I recently “attended” an online conference called Beyond the Professoriate, hosted by Jen Polk (From PhD to Life) and Maren Wood (Lilli Research Group). The conference’s ten panels featured 24 PhDs who do not have traditional tenure-track academic jobs. I found the conference incredibly encouraging for a variety of reasons. I obtained a good deal of practical knowledge about leveraging my skills and experience to put myself in an advantageous position on the non-academic job market, and I also realized that there are many out there like me, thinking of pursuing a career outside of academia.
As many of those paying attention to such things have been noting recently, the gap between new PhDs in History and available tenure-track jobs in History is pretty much as large as it has ever been.
So, regardless of one’s personal inclinations, it makes sense for History PhDs to think about the possibilities of jobs other than those of the traditional tenure track. My own inclinations also lead me away from traditional academia. Although I love to teach, I do not truly enjoy research solely for its own sake. Given the current structure of the academic job market, it seems to me that the only option for me to teach without intense pressure to research and publish article after book after article would be adjuncting – a system which has rightly been gaining a great deal of attention recently for the deplorable degree of exploitation to which universities subject adjunct instructors. There have been many recent articles addressing this; some personal and powerful anecdotes appear here.
I love to share history with others – specifically, non-historians. This is why I love teaching, and also why I love public history and working in museums. I also love doing research when its goal is a product that I can share with the public. I have thus worked extensively in the field of history outside of academia. Yet, even with my public history background, making the leap out of academia after so many years working on my PhD seems terribly daunting – hence why I found Beyond the Professoriate so encouraging.
I took about 20 pages of typed notes from the conference, and it would be impossible to concisely synthesize all I learned in a brief blog post like this. But one main idea stood out to me when I first heard it and has continued to stick with me. First, the presenters (especially Chris Humphrey and Melissa Dalgleish) emphasized that I (and all of you PhDs and doctoral candidates out there) do have skills. We have been gaining more skills throughout the whole process of working on our degrees. Leveraging those skills is a matter of recognizing them AND learning to speak the language of potential employers in order to articulate them effectively. Academics value a person’s accomplishments in terms of degrees, publications, conference presentation, honors and fellowships, etc. while non-academics value skills – it’s as simple as that. I realize that it will take some work to jettison academic-speak and value (even to recognize in the first place) the skills I have obtained throughout my degree program, but I am determined to do just that and not to limit myself to a narrow conception of what I can do with my degree. I feel much more prepared now for any and all job opportunities that might come my way!