by Sarita Jackson
Sarita Jackson was a tenured professor of Political Science before leaving academia in 2013 to found her own think tank and consulting firm, Global Research Institute of International Trade. GRIIT is a think-tank/consulting firm dedicated to analyzing the opportunities and costs of free trade agreements and simplifying the rules within these agreements so that businesses can take advantage of global market opportunities to increase their profits. In this, her first post-ac post, Dr. Jackson shares specific steps you can take right now to build the “marketing capital” that you can spend later when seeking to translate your Ph.D. training into a non-academic job.
You may be in graduate school or just finished, or a veteran of the job search. No matter where you are in the process, current debates on the profession have you questioning an academic career. Increasing debt of Ph.D. students. A declining number of tenure track positions. What are you to do?
Start building your marketing capital right now so that you can enjoy a variety of options to spend it on when you need to.
Marketing capital refers to the accumulation of skills and networks that will allow you to demonstrate the value that you add to any organization beyond the Ivory Tower (or Ebony Tower for those at Historically Black Colleges and Universities).
To start building marketing capital, it is important to think in terms of having career options rather than just a career. This helped me prepare for both an academic and a related non-academic career path while pursuing my doctorate. So then the next logical question is: How?
There are five things that you can do today to help you thrive as the academic profession continues to change. These tips have been beneficial in both my academic and post-academic positions in consulting and business. I made it all the way to tenure before deciding to leave the academy to run my own think tank and consulting firm.
Nurture relationships with non-academic mentors in your field
Mentors outside of academia were instrumental as I created a path of career options. These mentors helped with my transition by sharing advice on creating a resume or CV that speaks to the needs of the non-academic position, the interview process, and negotiating my salary. I met these mentors at events organized for policymakers, business representatives, researchers and consultants; through interviews that I conducted in Washington, D.C. for my dissertation; and from internships (see point #2). Ten plus years later, I still collaborate with many of these mentors.
Complete at least one internship
Internships can be used to gain professional development training in addition to their teaching assistant duties. Internships provided me with the necessary practical training, networking opportunities, and first-hand insight into an alternative career path as well as access to resources for my dissertation.
I took advantage of paid internships where I would gain a substantial experience. I interned in the Deputy Secretary’s office at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., National Public Radio, and the U.S. Embassy in Panama. I had the skills to market myself should I decide to pursue a career in the Foreign Service or fall back on my undergraduate degree in Broadcast Journalism.
Conduct informational interviews
Informational interviews are also a good way to introduce yourself to the decision-makers in a related non-academic position and determine if a particular alternative career path is right for you ahead of time. During my last year in graduate school, I held informational interviews over the phone and face-to-face with government officials, consultants, researchers at think-tanks and business owners.
As a matter of fact, my first job upon completion of graduate school resulted from a request for an informational interview. The consultant whom I interviewed because of her similar background similar responded with an invitation to a job interview. I enjoyed working as a trade policy consultant for the next year and a half before finally going on the academic job market.
Set aside time for additional training
Even in graduate school I had an interest in running my own company in the future. So I took advantage of entrepreneurship training. A number of opportunities exist that are not too time consuming to participate in free local entrepreneurship workshops funded by the Small Business Association. The training from my days in graduate school, as well as thereafter, has been beneficial in my current role as founder of a think-tank/consulting firm.
Make your work relevant
Scholars are trained to build upon knowledge by examining theories and methodological approaches. However, when a non-academic asks the So what? question, that person wants to know how the information will benefit him/her. In fields such as political science and economics, at least one chapter of the dissertation should also have practical applicability. The last chapter of my dissertation included a policy proposal that I was able to use when discussing my work with those outside of academia, especially with those who had the authority to hire.
Thinking in terms of career options and building marketing capital requires time. With proper time management and engaging in professional activities that serve you academically and post-academically can help you to lay the foundation for a post-academic career without prolonging or delaying the completion of your graduate degree.