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From PhD to Life

Feeling Good


I’ve just finished hosting my first group coaching call and I’m feeling pretty darn good about it. That’s how I feel about my life these days in general: pretty darn good. A year ago—less, even—I was jokingly telling friends and acquaintances that I was a loser with a PhD. I was only half joking.

How did I get here?

When I finished my PhD in history in February 2012, I knew where I was headed. I was already doing occasional freelance jobs as a researcher and administrative assistant, and liked the project-based work and flexibility of being self-employed. My plan was to carry on, adding more clients and taking on more challenging assignments. But things didn’t work out that way, and by the time I graduated in June, I wasn’t feeling so great about where I was at. Come the fall, I’d realized that Things Needed To Change. I quit one uninspiring part-time gig and started getting serious about my career search.

One of my very first steps was hiring a career coach. I didn’t set out to do this, but when the opportunity presented itself, I knew I had to give it a try. And you know what? It was an amazing experience. My coach had my back in the way no one else did at the time. (No one else could, really.) And when big change is afoot, support, encouragement, and focus are imperative. Slowly but surely I felt better about my skills and experiences, and empowered to do what was right for me. I took to the coaching process so well that in May 2013 I started training to become a coach myself! In July I had my first paying clients.

Meanwhile, once I began to feel better about myself, I wanted to share what I’d learned with others. In December I started a blog called From PhD to Life. Within weeks I was discovering the amazing community of like-minded PhDs, ABDs, and others out there who were having the conversations I’d never had while inside academia. And now I’m thrilled to be able to bring University Affairs readers into these discussions. Join me on my journey, and read about how others transitioned from graduate school to life beyond the tenure-track. I’m excited to keep learning, sharing, and celebrating along with you.

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. Lisa / September 4, 2013 at 12:41

    ya, still in phd life transitioning out soon if i come out of this alive….

    • Jennifer Polk / September 5, 2013 at 17:29

      You will! Unless you need/want to quit, which you can always do 🙂

  2. Jennifer Francisco / September 4, 2013 at 14:12

    An inspiring article! I wonder if your humanities background helped you come to this career.

    • Jennifer Polk / September 5, 2013 at 17:32

      Thanks, hi! I think it’s that I was always fascinating by people. During grad school I LOVED archives, reading memoirs, diaries, and meeting with students 1-on-1 and in tutorials, etc. Now, I get to talk to people about themselves! Very diff careers on the surface, but not at all underneath.

  3. Sarah Waurechen / September 12, 2013 at 10:39

    I only found you recently but love your stuff, especially as I am currently in the transition phase and wrote an op-ed on the whole leaving academe thing myself. My transition has been complicated by the fact that I want to settle in Montreal, and am still learning French, but I’m still just as confident as yuo that I made the right decision. Anyway, I wholeheartedly agree that there’s a great community out there and that more and more people are trying to think realistically and positively about non-academic career paths.
    My question is this: I’m trying to go what is often called “alt-ac” and break into Quebec’s CEGEP system. So far, no luck, but I don’t think that much hiring has been going on. This may change in the future (there are proposals to create a mandatory History course for all CEGEP students, but they are still in the proposal stage) or it may not. In the meantime, I have been trying to get by on odd jobs (random research work, tutoring, or editorial work). I’m not sure, however, that that’s going to be enough. Would you recommend a career coach for such a specific situation, or is it just a matter of patience?
    Thanks so much!

    • Jennifer Polk / September 13, 2013 at 17:56

      Thanks for writing, and sharing a bit about your experience! I’d love to see this op-ed… I’ll have to go and Google you now 🙂
      Coaching can be very useful, and at the very least it might be something you want to explore, so know for yourself whether it might be useful to you in your life now. Let me email you.

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