Last week on Facebook, a commenter wrote, “I quit my PhD in December and I still carry the ‘shame’ with me, as if I did something horribly wrong. ‘But you’ve already put so much work into it I was told. Four and a half years to be exact – I know! I was able to ‘convert’ the PhD course work into a Masters and now find myself telling people ‘…but I only have a Masters now,’ like it’s a bad thing.”
I think it’s safe to say that virtually every Ph.D. (at least in most areas of the humanities and social sciences, where work outside the academy is not an obvious choice or option) experiences feelings of shame and despair about the postac transition. The issue is, what are you going to do about those feelings? They can be utterly debilitating (as they were for me for over a year), and you need resources and strategies to confront and overcome them. Joe Fruscione suggests sharing your experience publicly, through blogging and other means, despite possible risks. He explains why in this post. There is a large postac community now–don’t be afraid to seek its help and support.
By Joe Fruscione
Should you blog about your career change? Do we need more entries in the growing Quit Lit GoogleDoc? (I say yes, but make your own choice.) What I’ve done—PBS NewsHour appearances in March 2013 and February 2014 and a video for Adjunct Voices—clearly isn’t for everyone. I’m in a relatively safe position: I’m part of a contingent faculty union, and I never say anything too incendiary or combative that would get me fired or make me unhireable. (What else would you expect from Adjunct Yoda?) Maybe I’m just naturally extroverted and good at being the face of something, or I’m trying to get others to join me in front of the camera.
Regardless of whether you go public with your choice, deciding to leave academia may embolden you to talk about what you’re doing, collaborate with new alt-ac and post-ac colleagues, and begin translating your experiences into marketable skills. Speaking out has been incredibly cathartic. If it would be for you too, write something. Outlets like Chronicle Vitae, Hybrid Pedagogy, Adjunct Action, and others are interested in hearing about post-ac or “Quit Lit” narratives, and writing about your soon-to-be old career may lead you to a new one.
Let’s remember, as Allessandria Polizzi reminds us, that blogging about academia and/or your decision to leave it has inherent risks: we’re all Google-able, so who’s to say a potential employer won’t find some of your work? If you’re criticizing your former university, an employer may think, you may later criticize them publicly. Given this (very real) risk, remember to write with purpose and balance if you’re publicly criticizing your university and/or higher ed while using your own name. Save the ranting and raving—no matter how justified—for private groups and/or anonymous blogging.
Also remember this: networking isn’t necessarily a dirty word. Though it may conjure up images of schmoozing and shady backroom deals, expanding your connections is key to expanding your post-ac career. Build a network of professional contacts inside and outside academia. If this prospect seems overwhelming, set manageable goals: start by making 1-2 new professional contacts per week via LinkedIn or Twitter. Then, check the followers and/or contacts of someone you admire who’s doing similar work. Their connections can then become your connections.
Amid my various forms of outreach and activism, I’ve been reflecting on how to market my academic skills in the private sector. The trick for all post-ac job seekers is virtually the same: stressing how our rich academic backgrounds and sets of skills are transferable in the private sector. Regardless of our areas of expertise, we’ll draw on the various thinking, writing, and editing skills our years of teaching and researching have given us. I’ve already had to do this during a pre-screening and formal interview for an editing job. Although I didn’t get the job, I began crafting my story about how 15+ years inside academia will help me outside it.
Consider a few things:
If you’ve published a book and/or edited a collection, how can you make an employer see these writing, editing, and organizational skills as necessary for them? What aspects of the writing and publishing processes would help you do the kinds of work the employer does?
How will all those pages of student writing you’ve commented on help market you as a skilled consultant, writer, and editor?
How can you get your feet wet, so to speak, in your new post-ac career? What opportunities are there to do the kinds of work—speaking, writing, blogging, reviewing, lobbying, whatever—your new career will entail? Is freelance work an option? What kinds of skills can you develop in a relatively short time frame (such as while you’re still teaching)?
What current connections inside academia can help you outside it? Who can vouch for you as a thinker, writer, and colleague? Who “might know someone” and be willing to help ease your career transition? Who could steer some work your way to help you get started?
I was fortunate, for instance, to work with a former graduate school professor on his book manuscript. His press had given him the “revise and submit” response, and he needed new eyes on it. I first read and commented on the manuscript (about 400 pages), made suggestions for cutting and restructuring, and then looked at a revised final chapter and conclusion a few months later. He was thrilled with the work I did; he wrote a short testimonial about my editing that I put on my LinkedIn profile. He was (and still is) supportive and willing to help me build my editing portfolio and client list.
If I can reiterate something from my first post: talk about your post-ac decision and progress. You might find someone willing and able to help you transition. You never know whose spouse, partner, or friend is looking to hire someone with your interests and qualifications, even if only on a part-time basis. I’ve gotten two freelance copy editing projects and a job interview simply by publicizing my process of changing careers.
As I continue narrating my reinvention, I’ll surely be sharing mistakes, questions, might-have-been moments, feelings of ambivalence and being stuck, and so on. My experiences won’t necessarily be universal or relatable, and there’s definitely no one-size-fits-all approach to post-ac. What I most hope is that my successes, failures, experiences, and strategies become learning moments other post-ac job seekers can adapt to their own needs.
Remember: you’re not in this alone. There’s a very strong and enriching we in the growing post-ac community. Lean on and learn from it.