by Robert Oprisko
One of the largest hurdles that a non-STEM Ph.D. will face moving into the Post-Ac environment is perception, both their own and others of who they are and what they do. Successful transition into a non-academic environment is assisted by practical production of post-academic passion and performance. In today’s white-collar service economy, one of the very best ways to prepare for this transition is to acquire a credential or two that emphasizes your skill-set and is recognized across disciplines: elite certifications. My favorite one-two punch for all post-ac job seekers is to become LEAN and Agile.
LEAN certification is used in business analytics to reduce waste and increase efficiency in processes. For anyone who holds an analytic mind, increasing your skill-set by getting the premier LEAN cert, Six Sigma Black Belt, will pay dividends. LEAN methodologies follow systems of empirical review to control process improvement. Often these process improvements utilize the Deming Cycle, or a revision of it, including Six Sigma’s and Motorola’s. Effectively, these methodologies present processes as problems and the task of the quality manager or quality analyst is to use statistical tools to measure the impact of alterations to the process.
First and foremost, there are a number of credentialing bodies because there is no overarching certifying body, so purchase with care. If you’re still in graduate school, there is a good chance that a class (likely housed within either the business or management school) will be designed around Six Sigma and may result in certification. Perhaps the best known credential can be earned through the American Society of Quality, which helpfully provides deep discounts to students and requires passing an exam. If you have no familiarity, you can enter into Six Sigma with the lower certifications before progressing to the Black Belt level. This progression can be helpful for improving your mastery of the processes as you gain Post-Ac experience.
Project management is a growing sector of the economy and is moving out of technical fields, such as software development, into other areas, including higher education. The most sought after certifications are the Project Management Professional (PMP) and the Certified Scrum Professional (CSP); the former is used primarily for static teams while the latter is essential for teams that shift and change based upon the needs of the project, hence it is Agile. The Project Management Institute issues PMP certifications while CSP certifications are provided by the Scrum Alliance.
Similar to Six Sigma, project management certifications have accessible points of entry, with the Certified Associate in Project Management and the Certified Scrum Master available for individuals to formalize their interest in project management and to provide mastery of the terms of art needed to succeed within the field. Agile methodologies, such as Scrum, are premised on versatility and translate more readily into non-technical fields and environments.
I’ve seen both LEAN and Agile methods employed within universities to manage ad hoc projects and it’s becoming a norm within non-profits and academic publishing, including for e-journal publishing. My experience with E-International Relations (E-IR) has emphasized both over the past year. Using teams of three to seven academics, E-IR has been able to move into academic publishing of open-access textbooks, monographs, and edited volumes, has been selected to start a peer-reviewed journal of record for the International Association of Political Science Students, and has increased its site traffic and income substantially. Utilizing LEAN principles, E-IR is able to accomplish all of this at less than 10% of the cost incurred by traditional publishing houses.
Although no credential can guarantee success or employment (if it did, you’d already have a tenure-track position and wouldn’t be reading this post), elite certifications can provide an effective means of transitioning from academe to industry. As valued credentials, they may also increase your potential salary range. Within higher education administration (Alt-Ac paths) there are a number of credentials available based upon specialty. The only limiting factors are interest and cost. It may be worthwhile to earmark the money you would have spent going to an academic conference hedging your bet and credentialing yourself for Plan B.