Thursday, January 5, 2012

Look! A Nonacademic Job You Could Get!! (Also, New Postacademic Blogs for You!)

First off ... be sure to check out the updated blogroll on the right. There are a few new postacademic blogs for you to check out - namely, Project Reinvention 2012 and Unemployed PhD for Hire. They've both already had some interesting things to say in their first few posts ... and of course, I'm thrilled to see more and more people not just leaving academia, but choosing to write about it. Let's pull back the curtain and make sure people understand that (1) academia is not a perfect meritocracy where success is guaranteed, and that (2) it's okay to not like it anymore, even if you think you could get a job. It's okay to want to leave.

Anyway, check out their blogs and leave a comment!

On this lazy Sunday, I thought I'd follow up on recentPhD's recent post by copying the text of an ad for a nonacademic job that requires academic skills. As recentPhD wrote, perhaps this can help you think more positively about your job prospects outside of academia. Most of you probably aren't looking at nonacademic job ads right now ... so perhaps seeing that there are jobs out there for people with the kind of job skills that you gain from academia will help you feel more positive about the possibility of finding work outside of academia if you choose to or need to leave.

I'll do this every now and then on this blog, now that I'm reading job ads regularly again (although to some extent, I'm still not really sure what I'm looking for. Eeeeesh).

Anyway, I can't even tell you how easy it is to find job ads that are looking for people with academic skills. Teaching skills translate into jobs as training coordinators. Research skills translate into many jobs analyzing data or running focus groups or conducting surveys or interviews. Reading and writing skills translate into jobs in editing, technical writing, marketing, and a lot of other things. Trust me - regardless of what Professor McFancy in your department tells you, there ARE jobs outside of academia that will value your training and that you will find fulfilling.

So here you go. An ad for someone with research training. Does this sound like a job you could do?

[Organization] is an independent research organization in [Major City]. We collaborate with government agencies, educational institutions, nonprofit organizations and businesses to provide data analysis and compile reports that contribute to informed decisionmaking in health, education, economics, crime, justice, and the environment.

We are seeking a Senior Research Analyst who will:
  • Take the lead on key tasks related to research design, data collection and analysis while assisting the project manager to keep projects on track
  • Develop qualitative and quantitative data collection instruments
  • Analyze quantitative and qualitative data
  • Draft report and presentations
  • Assist with management, coordination, and budgeting of projects
  • Masters' degree plus a minimum of two years' social science research experience
  • This includes experience playing a lead role in study design
  • Experience using and designing qualitative data collection tools including surveys, interviews, site visits, and focus groups
  • Strong analytic ability, writing, and organizational skills are required
  • Quantitative research experience using statistical software packages such as Stata or SAS preferred

See that part about "two years' social science research experience including playing a lead role in study design?" If you're ABD, you've done this. You're probably two years past your masters', and you've taken a lead role in designing your dissertation. And also note that while both quantitative and qualitative skills are desired, the emphasis is on qualitative.

And also note that there is no emphasis in this ad on subject area expertise. That's because in the real world, you aren't "an expert on Basketweaving in Uzbekistan" like you are in academia. You're an experienced research professional with generalized skills (data analysis, survey design, etc) that translate well into a range of topics an subject areas.

So there ARE jobs out there that you can do. I mean, sheesh ... it took me longer to type up this post than it did to find this job ad! (It was, literally, the first ad that popped up when I typed "research analyst" into the search engine). What should that tell you? That there are employers out there who value the skills you've gained in grad school. Don't let academia push you down any further by causing you to view your skills only from within their narrow framework. 

Also, check out the career advice section at "How to Leave Academia" - the new website set up by me and other postacademic bloggers that attempts to help people like you navigate the transition out of academia and into your new life. Or go purchase our e-book (Moving On: Essays on the Aftermath of Leaving Academia) to see examples of the types of jobs that other academic leavers have gotten.

You have skills that outside employers will value and are looking for. Try taking a look around and seeing what's out there.


  1. "You have skills that outside employers will value and are looking for."

    Oh, JC. I wish you were right. The "skills" my program teaches are to "be reflexive!" That's really about it. Even if I complete my sociology doctorate, I could no more do the job described above than become a child star.

  2. So you've never taken a stats class or written interview or survey questions for a class or project? Or done any work on SPSS or another stats program?

    From what I understand from a few friends who work in the nonacademic world in research jobs, if you've taken a statistics class before and have some basic idea of how to run a couple models (correlations or maybe a t-test), or how to write interview questions? You can be hired to an outside research job. Because almost no one other than former grad students know how to do that stuff.

    Honestly, we academics are so used to thinking about the ways we fall short in academia that we lose sight of how we look to the outside world. That class we took that we thought was useless still looks like "statistics training" to the outside world. That dissertation that your advisor rips apart is still "a completed project you did independently." And that's what employers will see on your resume ... not the critical comments from your advisor. You had the training. You know what "research" is. You understand the research process. You can write coherently. Those are actual skills.

    Maybe you haven't had any of the training for THIS particular job. But the thing is, if you look at any individual nonacademic job ad, you're going to see some way that your training or skills don't measure up. There is not going to be any nonacademic job that exactly suits your experience and your dissertation topic and uses the exact same words that your department used to evaluate your skills and train you. A big part of making this transition is to learn how to get out of the academic mindset, which causes us to focus on the negatives and think in “academic jargon”… and to view ourselves and our skills in a more positive and objective light. Every job is not going to fit everyone, but the thing is that every job out there doesn’t require the same set of skills. Also, there is more than one way to describe any particular skill you do have. Writing can become “communication.” Teaching can become “training.” Research can become “analysis" or "project management" in certain circumstances. And on and on.

    Also, in the real world, few hiring managers will expect you to fulfill every bullet point of a job ad or to walk in prepared to do the job they’re advertising without training. They understand that they’re looking for the best candidate, and that they’re probably not going to find the perfect candidate. They're going to focus on how you DO match the ad, and on how quickly they think you might learn the other skills you don’t have. You might see the fact that your only experience with X skill was a class you took three years ago as a negative, but an employer who is reviewing 200 resumes from people with different backgrounds might view it differently, and figure that you would have an easier time training for the job than someone without that class. You just don’t know how they’re going to see your skills, but you can't talk yourself out of qualification for every job before you even apply.

    One of the dumbest and most unpleasant people who ever came through my department and barely passed hir quantitative classes is now working for a government agency, doing statistical analysis. The outside world is simply not as harsh as academia, and there is a far, far larger range of jobs out there. You can’t possibly let yourself get discouraged over one job ad that you don’t (think you) match.

  3. For some reason this post only now showed up in my feed. Thanks for the shout out, JC! And also the pep talk. It's definitely one of those days when I need to be reminded about the multiplicity and flexibility of nonacademic jobs.

  4. Oh, no problem! It makes my day when I notice that a new postacademic blog has started. :)

    And as for your feed ... I've been pre-writing entries lately and scheduling them to post at a later time/date, and royally screwed up this one's post date. I'm surprised it came up in your feed at all, since I originally scheduled it to post on January 4, **2010** ... and then spent half the day last week wondering where the hell it went!

    Clearly, "web designer" is not going to be my future career... :D