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Careers Café

Exploring the Great Beyond


Lest it seem as though informational interviews are the only means of exploring careers, please rest assured that there are other resources out there. My next few blog posts will describe some of my favourites.  If you happen to be a humanities or social sciences PhD, one of the best is The Versatile PhD.

If this seems like a blatant plug, it is. The Versatile PhD’s predecessor, the WRK4US listserv, was a life saver for me while I completed my PhD. It introduced me to an entire community of other folks spending 4+ years working towards a degree that might be “wasted.” And, of course, it reassured me that the time I invested wasn’t misspent. Though I might not use the content knowledge from my thesis, the processes I learned would be invaluable.

But back to the resource. Here are some of the main reasons why I’m enthusiastic about this website:

It introduces a range of career paths and shares stories of academics who translated their scholarly experience into something that non-academic employers recognized and valued. The Versatile PhD’s founder, Dr. Paula Chambers, created the initial WRK4US listserv because she saw how many academics were unaware of what other career paths are available. She has hosted panel discussions, in which former academics dished the dirt on their new lines of work. Those discussions are archived online, and new ones continue to unfold on The Versatile PhD community pages.

It reminds academics that all of their experiences have value — not just the academic ones. Contributors to discussions often talk about how volunteer work, contract or part-time positions developed key skills, uncovered new areas of interest, or introduced them to future employers. The activities that distract you from publishing might just launch your next career.

It acknowledges the barriers that academics may face in the non-academic job market. As Chambers notes, academics may have to confront “the perception by employers that PhDs are overqualified and/or lacking in social skills, and the inner barrier of residual shame about not pursuing what academic culture tells you is the only desirable path.”

Like most resources, you get out of The Versatile PhD what you put into it. If you treat it like a job title generation tool, you’ll get some job titles out of it — and that might be all you need to start your research. If you delve into the stories, you’ll notice some trends that can help you in your exploration and job search. For example, many participants support what University Affairs says about the need to learn the rules of the non-academic job search and, in Chambers’ words, to let go of “the intense focus on subject matter knowledge” seen in academic CVs and cover letters.

The number of books, websites and people shedding light on non-academic careers is growing. If you’ve encountered a career resource that’s dear to your heart, please share it with other readers!

Liz Koblyk
Liz Koblyk is the associate director of the Wilson Leadership Scholar Award at McMaster University.
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