My name is Paul Miceli, and I have a non-academic career

 January 16, 2014

It may sound like the opening greeting at an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting, and for someone with a PhD (in Social Psychology, if you’re interested), it may very well feel like it sometimes. The problem is, though, that people like me are no longer the minority in the academic realm. PhD employment reporting is far from an exact science, but a recent study found that only 15% of Biological Sciences PhDs were in tenure-track positions six years after graduating. And it’s not that different in the Social Sciences or Humanities, either (Click here to learn more about the Council of Graduate Schools’ current efforts to better track PhD career paths). These statistics have been attributed to a complex combination of increased PhD production, the rise of a postdoc culture, dwindling research funding, and decreased tenure-track faculty positions, among other factors.

And the reasons for PhDs not ending up in tenure-track academic careers are many: ranging from not wanting to work in the academic setting/environment to realizing that their skills and talents match better in industry and back to the poor academic job market. Regardless of the reason, numbers don’t lie. Preparing for a potential non-academic career is becoming a necessity, and it certainly isn’t an indication that one has failed in academia. To be frank, getting a job outside the academic track can be as or more difficult than landing a tenure-track position. The main reason for that is that many PhDs were exclusively trained to become academics, and they haven’t spent the necessary time reflecting and preparing for life outside of the academy.

So how about some good news? Well, there are plenty of success stories of Duke PhDs going off and enjoying professional and personal success outside of the academy. All you have to do is look to some of the alumni that recently came back to campus for our Career Conference for evidence. Alums like William LeFew (Mathematics PhD ’07—working as a Mathematician at the EPA), Lynn Matheny (Art History PhD, Trinity ’91—working as the Associate Curator at the National Gallery of Art), or Deborah Jonas (Cognitive Psychology PhD ’00—President and Founder of Research & Analytic Insights, LLC)—click here to learn more about these alums and others.

Now, I know what you’re thinking, “Paul, how could I possibly have the time/energy to worry about non-academic careers when I’m struggling to work on my research, finish up my coursework, and teach classes!” And you’re right; it’s not necessarily easy. That’s why there are people like me at the Career Center to help out. You can sign up for one-hour appointments (call 919-660-1050), attend graduate workshops, and take advantage of all the excellent events and resources specifically targeted at graduate students (e.g., Master’s & PhD Career Fair; VersatilePhD). Additionally, the Graduate School offers multiple opportunities throughout the year through their Professional Development Series.

Thinking about and preparing for potential employment outside of academia can be a tough endeavor, and sometimes it may feel like there’s no one there to help. But I’m here to say that there’s light outside the tunnel, there are opportunities that you may not have even known about before, and there’s plenty of people across the university and over in Smith Warehouse (Bay 5, 2nd Floor) that understand where you’re at and how to help! Someday, maybe even soon, you may be able to say those words, “I have a non-academic career,” with a sense of pride in your voice.

Paul Miceli, PhD, serves as the Asst. Director of Graduate Student Career Services in the Duke University Career Center where he helps graduate students navigate the path from graduate school to employment, whether that be inside the academy or beyond it.