Monday, March 16, 2015

Advice for Non-Academic Jobs

Earlier, I posted some of the comments left on the survey for those thinking about a non-academic or alt-academic job. I think the number one piece of advice for which there was a general consensus was that it is important to cultivate skills early in your doctorate beyond mere academic or research specific skills.

Here, I will provide some snippets of the responses you have all been so kind to share. I, and I hope other current PhDs, have and will benefit immensely from it. So, thank you!!


A senior manager who received their PhD in pathology wrote a comprehensive list of things students can do to succeed in the future:

1. Build your network with every engagement you make.2. As a PhD student, you have permission to play the 'student' card. Use it to help you shadow professionals, etc. Very few people say 'no' to students. Seriously. 3. Find mentors. It has helped tremendously in my transition out of the academic environment. 4. You don't need to stick to your field or training. A PhD teaches you how to think, and that is applicable to any field - not just your area of focus. 5. Learn to build your brand, and learn to engage with recruiters and hiring managers with confident humility.
I can't really add more to this!

Another response with a background in science wrote:

Get involved with anything that tells you about what opportunities are out there; I think the hardest thing is actually finding out what jobs exist! Go to careers fairs and chat to people there. Talk to friends, acquaintances, family friends, anyone who can tell you about what they do. Use the Uni career department. Research online. And anything you find interesting research more and find some work experience in, even if only for a day or two; it's the only true way to find out what a job actually entails (and will also look good if you choose to apply for that type of job!).
Again, from a science background:
Be open to everything, and take as many courses etc that are on offer at your institute even if you think you'll never need it. Do a business course (even if just just so you know how it works). Don't underestimate what you've learnt during your PhD and try looking at it your skills from a non-science perspective
A nice response which bridges the gap between science and history, comes from a graduate in the history of science:
Start looking at non-academic jobs, volunteer opportunities, internships as soon as you start the PhD. You don't need to tell anyone at your program that you are doing this. Learn the difference between a resume and a cv and devote equal effort to building both.
An archaeologist wrote that you should:
Be adaptable, practical and show leadership - your PhD is proof you have the ability to complete a large project, regardless of specialization.
And finally, from a history graduate who now works in university administration:
Gain some practical 'fallback' skills if possible during the doctorate, remain hopeful of and work toward an academic job (if that's a path of interest) but recognise and be aware of the reality that this outcome of becoming an academic is in probability terms unlikely - and accept that this situation applies to you no matter how special you might think or be convinced you are. Be prepared with alternative options.
One final thing that many respondents mentioned, was the value of career services. This was mentioned in the blog post about advice from academics, but its worth reiterating! Those in career services are there to help you - exploit their knowledge, resources, and guidance!

A nice way to end this post comes from an English PhD who now works in educational development:

Do not get stuck inside a box of your own expectations, creations, or experience.
So, know that there is plenty out there beyond the doctorate, but it is important to start thinking realistically and pragmatically early on. Even you are 100% certain that you want to remain in academia, sometimes life will force you in an unexpected route and you should be prepared for change!

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