Introduction to Non-Academic Job Search Resources
In a May 2012 article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, several academics, some with PhDs, spoke out about earning so little from teaching classes as adjuncts that they required public assistance, also known as food stamps, to feed their families. The revelation that 360,000 Americans with an MA or higher were on food stamps was shocking to readers of the Chronicle, and if you read the article, you too may have shuddered to think that you might make such a paltry living as an adjunct that food stamps might be in your future, especially if you are supporting a family.
But your future doesn’t have to look like that. You are not locked into a career as a professor or even an adjunct instructor. As someone pursuing an advanced degree in a liberal arts field at UT, you have more career options than you may have realized.
Alternatively, you may have discovered during your time in graduate school that an academic career is simply not a good fit for you. There could be any number of reasons for this, none of which mean that you aren’t smart or hard-working enough to succeed as a professor.
Or, you could be taking a pragmatic view of the academic job prospects in your field. Perhaps the job list has just come out and you see that there are no job postings in your specialty. You’d like to obtain an academic position just as you and your advisors have planned, but you understand that having a Plan B makes sense in this job climate.
What This Guide Is and Isn’t
This guide is for liberal arts graduate students or recently graduated PhDs who find themselves somewhere on the continuum of interest in non-academic jobs, from mildly curious to 100% certain that a non-academic career is the right choice for you. It is meant to supplement, not compete with, the work academic departments are doing in getting their graduates ready for the job market, both academic and non-academic.
This guide fills a gap in the very small body of materials written for academics considering non-academic careers. There are books about the job search for non-academic career starters and career changers that can help you get started. There are books counseling academics about non-academic options and contrasting academic and non-academic job search strategies. And there are plenty of books about specific careers in particular fields, or careers for people with particular skills, abilities, or temperaments. Good examples of books in these categories are listed below and throughout this guide.
However, there is not a lot of information available about the types of careers that liberal arts PhDs would be especially well suited for and how they might go about finding them. In a 2012 survey of academics who use the Versatile PhD site, the top request for future content on the site was “List of career paths and common qualifications for them, so we can get an overview of what our options are." Such a list is in the works for Versatile PhD, and this guide aims to fulfill that need as well.
Taking Control of Your Future
In an ETS-sponsored 2012 study, researchers made recommendations for universities to help their graduate students prepare for non-academic careers. They included: making career counseling services available to grad students, tracking job placement, connecting students with alumni, helping develop professional skills (including oral presentation, teamwork, and communicating with non-experts), and providing opportunities for faculty to interact with professionals from other sectors.
If you feel like you’re not getting this kind of support, you have the opportunity to demonstrate some leadership by planning events for graduate students in your department—for example, contacting alumni in non-academic fields and asking them to participate in a panel discussion for your colleagues. But on a personal level, you can put your research skills to work and educate yourself about your career options, using this guide as a starting point.
In order to mentally prepare yourself for a non-academic job search, you’ll need “pull back the curtain” on different career paths—that is, let yourself be open to a wider range of professions than the small sliver you’ve probably been focusing on for the past few years. In the 21st century, and particularly for careers outside of academia, the job search does not follow a predictable, linear path. A 21st century job search will take you to unexpected places and may seem chaotic while you’re in the process of looking for a new job. But the flip-side of this chaos is that you have many options for where to take your career from this point. Being open to serendipity will serve you well when an opportunity presents itself.
How to Use This Guide
There are several ways you can use the materials on these pages to start your non-academic career search. Listed below are a series of pages to help you prepare for the job search by researching careers, preparing materials, and interacting with potential employers.
On the left side bar, you can access Careers by Discipline if you are unsure where to start. The Sector Overviews page describes the general characteristics of working in the private, public, and nonprofit sectors. The Career Guide Section links to content-rich guides about careers like editing, consulting, freelance writing, K-12 teaching, etc.
Other UT Resources
UT Professional Development Center classes include business and management, finance, accounting, communication. Each course is one or two full days and costs between $300-900.
Certificate programs include 6 one-day classes taken over the span of three months and cost about $2,000.
McCombs School of Business calendar of events - upcoming lectures, webinars
McCombs alumni career resources
The Center for Strategic Advising and Career Counseling in Jester A115 provides free, unlimited 45-minute consultations with graduate students from any department.
Print and Web Resources
Patton, Stacey. “The Ph.D. Now Comes With Food Stamps.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. 6 May 2012. Web. 14 June 2012.
Pang, Alex Soojung-Kim. “Journeyman: Getting Into and Out of Academe (1997).” Relevant History. 1 Mar. 2004.
Basalla, Susan, and Maggie Debelius. “So What Are You Going to Do with That?”: Finding Careers Outside Academia. 2nd ed. University Of Chicago Press, 2007. Print.
Wendler, Cathy et al. Pathways Through Graduate School and Into Careers. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service, 2012. Print.
Johnson, Mark. “Career FAQs.” sellout. 2009.
Silber, Lee. Career Management for the Creative Person. Three Rivers Press, 1999. Print.
Chambers, Paula. “Results of 2012 Versatile PhD User Survey.” Versatile PhD: STEM Forum, June 15, 2012.
Now that you're feeling more confident about exploring non-academic career options, read on for some more in-depth resources to help you make the transition.
1. Stacey Patton, “The Ph.D. Now Comes With Food Stamps,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, May 6, 2012.
2. Paula Chambers, “Results of 2012 Versatile PhD User Survey,” Versatile PhD: STEM Forum, June 15, 2012.
3. Cathy Wendler et al., Pathways Through Graduate School and Into Careers (Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service, 2012), 31-32.