How to Resolve the Post-Doc Dilemma

If you’re pursuing a post-grad degree – especially one based in the Humanities – I expect you’ve heard that infuriating question:

“So what are you gonna do with that?”

Most of the time I avoid getting to the point where someone asks that question, which typically entails me muttering that I’m getting my PhD in postcolonialfrancophoneafricanliterature&film and running away before the conversation turns to the crap fest that is the academic market.

While living in blissful ignorance of your job prospects post-graduation is preferred, it’s not very wise – especially when you’re in a situation where you can’t easily uproot your family to move god knows where to take an untenured, short-term position to fulfill the only “minority lit” undergrad survey that particular university offers.

That being said, recently I’ve spent many, many sleepless nights thinking about my professional future. Hell, I’ve even questioned putting off the dissertation to find teaching positions at the community college and high school level and, to be honest, the pay is incredibly appealing. In fact, I have a few colleague-friends who are doing just that and I’m totally jelly of their paychecks.

While I’m not planning to put off finishing the degree I’ve spent over 10 years pursuing quite yet, there are a few helpful tips I’d like to share. My mind is by no means quieted, but I feel significantly less stressed out after getting these specific things in order.

  • Use Versatile PhD: This resource is invaluable for Doctoral students who are looking for a wealth of information on non-academic employment in their chosen area. This site usefully divides potential job options into two categories – those in the “Soft Sciences”/Humanities and those in the “Hard Sciences”. Simply chose the section that coincides with your degree and begin searching! They have awesome chat room conversations that feature PhDs who opted to go the non-academic route and allow subscribers to pose questions and discuss their job search. If you’re a grad student, ask your university’s library if they have a code to allow you access to the unlocked version of Versatile PhD!
  • Make Colleague-Friends: I can’t stress enough how important it is to cultivate professional colleague-friends. I speak from experience. I didn’t take the time to make friends during my M.A. and still regret not taking the opportunity to share the unique frustrations, fears, and experiences that are part and parcel of graduate student life. There will be some colleague-friends you make by accident, mainly because you both entered into the program the same year. However, there are other kinds of friendships you should seek out that include titles such as ‘awesome person in your same subject area’; ‘super cool person who makes you laugh no matter what’; and ‘amazing friend who has similar life experience’ (i.e. babies, marriage, etc.). Trust me, these friends will get you through the good times and the really sucky times. There will be those who will help you through the dissertation stage by providing helpful advice from their experiences and there will be others who help safely guide your way out of the academic job racket by showing you that there is a light at the end of the tunnel – even if that tunnel doesn’t lead to an R1 tenured assistant professorship. All in all, there are few remedies better than laughing at any and all things academia over a glass of wine with close friends!
  • Location, Location, Location: If there’s one question I’ve heard consistently from advanced academics when it comes to my post-grad job search, it’s “Where do you want to end up?” Really take this question to heart – especially once you hit the 4-year mark of your PhD. I say this because most of the time Doctoral students are prompted to scope out the market during their 5th year, which creeps up on you FAST. Between conferencing, publishing, dissertating, and manically trying to maintain some semblance of a personal life your 5th year will scare the crap out of you by arriving WAY too quickly for comfort. Of course, the Spring semester of your 5th year is not an ideal time to break the news to your partner that you may need to move halfway across the country to accept a position. That being said, the best time to think about this issue in now so that you can successfully plan for the future.

Have any tips on overcoming the post-grad dilemma?

Send ’em my way in the comments section below!

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  • Reply Amy September 21, 2015 at 7:36 pm

    I just finished grad school (phd, developmental psychology) and entered a full time (with benefits) teaching position at a private university. I didn’t want to physically move (husband has a great job) do the post-doc to faculty route wasn’t going to happen. I looked for jobs in clinical research and for research manager jobs but didn’t get a single hit (and I sent out hundreds of applications). I don’t really have and advice besides telling people to network. Network at conferences, with friends, with people at the dog park, anywhere. You never know.

    • Amanda
      Reply Amanda September 22, 2015 at 6:53 pm

      Hi Amy! I’m so happy to hear that you found a position after defending! I’m in the same position as you, honestly, since my husband also has an awesome job and we’re not really in a position where we can move and uproot both him and our daughter. Uuuugh it’s the endless job applications that you send out with no response that really depress; most of my colleagues have been in the exact same position. I’m trying to take it one day at a time but yes – networking is definitely key, I’m realizing! Thanks so much for stopping by! 😀

  • Reply Kristina September 17, 2015 at 1:46 pm

    so true about taking advantage of connections in your field, best of luck with your future path!

    • Amanda
      Reply Amanda September 18, 2015 at 4:39 pm

      Thanks so much, girl! I never really prioritized making connections until I started my Doctorate and now I wish I’d considered it earlier in my studies! 😀

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