Celebrating Succeeding Outside the Academy

“What I love about this book is we get to see people succeed, but we also get to see where they mess up,” says Kelly J. Baker, PhD, “Which I think is really interesting to see what the failures are, and I think that’s what’s missing from the self-help career advice that is currently out there.”

Kelly and Joe Fruscione, PhD, are the co-editors of Succeeding Outside the Academy: Career Paths beyond the Humanities, Social Sciences, and STEM, a new edited volume from the University Press of Kansas. Beyond the Professoriate was lucky to host Joe, Kelly, and contributors Cathy Hannabach, PhD, and L. Maren Wood, PhD for a virtual book launch to celebrate the volume’s success.

Succeeding Outside the Academy connects two themes. As a collection of essays which focuses on alt-ac jobs for PhDs, the aim of the publication was to connect individual stories with concrete advice for alternate career paths outside the academy. The co-editors and contributors found that much of the career advice for those transitioning out of academia lacked a personal story or journey. Kelly and Joe explained that the path to a new career is not a straightforward path at all; in fact, those leaving academia often have to try many different things before finding a job or career they might be interested in. The essays in the volume place personal transition stories front and center, providing the reader with practical and experiential advice.

Cathy Hannabach, PhD, explores this aspect of the job search in her contributed chapter, “Run Toward Yourself.” She asks the reader to comb back through all of the projects and activities of their academic selves to uncover why they got involved in those projects in the first place? She urges the reader to use the varied projects completed over the course of your academic life to create a pathway to a new career you will actually enjoy.

Beyond the Professoriate’s co-founder, L. Maren Wood, PhD, walks the reader through her decision to stop looking for full-time academic jobs. “At the time it was the only thing I had ever wanted to do,” she says. “Looking back now, however, I know it was the only thing I’d ever tried doing.” Wood’s contribution highlights how emotional the process of leaving academia can be – which is something that is not often touched upon.

The emotional aspect of the transition out of academia underpins the collected volume. Kelly likes to joke that she had to write a whole book to actually leave academia. “They really underplay the emotional energy it takes, especially when you spend seven to ten years training to be this kind of professional,” she explains. “We didn’t want to underplay how tough it is.”

What is their advice for current graduate students, and PhDs making the transition out of academic work?

Maren’s advice is to talk to people. “Remember that graduate school is just one place where you can learn these skills we’re talking about. I feel like sometimes the academy suggests that graduate education only takes place in the classroom.” Kelly agrees with Maren. If you’re lukewarm about the idea of a PhD and have other ideas of things you’d like to do, that would take less time, there are other opportunities out there. Think creatively about the places you can learn those skills!

Joe thinks graduate students should consider developing a “shadow CV.” He asks, “What skills are you learning from your PhD? What types of writing are you doing that could be marketable somewhere else?” It is important to think of these skills in both academic and professional contexts, and ensure that you keep records of all of your achievements for potential future employers.

Cathy says, “For folks currently in graduate school, it’s really important to realise that you will probably not become a professor. That sounds harsh and terrible, perhaps, but it is statistically true.” Consider approaching all of the various aspects of graduate school as projects in a professional capacity, so that you are developing professional skills alongside completing your PhD.

You can watch the entire session below. Thank you to Kelly, Joe, Cathy, and Maren for joining us for a virtual book launch to celebrate Succeeding Outside the Academy!

Interested in Succeeding Outside the Academy?

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