From Maren on
Job Searching in Uncertainty

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Dear Friends,

Over the last few weeks, many of you have reached out to us on social media and in email asking for advice on how, or if, you should continue your job search during these difficult and unprecedented times. I know the uncertainty you are facing.

I finished my PhD in 2009 and graduated into the heart of the Great Recession. The widespread cancellation of tenure track job searches, followed by hiring freezes at universities across the United States and Canada, changed the course of my life. I had always planned on becoming a professor, and had spent 7 years earning an MA and PhD. I moved from Canada to the United States, leaving behind friends and family, in pursuit of my academic career. As the academic job market collapsed, I wondered and sometimes doubted the personal choices and sacrifices I had made to earn a degree that, at the time, felt like a dead-end.

I want you to know that I empathize with what you are feeling right now, and I know that you are experiencing doubt, uncertainty, fear, and anxiety.

While my life looks very different than what I had imagined when I started my PhD, I enjoy the work I do now, leading Beyond the Professoriate and working with universities and individual graduate students and PhDs.

Today, I’m grateful for the opportunity I have to offer resources and support to help you navigate these unprecedented times.

I have taken over the newsletter today because I want to give you all some advice. My purpose is to be practical and honest, while providing you with concrete action steps you can take. It is important to be active, and remain level-headed.

There is much we do not know, and there is so much we cannot control, in the Covid-19 crisis. But there are things job seekers can do right now to be in the best possible position when the social distancing/physical distancing restrictions are lifted and hiring resumes.

1. For those of you on the academic job market, it is too early to know for sure what the long-term impact on Higher Ed will be. What is certain is that next year’s academic job market will be more competitive. You need to prepare for the very real possibility that you may not land a tenure track job. Remaining in contingent and low-paid academic positions can be costly, both in terms of your mental health, but also in terms of your finances.

When I graduated, I was ill-prepared for the job crisis, and I had never contemplated what I would do if I did not land a tenure track job. This made not getting a tenure track job that much more devastating, and I internalized this as a personal failing. Of course, it wasn’t my failure.

2. Be smart, be practical, and do what is in your best interest, personally and financially. Leaving is not a failure; it is survival.

Our research shows that there are so many ways for smart, innovative, people to leverage their skills and education to make a meaningful impact in society. At Beyond Prof, we have interviewed hundreds of PhDs over the last many years, and they are living meaningful lives, making livable wages, working alongside smart and creative people, having career advancement, and are intellectually engaged and fulfilled.

3. Much of our hesitation as academics comes from our lack of familiarity with the range of careers available to people with our skills in the creative economy. I would recommend that, over the next few months, every graduate student and PhD should become active on LinkedIn. (See our free webinar on using LinkedIn here). Reach out to alumni from your institution who are working in non-faculty careers and ask to speak with them about their careers. Find organizations of interest in the cities where you live, follow the organization on social media, and begin to reach out to employees to learn about the work they do and the skills that are of value in their organization. Our research shows that informational interviews are critical to helping PhDs explore career options and find job opportunities. (See our free webinar on informational interviews here).

Next week, we’ll be sending out a worksheet to help you with this process. 

4. For those of you are already seeking non-faculty careers, now is the time to maintain momentum in your job search. Continue with informational interviews and be active on social media, especially on LinkedIn. Some companies are still hiring, and many will resume hiring when this crisis ends. Networking will be critical in finding and landing these positions. Be active. Build your network. Follow organizations on social media, and read industry blogs to learn about trends. People who are working in the careers you are interested in will be most knowledgable about hiring (when and if). By building your network and being active on LinkedIn, you’ll gain valuable information that can help you position yourself.

5. For all PhDs who are exploring non-faculty careers, focus less on your subject matter expertise, and think more about your skills. Communication (written and verbal), research, data analysis, strategic thinking, and project management, are just a few of the skills that most PhDs have that are valued by employers across all industries and sectors. But it’s the skills, and not so much your specific disciplinary knowledge, that employers will value.

On April 16th, I’ll be doing a free webinar where I talk more about job searching during the Covid-19 crisis. Advanced registration is required, and a replay will be available afterwards. An email with a link to the replay will be emailed out to all registered attendees.

I would also encourage you to consider attending our 7th Annual Online Career Conference. Every year, our presenters and speakers deliver PhD-specific career advice, and this year, our programming will directly address the Covid-19 crisis. Use newsletter2020 to receive $10 off before April 14th. If your department or institution wishes to purchase tickets for students and postdocs, please email us for more information about institutional discounts.

Finally, please practice mindfulness and self-compassion during these times. Your mental and psychological health is as critical as your physical health.

In addition to resources on your campus, you can also access critical care through these lifelines:

Stay healthy and safe.

L. Maren Wood, PhD | CEO and Founder of Beyond the Professoriate

Denver - Boulder Colorado headshot photography

L. Maren Wood is the CEO and Founder of Beyond the Professoriate. She writes regularly for Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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