By Vesna Curlic |
As the pandemic exacerbates what was already a challenging academic job market, many PhDs and early career researchers are considering working outside traditional academic jobs. Thinking about an alt-ac career can be daunting, but as a researcher, my first line of defence is to learn as much as possible about the things that daunt me. In doing so, I’ve discovered a whole industry of coaches and blogs that specialise in helping academics translate their skills to the non-academic world. Here are some of my favourites, if you’re just starting out on this journey:
Chris Cornthwaite and the Roostervane blog
This was one of the first resources I found when I began thinking about a non-academic career. Chris finished a PhD in religious studies from the University of Toronto in Canada and immediately found, like many new PhDs do, that there were no academic jobs in his field. Quickly, he pivoted to a non-academic career, working first with a think tank, later with the Canadian government, and currently as an entrepreneur. He writes about his own experience and the experiences of those he’s mentored on his blog, Roostervane. I really enjoy his posts about leaving academia, especially this one about the challenges of rediscovering your purpose. He is also very open about the financial side of these decisions, which I think is a terribly under-discussed facet of choosing a career – a flaw that I think leaves people undervaluing their labour. I really recommend his post about how humanities PhDs can strategically set themselves up for careers that pay $100,000 or more per year.
Jennifer Polk and From PhD to Life
If you need alt-ac resources, PhD to Life should be one of your first stops. Jennifer Polk did a PhD in history at the University of Toronto in Canada. She now works as a career coach and has written extensively about academia and non-academic careers all over the internet. Her website has a lot of useful resources, but my favourite is her compendium of interviews with PhDs who work outside academia, called Transition Q&As. I really enjoy hearing first-person accounts of people finding careers they love in places they didn’t expect. I also think this is very useful if you aren’t quite at the stage of requesting informational interviews with people, these Q&As can give you a sense of what PhDs in your field are doing now, what they did to get that job and why they do (or don’t) enjoy their work. Jennifer’s Twitter is also a great place for discussions about universities and academic careers.
Christopher Caterine’s Leaving Academia: A Practical Guide (Princeton University Press)
This recently published book will become an essential text for anyone looking to leave the academic job market. Christopher earned a PhD in classics from the University of Virginia, and now works as a communications strategist in the corporate world. In this book, he moves through the different stages of a career transition, starting with the psychological challenges of deciding to leave academia, then moving through figuring what your new field will be, how to get there, and beginning the process. Above all, I love this guide for its ruthless practicality. Every chapter ends with a list of “action items” – tangible actions that the reader to take, which makes a career change feel like a manageable, attainable process.
And of course, many have published useful advice right here on Pubs and Publications over the years. A few of my favourites include:
- The Hows of Plan B (part one and two) by Edwin Goi
- Marketing Academic Skills for a Non-Academic World by Tyler Yank
- On the Practicality of a Degree in History by Rose Luminiello
- Changing Direction: Reflections on Pursuing a Non-Academic Career by Ian MacNeill
You’ll notice that my recommendations tend to skew towards advice for humanities PhDs and towards a North American context, but I’d love to expand my horizons! Do you have any favourite alt-ac career resources? Do you know of any alt-ac resources for STEM researchers? What about non-North American ones?
Vesna Curlic is a PhD candidate in History at the University of Edinburgh. Her research examines migration and healthcare in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in Britain. She can be found on Twitter at @vesnacurlic.