This month we introduce our new column, Ivory Towers In The Rearview Mirror, 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.
Remember, 50-90% of PhDs (depending on the field) end up in work off the tenure track. Putting traditional academia behind you IS the normative path!
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. Beth Hallowell.
I am currently Director of Research and Analytics for The American Friends Service Committee, a mid-sized Quaker nonprofit in Philadelphia. I turn data into insights and strategy. Visit us at afsc.org.
I got a PhD in Anthropology from the University of Pennsylvania in 2015. When I started in 2009 I was planning on a traditional (TT) academic/teaching and research career. Although the market was very bad when I started, I knew that people were getting tenure track jobs. By 2015, I only knew of a very few out of my program who were on the tenure track
About halfway through my program I realized I wanted a life that the academy wouldn’t support — buying a house in my home city (Philly), staying close to family and friends, having kids, work-life balance, stable work/salary, etc.
I found support for the transition from my family/spouse and friends, most of whom were also grad students looking outside the academy. I began networking and building on connections I had made during grad school. I used Penn’s career services as much as possible for advice, soul searching, and eventually resume review/interview prep/ etc.
In the department, I kept my decision private for the most part and did not go seeking either approval (or inciting disapproval), but as my advisors heard about what I was doing, they were supportive. But I had a wonderful committee and I ended up adjuncting in the Dept for a few terms after leaving grad school because I enjoyed teaching.
When I started the transition out of academia, I had to relearn how to engage different audiences. I had been good at this prior to grad school but had lost that skill while there. I also took control over my career narrative, framing my transition as a researcher graduating from a research program looking for a research job rather than “alt-ac.”
I was hired for a different role at my current employer toward the end of my PhD, and part of that role was building out a research program for my employer. I’ve done that and it’s been a great 5+ years.
I have always loved research and my program gave my a top notch grounding in research as a profession. I always tell people leaving the academy or thinking of leaving that we live in a knowledge economy so it’s actually a great time to be a researcher — just not inside the academy.
I want PhDs to know that it’s a great time to be a researcher, just not in the academy. If you are thinking about a research-y career, know that there are plenty of opportunities out there, especially for social scientists.
Try to frame your skills in different ways for different people/opportunities- few people outside of the academy will be able to translate your skills to a role at their organization, so the onus is on you to do that for them (both when networking and applying for jobs).