Preparing for an Alternative Career Path

Constructing Your Self Identity

Career exploration and decision making for graduate students leaving the academy is, in many ways, a process of leaving behind the identity of a scholar and recreating a new identity. For some people, this is the aspect which is most difficult, because most of their experiences of accomplishment and recognition have been within the academic context, and there is a fear that there are no other contexts in which they will be as successful. However, these successes are not tied to a specific situation, they are indicative of the individual. Beginning to identify and acknowledge the skills, interests, values and priorities that make each person unique is an important first step in determining the activities that each individual would find satisfying.

Researching Possibilities

Another stumbling block facing graduate students in transition, is a fundamental lack of knowledge about the world of work. Typically, neither they, nor their supervisors, have much first-hand experience finding anything more than casual employment outside the university. Fortunately, graduate students are experts in the very skills necessary to overcome this obstacle - research!

Once they begin to get a sense of the skills they would like to use, their lifestyle priorities and how they will measure success, graduate students are ready to begin the process of identifying potential work environments. By beginning with their best educational guesses and soliciting input from colleagues, faculty and family, graduate students can begin to uncover networks of people and organizations or companies involved in relevant activities or "Fields of Fascination" as they have been dubbed by Richard Bolles, author of the best selling job search guide What Color is Your Parachute?.

Web Resources

Recognizing Opportunities

Unlike the highly regimented process of job hunting and the selection process that is typical in academia, there is little structure or predictability around these activities in the non-academic job market.

Perhaps the least effective method of finding work is to respond to job postings - especially those on the Internet. It is always more effective to search for work in places where there is already a sense of connection developed through an internship, part-time or contract work, referrals, of volunteering. This gives both the job seeker and the potential employer an opportunity to develop a rapport with each other and an appreciation for what each has to offer so when an opening becomes available, there is little reason to post the position publicly. In the career development field, this is called 'networking'.

Far from the undertones of nepotism that used to be associated with the term, networking, in today's world, is more akin to conducting primary research. The goal is to seek out 'fields of fascination' and look for ways to contribute to, enhance or improve the activities in these areas - herein. Very often, money can be found for a contract or a project that will significantly impact the mandate of the organization. In this way, problems and gaps become rich sources for career-enhancing opportunities.

Finding a 'Real' Job

There is a strong inclination for graduate students transitioning out of academe to want permanent, full-time positions, preferably with solid benefits and good pensions attached. This is hardly surprising given that most have spent years living below the poverty line, have families and want careers with perks similar to those enjoyed by tenure-track faculty. However, such jobs are becoming increasingly rare in a marketplace characterized by sudden shifts and economic changes. While it is certainly possible to attain such work, it is more likely to occur after a series of short-term contracts and/or part-time work, in order to establish a strong track record and directly relevant accomplishments in a given field. Not understanding this is a common source of depression and frustration to graduate students who limit their job search to job postings and never hear back once they send in their resumes.

Developing strong job search skills, and being willing to accept less permanent work initially, combined with the suggestions presented on this site, will eventually lead to a satisfying career outside the academy as many happily employed masters and doctoral students have found!