The academic cultural taboo around non-faculty careers persists despite decades of debate. One of the most powerful voices helping PhD students and postdocs see the many opportunities available to them is Dr. Paula Chambers, founder of The Versatile PhD. In this interview, Dr. Chambers offers three pieces of advice to help students embrace and prepare for careers beyond academia.
- Determine what is true
- Build your skills
- Count everything
If you have ever entertained the idea that your path might take you out of academia, keep reading.
The fifth annual Beyond Academia career conference, held March 2-3, 2017 at UC Berkeley, offered a wealth of information, advice, and inspiration.
Hundreds of PhD students and postdocs gathered to explore a broad range of careers. The program included about 20 panels of PhDs working in non-faculty careers, a dozen workshops on career skills, and two keynote addresses.
Here are my five top take-aways from the conference.
How do you tell your advisor that you don’t want to pursue the faculty path? Or, at least, that you’re exploring other possibilities? Maybe you’ve decided you don’t like research. Maybe you don’t like teaching. Maybe you’ve realized that you need to be in a particular geographic area. Maybe you’ve calculated that your chances of obtaining a faculty position are uncomfortably low. For whatever reasons, you want to consider a wider array of options.
“The conversation” can be anxiety-provoking, even in fields with a well-defined “industry” option. The stakes feel very high. What if it goes badly?
What is a “slow graduate student”? That is what I puzzled over while reading The Slow Professor. Taking inspiration from the Slow Food movement, this book advocates embracing the principles of Slow, to reduce stress and reclaim faculty control over their work.
Two themes of slowing down in academia are particularly applicable to becoming a Slow Grad Student. The first is mindful, deliberate doing, which necessitates doing less. This theme is revealed in the book’s subtitle, “Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy.” Relatedly, Slow Academics also prize collegiality and community.
The authors “advocate for deliberative, imaginative and reflective thought as definitive of a professor’s work and life. Creativity and contemplation … can’t be multi-tasked,” summarized one thoughtful review. You can also read about the book in Inside Higher Ed and University Affairs.
How can graduate students adopt these principles and practices? What is “the slow graduate student?”
The five years in her PhD program included some of the best and hardest educational experiences of assistant professor Maureen Estevez Stabio’s life. She wants every student to have an equally transformative experience. Your PhD program is a time to learn and grow. To figure out what you love. Don’t let these goals get left behind in the dust of the urgent.
When students ask Dr. Stabio for advice on how to do well in graduate school, she usually offers these three pieces of advice.
- Follow your passions and talents
- Pick your advisor and lab wisely
- Learn to write well
People who have the drive to get a PhD tend to be the people who try to pack 10 pounds of apples in a 5-pound bag. It can be tempting to carry that many apples, but sooner or later the bag will burst.
Grad students are super-high achievers. Taking on more research projects, saying “yes” to exciting opportunities, learning new skills, stretching in new directions. And doing everything extremely well. Meeting your own high standards and meeting the expectations of others. Each is an apple. Your bag gets more and more stretched.
Then it bursts!
If you are limited to those that fit into a 5-pound bag, how do you pick the best apples?