My bio usually includes a note about being a “recovering” academic, so here is what I mean by that. I spent five years in a combined MA/PhD program doing everything I was supposed to do, and another five years trying to complete my dissertation while working full time because I could not care for myself on what my institution allotted to its graduate students. I have immense respect for my scholarly peers, for the faculty that supported me, and for the education that shaped the way I think and write. I have equally immense doubts that academia can offer an equitable, sustainable career for those who seek it.
For some, academia affords a field of peers who can expand and challenge the boundaries of your thinking; for many, it is a condition of isolation. My path from full-time graduate student to marketing professional did not run smoothly, but it is my pleasure to share what knowledge and resources I have. If you’re looking for a way out, you are not alone.
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Job-seeking advice for recovering academics
- Your education is not a replacement for experience. Nonacademic employers may be impressed by your degree but they are still going to need you to prove that you understand how the job works. You may need to take some hourly gigs or entry-level positions to get established in your new field. It’s tempting to wring your hands and say you’re overqualified; don’t. Some organizations welcome applicants with graduate degrees who are positioned to learn and advance in their roles. You’ll be overqualified (and quite hirable) once you get some on-the-job experience under your belt.
- Cast a wide net. There’s nothing wrong with teaching and other education-adjacent roles, but the truth is that most academics have no idea what kind of jobs are even out there. (I certainly didn’t expect that marketing would be a good fit for my skill set; I was dead set on book publishing when I started out, although I knew little about the industry.) Try searching job sites for verbs that describe what you’d like to do (write, edit, research). Try exploring the staff lists for organizations you respect.
Advice for stubborn academics
Not ready to leave? Just starting a PhD? Okay, remember this.
- Imposter syndrome is real. Assume everyone has it. If you feel like the stupidest person in the room, assume that most of the rest of the room feels the same way about themselves. And if you are brave enough to be vulnerable with any of your cohort about your emotional experience–and I recommend that you try, as emotional honesty led to some of my dearest friendships–do not trust anyone who responds by pretending everything is fine.
- You deserve to have nice things. You get to read books that aren’t assigned, and enjoy hobbies like television and video games, and take time off to spend with friends and family. I am grateful that I had a break of two years between undergraduate and graduate school, because I had time to start becoming who I am and determining my own values before submitting myself to the grind–but nonetheless, I said no to so many good things during grad school and I regret it deeply.
Ask a Manager
Search for pretty much any job question you have–when to update your resume, what does a good cover letter look like, how to prepare for an interview–and Ask a Manager has covered it.
The Marketplace of Ideas by Louis Menand. W. W. Norton and Company, reprint 2010.
Menand offers a history of liberal arts education that traces how our existing four-year degrees have evolved (or not) over time. This book helped me understand the adjunct crisis and academic job insecurity in historical context.
So What Are You Going to Do With That? by Susan Basalla and Maggie Debelius. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001.
A practical guide that includes some very useful exercises for determining what you want from a degree and how to reconfigure your academic C.V. into a snappy resume. I cried during my first read; it was just so touching to hear about other people who successfully and rationally transitioned from academic to other kinds of work.
Last updated: July 2020