Academics I know tend to look upon the corporate world with some combination of fear, contempt, and horror. And yet, there are many academics who have made the transition to work in corporations successfully, and even find professional satisfaction therein. The first thing to do is demystify and de-objectify the corporate job (and of course, there is no one “corporate job”) and gain a more nuanced sense of what it entails. Stephanie Day continues to help us with this task in this post on what she finds most and least satisfying in her work for Scantron.
By Stephanie Day.
In many ways, my transition to working in corporate settings has required me to sacrifice depth for breadth. In academia, there is a tendency to talk with people with whom you, for the most part, fundamentally agree. This makes sense, because it requires a certain level of common ground in order to debate the higher-order complexities and intricacies of a discipline. In my work, most of my interaction is with individual who are truly fundamentally different from myself and each other. I work with developers, engineers, sales people, designers, educators … none of whom approach things in the same way. We don’t share the same assumptions, backgrounds, or perspectives, so it is unsurprising that we often disagree. Things that seem like they should be simple can quickly become complicated, and sometimes the things that seem the most important and fundamental to what we do gets overlooked. This can be very frustrating.
The intersection of education and technology is fascinating to me, and I long to talk theory, unpack philosophical differences, and examine market trends, initiatives and failures under a social scientist’s microscope. But the nature of private sector is that for most people, the first and foremost concern is with doing their job, not necessarily understanding it. To make up for this, I have taken to signing up for online courses (MOOCs) to keep my analytical brain fresh and I spend time on the weekends working pet projects that allow me to think deeper about my work.
The flip side of that coin, of course, is that from my colleagues I’ve learned how to build a business argument, make a compelling sales pitch, talk numbers and invoices, produce and deliver effective presentations, discuss database architecture, and otherwise make myself more marketable to the real and immediate needs of the high-tech industry. I’ve been able to share anthropology with people whose only previous reference to the discipline came from Indiana Jones, and in doing so I’ve learned to talk about anthropology in a way that is accessible and interesting to everyone. While my specific degrees will probably not immediately qualify me for any now or in the future, it is my worldview, and I bring it with me everywhere I go, along with the technical skills I pick up along the way, to add value to the position that most others cannot. In doing so, I have become far more confident than I ever was in academia that I am capable of bringing something new and important to the table.
I have had to give up on the idea that academic work was somehow more pure and less mundane than private-sector jobs. I had fallen into the idealistic trap of academia to assert its own inherent, non-monetizeable value. On top of my own bias, I also perceived a bias from my academic friends, people who I had admired and modeled myself from. Psychologically, that was rough. But at the end of the day – aside from one very direct comment about “selling out” – most of the disdain I perceived was more a product of my own insecurity about my decision than any willful disdain from my academic friends. Still, I believe a palpable bias does exist that prevents graduates students from talking about transitioning to non-academia with their peers and advisors, which probably leads to the assumption that it “just isn’t done”.
curious k says
Thanks for posting this. When I was on the job market, and on the tail end of the academic job market, I received a job offer in industry. I didn’t know anyone in industry. I didn’t have anyone to ask about what it would be like. At the time, it was my only job offer. I took a risk and turned the offer down, and I am very happy with that decision because my career ended up taking off in a really interesting direction soon afterward. But I will always remember that lost, blind feeling of not having anyone to go to for insight into the black box of the corporate world and what cultural differences there might be. I mean, my entire network could not help me. They were all in academia or in nonprofits.
“I have had to give up on the idea that academic work was somehow more pure and less mundane than private-sector jobs.” I love this! Thanks, Stephanie. 🙂