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Academic Careers: Taking an Alternate Route

Academic Careers: Taking an Alternate Route

13 July, 2016

If you are considering graduate school or are in the midst of a doctoral program, you may be wondering what alternatives are available to you.

Here are some ways in which you can find help in your exploration of alternative careers:

  • HASTAC:The Humanities, Arts, Science, and Technology Advanced Collaboratory is an online community with varied membership focused on sharing ideas about the future of education, technology, and design on a global scale. One of the many groups you can join is Alt-Ac, which includes blog posts, discussion boards, etc. There’s even a recent call to join in the #Alt-Academy project from MediaCommons.
  • PhD Careers Outside of Academia:This LinkedIn Group features active discussion boards and job postings and is open to both PhD job seekers and employers who are searching to recruit those with this skill set.
  • Versatile PhD:Individual membership is free for this online community with a mission to keep you “informed about academic employment realities, educated about nonacademic career options, and supported towards a wide range of careers, so that in the end, you have choices.” Look for discussion forums, job postings, and live events. Your university may already be a premium subscriber.
  • College Career Centers:most traditional campus-based centers haven’t focused on graduate students, much less PhDs, in the past, but this is changing. Take a look at the University of Florida’s “Careers Outside of Academia” page, and at the Columbia University Center for Career Education’s “Career Exploration for PhDs” in the sciences and humanities as examples of what you can find, and should ask for, when you contact your school’s career advisors.
  • Alumni Networks:There’s no easier introduction than contacting those who have graduated from your PhD program to find out more about how they are practicing their degrees. Stanford University provides a glimpse at the kind of advice you might receive as a PhD student or post-doc considering alternative careers.


How can you translate your academic experience? Here’s a short list of things to consider as you prepare for an alt-ac job search:

  • Describe what you know how to do.Northwestern University recommends a list of “skills employers value in PhDs” that involves project management, personal initiative and motivation, collaboration, and critical thinking, just to name a few. Start here and develop examples of how you developed and showed these skills through your coursework, teaching, and research.
  • Focus on the work.What kind of projects do you want to work on? In what kind of workplace setting? The range of alternative is wider than you think, including sectors such as private industry, public education, government agencies, non-profit organizations, and consulting. Part of the translation process includes researching non-academic jobs. Stanford University posts a list of job titles some of their PhD graduates currently hold, and your school may do the same. You can also search job databases geared toward doctoral level qualifications, such as org and Chronicle Careers for current listings both on and off campus.
  • Write a resume.A one to two page resume is the norm, and just one part of the non-academic job search process. Work with your career center and look for examples online to check how you can convert your academic C.V. to a document more readily accepted by a larger group of employers.

The experiences and skills you are building in your graduate program are significant and desirable in various settings. Be open to the possibilities and ready to network, keeping in mind that you may have to help your future employer realize your potential.