Who to turn to for Career Advice

Even though I don’t work directly in teaching or with students anymore, and my husband has left adjuncting for greener alt-ac pastures, I don’t think I’ll ever stop thinking of my life in terms of semesters. So as this fall semester comes to a close, I’ve been reflecting on my time in grad school at Northern Arizona University. I was pursuing a Ph.D. in history there until 2006, when I made a deliberate decision to leave academia behind.

Actually, that’s not exactly true. Even while I was in the Ph.D. program, I had already made a decision not to pursue academia. I wanted to go into either academic publishing or museums – something *other* than academia.

For me personally, I didn’t think I could deal with the rigors of teaching and research. I was already mentally and physically exhausted by the close of every semester as a grad student, teaching only one or two sections a semester! The thought of doing that over and over and over again? No thank you. My advisors were very understanding and endlessly supportive, even if they had little practical advice or understanding of how to navigate careers outside of higher ed. Some would still caution me to keep teaching in mind as Plan B. After all, back then, we were all still expecting Baby Boomer retirement en masse to happen any minute. (Still waiting here in 2018).

To be honest, I look back on those specific career aims thinking I was naive about work. If I were to bet – and knowing what I now know – I would bet on a higher ed career to give me the time off and flexibility I value so highly over a museum or publisher. But we’ll leave that aside for now.

Many, many years later, we (still) recognize the need to change. To provide viable, practical, livable career options for academics. But outside of 1:1 and small group mentoring and consultants, we still haven’t stumbled on a model that works. 

We have calls to systematize alt-ac career guidance that suggest outsourcing guidance from faculty advisors to career or disciplinary centers. While I don’t know any specifics, the Humanities center at Ohio State that the author cites seems like a great example of a space that could tailor career options to one’s specific disciplinary strengths. But not every campus is going to invest in, nor have the expertise to create and lead such a discipline-specific center.

We have scholarly associations grappling with this. The American Historical Association has been doing an excellent job in this realm for a few years now. Others are making similar inroads, but some are still lagging way behind in honestly addressing the bleak jobs landscape. So if that is the trusted resource to which grad students are being pointed by their advisors, uh oh.

And we have folks trying to define the scope of alt-ac career guidance so that guidance can be tailored to the correct audience members. While this is a good idea, this particular definition is not inclusive – it neglects those of us who, like me, made a deliberate and strategic move to LEAVE the academy before the Ph.D. to avoid even more career opportunity cost. So what of all us ABDs out here who are incredibly bright academic scholars but still need career navigation?

Not to toot my own horn, but until there is a proven model, I continue to think that investing in 1:1 coaching or small group mentoring by a consultant who has navigated these waters is money well spent. It’s an investment in your career, offloading a lot of research and knowledge that you need not bear on your own, where you can be guided by those who have been there and found success.