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From PhD to Life

Beyond the Professoriate was a success


I co-hosted an online conference earlier this month, with Maren Wood: The 2nd Annual Beyond the Professoriate. What fun! What learning! The conference reaffirmed for me that PhDs working in non-faculty positions are enjoying all kinds of wonderful, fascinating, and meaningful careers.

One highlight for me was Elizabeth Keenan speaking about how, as a real estate professional, she teaches buyers and coaches them through the process. It reminds her of her years as a professor mentoring undergraduate students working on independent research papers. Another was Rebecca Schuman talking about how her professional success after leaving academia owes much to her doing the opposite of what we’re accustomed to doing within it. She compared her journey to that of George Costanza in an episode of Seinfeld. (Read Schuman’s article on Vitae, which was published soon after.) Rachel Bundang spoke warmly of her wonderful colleagues at the private school where she now teaches. (Read more about what Rachel does in this 2-part series on Beyond Academia – part 1, part 2.) Sal Zerilli was honest and insightful about the differences and similarities between social science research inside and outside the academy. Andrew Miller made a big impact with his comments on feeling guilty for leaving the “life of the mind” – “I spent much too much time worrying about this,” he said. Yanoula Athanassakis showed how transitioning from a faculty job to a non-faculty position at a university did not mean giving up her scholarly activities, including teaching and publishing. Engineering professor turned “life engineer” Ada Barlatt shared her enthusiasm for the path she’s now on. Anna Marie Trester spoke eloquently about focusing on one’s very next step when there’s no map handy – a great metaphor for career building with a PhD beyond the professoriate. I could go on: there were so many great stories and words of wisdom.

The second day of the conference featured presentations on important aspects of job searching. Our speakers aimed their remarks at PhDs, which was easy enough to do because five out of six of them have doctorates! They shared important information about how hiring actually works, how advanced degree holders can identify their transferable skills, how to prepare for a successful job interview, and more. Many thanks to Catherine Maybrey, Margy Thomas Horton, Maren Wood, Heidi Scott Giusto, Martin Leppitsch, and Tracy Shroyer for sharing their expertise, advice, and for engaging with questions from attendees. Both days of the conference went well, and we’ve had great feedback from attendees and speakers alike.

Most of our speakers and attendees had never participated in an online conference, and most had never attended a webinar. Although the technology worked well, one of the limitations of an online event is that there aren’t avenues for informal networking in the hallways between sessions or over lunch, as there are at in-person conferences. To make up for this, we encouraged live-tweeting using our hashtag, #beyondprof, and invited all participants to a private, secret Facebook group where they could connect with each other. Impressively, attendees sent well over a thousand tweets! The Facebook group was one of the new things we tried this year, and it worked great. Social media was a wonderful complement to the conference sessions; it facilitated community building among like-minded graduate students and PhDs.

Another new thing for us this year was setting up and managing a website for the conference, We launched a blog on the website a few weeks before the conference. That worked really well, and we were pleased that several speakers wanted to write posts for us. We’ll continue to manage the blog over the coming months, inviting guest bloggers to contribute content. Let’s keep this conversation going!

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Jennifer Polk
Jennifer Polk is a career coach and entrepreneur. She earned her PhD in history from the University of Toronto in 2012. For more information and resources, check out her website:
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  1. David Calverley / May 27, 2015 at 13:12

    A very good article. A range of careers is outlined for those who either left academia or realized the dismal state of the job market. It always surprises me that more professional academic associations don’t provide round tables, panels, and/or other venues at conferences to help young graduate students appreciate the options that are open to them once they get their Ph.D. They appear occasionally on conference proceedings, but they are sporadic; more common is advice on getting an academic career not what to do when that fails or you

    It would also be helpful if graduate schools brought back alumni to speak to current students about the careers they developed after getting their Ph.D.

    However, all good stuff. The blog site looks promising.

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