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?
Perfectionist gridlock is being stuck in place for fear of not doing something at the highest level of excellence. It plagues many grad students, perhaps especially those in the humanities. It is bred by the culture of academia, which places a high value on achievement and critique.
Perfectionist gridlock is particularly debilitating in dissertation writing and career decision making.
Traffic gridlock resolves itself slowly, inch by inch. Likewise, students can come unstuck by moving forward in baby steps.
Providing career counseling and career education for graduate students is an innovation of the last 20 years. Julie Vick Miller is one of the pioneers of the movement. After serving graduate students for three decades she has honed her advice.
Three things she advises graduate students, particularly those pursuing faculty careers:
- Develop your academic persona
- Take advantage of the resources at your university
- Learn how your university works
“You need to assume that the demand for you will be less than you like and supply of people like you will be greater than you like. Act accordingly.”
That is the career preparation advice that Professor Rick Reis—known around the world as “Tomorrow’s Professor”—offers to grad students and postdocs.
Reis has a broad overview of graduate students’ professional development, particularly for academic careers. He has published the “Tomorrow’s Professor” e-newsletter for nearly 20 years. He has given a lot of thought to how grad students are prepared for faculty careers, and has a view of what is changing.
During our interview he broke down “Act Accordingly” into three specific pieces of advice:
- Start early and develop multiple options
- Think next stage
- Cultivate breadth-on-top-of-depth