It never ceases to disarm me how naive some Ph.D. students can be about the academic job market. And I’m not the only one.
Even though the undeniable bottoming-out of the tenure-track market has been well-documented, I frequently find myself conversing with grad students or recent Ph.D.s who suggest that they will take “just a research job” or something else to bide their time if they can’t find a tenure-track job, suggesting they haven’t even considered the possibility of finding no job in their field.
When pressed, they barely acquiesce, acknowledging that they may have to lower their standards over time and consider openings at
This time of year (end of fall semester), as another academic jobs cycle comes to a close, I start to see a lot more posts and musings about “What else can I do with a Ph.D.?” The answer is: tons! But the problem is that a lot of what’s out there about alt-ac careers is still generally outdated advice.
Your PhD doesn’t Make You Qualified for Libraries, Archives & Museums
One example: this piece provides guidance if you are interviewing for “administrative or non-teaching positions in academe or for alternative careers in archives, libraries, nonprofits, and the like.”
Ask librarians and archivists how they’re faring in their own uncertain job markets, not to say anything about those who have neither academic training nor experience but are trying to brand themselves as librarians or archivists.
While there are administrative and non-faculty opportunities, the reality is that there are also far more positions in libraries, archives, museums and the like that are intended for those with advanced degrees in those professions (e.g., a Master’s in Library or Information Science, not someone with an advanced degree in a subject area).
Trust me, I know, because I have degrees and experience in museums and archives, and even with that and additional subject matter expertise, those jobs are still incredibly competitive.
Why Don’t Grad Students Know What Their Career Outlooks Are?
The thing that is so confounding to me about grad students not knowing the realities of their own work industries is that these are incredibly bright and sophisticated researchers, whose very training and day-to-day work is information gathering, benchmarking, data collection, reading and analysis. But when it comes to applying those exact same skills to researching the job market they will face, it seems patently obvious that academic training has failed them. Higher ed seems to focus on honing the grad student’s and postdoc’s subject matter expertise to the Nth degree, but failing to give them the skills they need on how to research their own work opportunities.
I guess I was lucky; in my M.A. and Ph.D. programs, I had to do at least cursory work on my professional aims. Kudos to my programs for having us do that, as I’m seeing now that this is the exception, rather than the rule.
But it’s never too late to start.
You need to research your job market, and this is a skill you will use again and again throughout your career. It is so very easy to start.
Arm yourself with information.
Start reading about the academic job market. There are career sections in Chronicle of Higher Ed, HigherEdJobs, and probably in your scholarly association (Modern Languages Association, American Historical Association, and so on). Just take a few minutes once or twice a week to start perusing articles that catch your interest so you can be more informed.
Prefer more individual and personal takes? Find blog posts that touch upon this from individual perspectives. Again, you’re a researcher! Find blogs relevant to your field (humanities and social sciences; the sciences, whatever your discipline is). Obviously what you’ll find in blogs is more casual, but also more fun and even funny.
I’ve spent a lot of time and effort figuring this out for myself, so I’m going to start blogging here to let you know what tips and tricks I’ve learned that might work for you, too. I will be sharing my insights on why you need to think about your career options, strategies that have worked for me for transitioning careers, higher ed work trends, work-life balance (especially for women), career options for alt-ac careers, and what it means to find satisfaction in work.