Saturday, April 16, 2011

Dealing with Post-Academic Guilt and the Fraud Syndrome

So in the past couple of weeks, I've identified two particular industries that I think I would like to work in - one in university administration (for which I'd draw on my grad school teaching and committee experience), and one outside higher ed altogether (for which I'd draw on my experience in part-time jobs as well as my graduate coursework). I plan to apply for jobs outside those two focal areas as well, because I think that if I can land in a big city doing almost any job, I could network myself into a new position. (Luckily, I'm blessed with pretty solid social and networking skills.*)

But overall, in terms of "trying to move into a new career," I have two focal areas in mind ... both of which I know I am qualified for, but for which I will have to draw clear connections between the types of work I've been doing and how they qualify me for positions in those field. This is going to require very carefully arranged resumes and very carefully crafted cover letters.

So now it's time to write cover letters and resumes for those jobs ... and wow, is it turning out to be hard. I can explain, out loud, why I think I'd be good at and enjoy those jobs, and how I'm qualified for them based on my past experiences. But putting that down on paper? Wow, is it turning out to be hard ... and in a few ways that I think are directly tied back to my experience in graduate school and the emotional process of leaving. I thought I'd write a post mentioning a few of the specific ways I'm struggling, just in case anyone reading is going through (or will go through) a similar process.

I keep feeling guilty for not constantly shoving resumes out the door, applying for hundreds of jobs per week. I think this ties back to the guilt of academia ... the idea that you should be constantly working, and the idea that you have to apply for every job that ever pops up because your time is limited. Obviously, if I were completely unemployed right now, I'd want to step it up a bit. But given that I have a job I can tolerate that pays my bills, there is no logical reason for me to be killing myself putting together low-quality resumes and sending them everywhere. And it's not like nonacademic jobs are just going to dry up after the "hiring season" like academia. I don't want to make a random leap to the first place that will have me. I want to take some time, craft good resumes, and try to land a job I want. This takes time.

And frankly, given the emotional upheaval that I've experienced through the process of leaving, I think it's very reasonable to want to take some time to just relax and to think about my options. Flailing around and frantically applying to every job out of some sense that I need to be working 24/7 is not the way to go. But the idea that if you're not working 24/7 on whatever project you're involved in, you're a slacker? It's hard to shake.

I'm having a hard time not writing in academic jargon. Which is interesting, since I don't really care for research and have always hated jargon-filled academic writing. Apparently, though, I've embraced it on at least some level. This one should be easy to overcome, though - I'll have my partner, who is not an academic, review my materials before I send them out.

I'm having a hard time convincing myself that anyone will hire me. Sure, this process is going to be hard. Sure, I'm unlikely to get the first job I apply to. But I have advanced degrees and a lot of skills. There is absolutely no reason to think I can't get a job outside academia. And yet, the idea that I'm not good enough, not skilled enough, and that since I didn't land a tenure track job I'm never going to get any job lingers on.

I'm not normally a person with low self-esteem. So whether it's fair or not, I'm chalking this one up to the graduate student fraud syndrome rearing its ugly head once again. With no attention paid to our transferable skills and a mindset within graduate school and academia that is focused on criticism, not support ... I'm not surprised that I'm having a hard time talking about what I can do, rather than how I fall short.

I do have some ideas about how to address this, and I'm making progress. But it's been more difficult than I've expected. I've never been a rockstar academic, but I've been fairly successful outside academia, and I've never lacked in self-confidence. But it seems like even someone like me - who was never as deep into the academic machine as some other people - has still internalized some of its pathologies.

*Although I've noticed, for the record, that my ability to network and socialize within academia is far less pronounced than outside academia. Outside the academic world, I'm able to talk to people from a wide range of backgrounds about a wide range of topics. Put me at a conference or in a social setting with a room of faculty and grad students, however, and I have a really hard time. I probably should have picked up on this sooner as a clue that I might not be well-suited to academia. Note: if something that you're normally really good at is really difficult in another setting/field, maybe that's not the field for you...


  1. Again, I know this feeling. I spent hours the other day trying to figure out how to write a resume that is filled almost entirely with education-related experience and almost nothing else. Why would anyone want to hire me when all I've done for the last 8 years is teach? I finally got something down on paper, but I'm still not sure it works for the world apart from academia. At least I managed to produce and resume and not a C.V. That's a start, right?

  2. Absolutely, it's a start.

    One thing that I found that really helped me was to sit down and make a list of everything I've done, and then break it down to actual, concrete, transferrable skills.

    So "lecturing to students" became:
    -good public speaking skills
    -ability to translate complex information to a less knowledgeable audience
    -ability to draw information from multiple sources to prepare presentations
    -able to use Microsoft PowerPoint (my classes were HUGE)
    -experience evaluating others' work
    -experience creating assessment tools to gauge others' learning
    -communication skills in group and individual settings
    -ability to keep confidential information private
    -etc. etc. etc.

    Then, when you go to modify a resume for a specific job, you can pick and choose the SKILLS you want to emphasize. For example, I just did a resume for a student advising job, and emphasized my communication and outside mentoring activities with students, as well as my organizational skills, more than my lecture-writing skills.

    It's not easy. But this strategy has helped me at least feel more confident. Good luck!