The Versatile PhD: your guide to the afterlife

 January 3, 2014

The after(-academia-)life, that is.

Maybe you’re the proactive kind of student who started preparing for life after the PhD early in your graduate school career – networking, conferencing, setting up informational interviews, and staying abreast of job market trends and placement data. Or maybe, like me, you have approached your graduate education as an end in itself, immersing yourself in your research and writing without much thought for what would come next. No matter where you may fall on the continuum of career-preparedness, it can be daunting to navigate the transition out of graduate school and into your professional life.

This is especially true for many PhDs leaving the world of academia and embarking on a career path off the tenure-track. Often even the most supportive departments and advisors are of little help when it comes to a non-faculty job search; and sadly, some advisors are actively unsupportive. It is a matter of fact that there are far more PhDs minted each year than there are tenure-track faculty positions available, but you probably wouldn’t guess it based on the prevailing methods of graduate training and professionalization. If this sounds familiar, take heart. The Graduate School and the Career Center have your back, and they have resources available to help you understand your options, set some goals, and define your own career track.

One such resource is The Versatile PhD, a website founded with the mission “to help graduate students identify, prepare for, and excel in possible non-academic careers.” If you aren’t familiar with this site, I highly recommend that you take advantage of Duke’s institutional subscription and sign up for an account with your Duke NetID to access the premium content. Here is just a sampling of what you can find:

  • Forums (one geared toward Humanities/Social Sciences scholars and one geared toward folks in STEM fields) where you can join networking groups, learn about the career paths of other PhDs, and ask your burning questions in a diverse, sympathetic, and knowledgeable community. Are you weighing the pros and cons of an adjunct teaching gig? Get advice from others who have been there. Trying to figure out how to leverage your skills in a new industry? Read about PhDs who have successfully made that leap and get some feedback. In need of strategies and help to cope with the anxieties of the job hunt? Support is just a click away.
  • Online panel discussions, which run for five consecutive days, each focusing on a particular career path and featuring PhDs currently working in that industry. For the Spring 2014 semester, three panels are already scheduled: Careers in Finance for Humanities and Social Science PhDs (January 20-24); Careers in Finance for STEM PhDs (February 10-14); and Careers in Social Media for Humanities and Social Science PhDs (March 10-14). An archive of all past panels is also available on the site.
  •  The PhD Career Finder, which not only helps you explore industries and careers that might be of interest to you, it also features the first-person stories of PhDs and ABDs employed in those professions. They share their experiences of pursuing a non-academic career, and even the actual resumes and cover letters that they used in landing the job.

For recent or soon-to-be PhDs facing the prospect of a non-faculty job search  – whether by choice or circumstance – The Versatile PhD is there to demystify the process and possibilities of life after academia.

Abbie Langston is a PhD candidate in the Literate Program and an intern in the Office of Graduate Student Affairs.