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From PhD to Life

My new mission: From PhD to Life, the book!


When I finished my PhD, my dissertation turned into a book manuscript. I worked on it for several months, on and off, even writing a book proposal that I aimed to send to academic publishers. My intention back then was to publish a book based largely on my dissertation. The closest I came was to send a query to an acquisitions editor; she responded positively. I never followed up with a proposal and sample chapters.

That was about three years ago. Now, I’m working on a different book project, one that has nothing to do with my dissertation.

Instead, I’m going to write about the emotional transition of going “from PhD to life.”

Right now I’m still in the outlining stage, where I’ve been for several weeks, trying to plan out what to include and how to include it. I want to structure the book as a guide, to offer readers a process for going through their own transition. The meat of the book will be personal stories and reflections from myself and other PhDs who’ve gone from ambivalent academic (for whatever reason) to a life and career different from the mythical norm. This is what I’m planning. We’ll see.

There are great books and websites and other services available to graduate students and PhDs who are at least considering options beyond the professoriate. Many of them do touch upon the emotional, psychological, and, well, spiritual challenges of “leaving” or “quitting” academia. But existing offerings don’t do enough to help individuals through these challenges, which are significant core issues for many of the individuals I engage with in both my business and personal life.

So, my book. It will focus on the emotional journey, rather than the nuts and bolts of writing resumes or networking. It will take readers through the process of getting them to the point where they’re ready to tackle — with confidence and genuine positivity! — these aspects of a non-academic job search, if that’s what they end up doing.

To make this more concrete, imagine the recent PhD who’s currently swimming in a “pool of despair,” to quote a woman who attended a recent Versatile PhD Toronto meetup. She was talking about friends of hers who’d finished and were struggling with next steps. People who are in that “pool of despair” are going to have an especially difficult time seeking and getting appropriate-for-them non-academic employment. It’s tough to write and speak honestly and confidently about your skills and achievements if you feel, as I once did, as “a loser with a PhD.” It’s tough to imagine a positive future for yourself when you’re battling feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt and even depression.

A good therapist is not uncalled for in this situation, but I didn’t think therapy was what I needed. What did work wonderfully for me was hiring a good life and career coach, someone who specializes in “unhappy academics.” Coaching, which is all about action, was exactly what I needed. Working with my coach changed my life for the better; unfortunately, not everyone can afford the required financial investment of an intense 1-on-1 relationship. I want my book to help those people.

You might wonder, “What’s to say you’ll follow through on this book idea when you didn’t on the last?” This book feels like a mission; the last one felt like a mission I should have wanted, but only sort-of did. This time, I’m all in.

And it’s not just aabout mission; it’s also part of my career strategy. An academic book could have been part of a career strategy, too, but in my case it was a good strategy for a career I didn’t know I wanted. This book — an ebook I can self publish and release as soon as I’ve finished producing it — should help me grow my business. That’s an incredibly important goal for me.

What do you think? What helped you make it through the uncertainty of what comes next, whether or not you wound up with an academic or “alternative” career? I’d love to hear your stories, insights, and any advice you have for others. Leave a comment, send me a tweet @FromPhDtoLife, or email me: [email protected].




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. Sarah Klotz / September 25, 2015 at 11:30

    This is a much-needed book! I can’t tell you how helpful it has been following you on Twitter. Yes, the resume/ cover letter stuff is important, but getting out of that “pool of despair” is huge!

  2. Dr.SciGirl2010 / December 27, 2015 at 14:17


    Love the book idea! I think there is a lot that can be said about this process that is not covered (and should be) in graduate school.

    Any thoughts on acquiring a publisher vs. self-publishing through Amazon or others?

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