Ivory Towers in the Rearview Mirror: Winnie Chang

We continue with our new column, featuring interviews with PhDs who have charted a course unrelated to the tenure track, putting academia squarely in the rearview mirror.

Our hope is that seeing and hearing from a wide range of PhDs who are celebrating their careers rather than settling for them will inspire every grad student, ABD and PhD to add the road OFTEN traveled to their list of options.

We are excited to hear and share your stories. If you have a PhD and are working outside of the academy and would like to share your experience with TPII readers, we’d love to hear from you!


Today we are pleased to feature Dr. Winnie Chang

I earned a PhD in History in 2012 at UCLA.

Currently, I am a full-time freelance translator

When I started the PhD, I wanted to be a college professor. But, I had a very hazy idea of what being a professor was like, thinking of it more as an extension of being a grad student — teaching, researching and writing.

So when I finished, I still wanted to teach at the college level, but was extremely demoralized during the one year I was on the job market.

When I realized that I was wrong about what a tenure track career really looked like, I could see that my original career goals were misaligned with what I actually like doing, which is working from home in pajamas.

I grew up bilingual and my language skills were honed during my PhD coursework and dissertation. I also freelanced sporadically during grad school. Once I realized how big the translation industry was, I decided to do this full-time without being tethered to any one company.

In making the career shift, I had the support of my husband and my closer grad school friends. Also, I didn’t really have to change much in terms of skills and approach. Translation work involves a lot of basic research and good reading/writing skills, which strongly overlap with grad school skills. In addition, working with focus and having cultivated a strong work ethic while being in isolation was another thing that helped with the easy transition.

With that said, my main advisor has not responded to my email when I told him I was leaving academia… 8 years ago.

To anyone thinking about leaving the tenure track, remember: 1) You have marketable skills and you can have job security through skill rather than attachment to one institution. 2) Don’t be complicit in your own suffering and your PhD is never wasted. 3) The money’s better!

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