated graduate students looking for new horizons. It is fueled by the growing recognition among PhDs that there is a fulfilling life beyond academia, but also by a response to job market trends; the number of PhDs awarded each year continues to outpace the number of quality, tenure-track positions available to degree-holders.

PhDs represent one of the most thoroughly trained groups on the planet, yet most of us are trained for positions we will never hold. While many PhDs may know what to expect from an academic job search or postdoc, very few of us have received explicit instruction in how to look for other jobs outside of academia. How can you translate the skills and experiences you’ve gained in academia into finding satisfying employment in non-academic sectors?

To start answering that question, here are some tips from great web resources about how to start to transition into your post-academic life:

Determine your strengths and weaknesses, and think about your career goals. The American Association for the Advancement of Science’s website MyIDP is free, and can help you start setting goals and exploring careers.

  • Source: Harvard University’s non-academic careers resources page. Harvard’s site takes you through a number of steps in the transition process, from getting started and defining a career field to networking, applying, interviewing and more. At each step, the site links to content generated by the Harvard OCS or connects you to third party sites offering tools and resources.

Follow your heart, but don’t be afraid to adjust your expectations based on your realities. “My experiences could be a sign that someone or something knew me better than I knew myself, and that my Plan B should have been my Plan A all along, if only I had been perceptive enough to recognize it.”

Think about your marketable skills. “Since graduate students are always measuring their performance against that of their highly talented peers and mentors, they often underestimate their significant strengths and transferable skills.”

Use your network! “Start chatting. Ask people what they do and tell them what you’re interested in. Any and all information they can provide about your field of interest is valuable. Whether it’s at a family holiday party or on a ten-minute chairlift ride up a ski mountain, just get talking. Ask questions. What do they do? What skills do they need to do it? How did they start out in the industry? Seek as much information and advice as possible. More likely then [sic] not, either they will offer to help you and/or put you in contact with someone who may be able to.”

Make your network bigger by joining professional groups in your field (or desired field). “Join professional associations in your current field (if known) or field of interest (using the Encyclopedia of Associations, available at your local library, or conducting an online search using area of interest and keyword “association” or “society”).”

When talking with other professionals, or applying for a job, tailor your experience accordingly. “You’d be better off only sharing that which is necessary. Graduate students: You might want to leave out the semester you spent answering phones and making copies for the dean’s office. (Unless, of course, you’re applying for a job where you’ll answer phones and make copies. Or if your new boss is a friend of the dean’s.) The point is to leave off jobs that aren’t relevant. The last thing you want is to overwhelm a hiring manager who’s just trying to sift quickly through your work history.”

What other tips do you have for PhDs who are starting their job searches? Post your ideas or links in the comments! If you would like to write a post about how you started out, pitch us your story at blog@beyondacademia.com.