OK, so let me just preface this post by saying that yes, I will be finishing my PhD. But after that defense is done, I’m outie.
And yes, it’s incredibly frustrating and saddening to think that I won’t be able to live out my dream of becoming an English professor. But you know what? Academic life doesn’t function according to all the life-of-the-mind crap you see in the movies.
In reality, being an academic means spending around ten years in school only to end up competing with hundreds of other applicants for one meager lectureship that will barely put food on the table. It means moving around the country from one position to the next until – if the academic gods are in a good mood – you land a tenure-track job. And once you find tenure, you hold onto it for dear life. Even if it’s in Nowheresville, North Dakota. It means either putting off having a partner and kids or moving them around the country with you while trying to live on roughly $40,000 a year.
My advisors tried to warn me. My more advanced colleagues tried to warn me.
But I didn’t listen…until now.
The truth is that I don’t want kind of life. More importantly, I have no interest in uprooting my family, participating in endless, soul-crushing speculation about when “my area of specialization” will be hiring, and “going back on the market” year after year.
I want money. I want to be happy. I want to stay in one place.
But you know what I’ve realized? I’ve spent so much time in grad school that I have absolutely no job experience. And if I want money, I desperately need some practical experience on my resume. So after some soul searching – and a few glasses of wine – I’ve begun rethinking how my passion for writing, editing, and research can translate into a career outside of academia. While I’m still at the beginning of my job search, I’ve found some extremely helpful resources on marketing yourself for the professional world, finding an alt-ac career you love, and making a clean break from the ivory tower.
So if you’re in the same boat as me, take a look:
- Focus On Skills, Not Knowledge: This has been perhaps the most difficult part of pursuing an alt-ac career. As Humanities grad students, we’re taught to read, understand, synthesize, and argue. We’re not taught how to sell ourselves to prospective employers or develop usable skills that translate into practical work experience. We do, however, have tons of knowledge. So much knowledge. This knowledge, while beneficial, will not make employers toss money at you. But they will pay people who can demonstrate indispensable worth to their company. It’s all in how you phrase your skills using job-specific buzz words. So, for example, rather than thinking of yourself as a ‘dissertation writer,’ sub in the term ‘project manager.’
- Get a Non-Academic Buddy: I can’t even tell you how indispensable it’s been to have another set of eyes on my Linked In profile and resume. Especially when those people have actually participated in the hiring process and know how to convince an employer to hire you. For instance, after first creating my Linked In account, I proudly rushed over to my husband to show off how I phrased my accomplishments and education sections. What I quickly realized, though, was that I was still writing for an academic audience. My phrasing was too obtuse, I wasn’t highlighting my hirable skills effectively, and I privileged my PhD over practical experience. Only after his critique did I learn how to focus on bite-sized bullet points rather than thesis-length biographical summaries.
- Redo Your Resume: Employers outside the ivory tower don’t recognize the C.V. You need a resume. A very concise, one-page resume. No, you can’t just move a couple things around in your C.V. to make a workable resume. To get a job, you need to completely reformat your brain to think ‘Would a non-academic employer hire me?’ This means using those editing skills you’ve spent the past ten years developing to use precise, direct phrasing that privileges skills over education. After you’ve drafted it, have your non-academic bestie look it over and point out its strengths and weaknesses.
Some resources that have really helped me out have been a hilarious blog by a former English PhD called Sell Out Your Soul and Versatile PhD, a database aimed at helping PhD’s navigate the alt-ac world.
Toying with the idea of leaving academia?
Have a different opinion to offer on this racket?
Let me know below!