How to Go from Academia to the Office

Were you in a PhD or MA program? Did the idea of getting some teaching job in a city you’d never willingly live in make you blanch? Did you just lose your mojo for regressions? Take the leap from academia to the office with me!

Academia Teaches You Many Things

When I first entered my PhD program (a program I left with my Master’s), I thought I’d found what I wanted to be when I grew up. Turns out that wasn’t the case, so I went on to discover other things I was good at. If you’re at this place you may be wondering what on earth you can do with those extra letters after your name. It turns out you can do a lot.

Writing: Writing response papers and term papers made me not just a good writer, it also made me a fast writer. When you are balancing reading 300+ pages of dense material and writing about said dense material, turning out a press release or a blog post for an employer is a piece of cake.

Of course, academic writing is a different beast than professional writing, but the same standards apply: be clear, be concise, and edit your work.

Research: Duh. Regardless of whether you studied English or biology, by the time you leave grad school you have a strong sense of formulating a research question and then pursuing the appropriate sources to find your answer. This is incredibly helpful in the workplace, where you have to figure out how to increase sales or whether subject line A works better than subject line B.

Project Management: My first job out of grad school was as a project manager. Recovering academics are really suited to this: we understand creating a timeline and our time management is pretty darn good since we have to keep ourselves on task.

Treat your academic experience as a job

When I left academia, I really had no job experience per se. I’d been a graduate assistant and teaching assistant, but I’d never had a 9-5. I overcame this by treating Graduate Student as a position. Think about it this way: while in graduate school, every paper you write and every book you crack makes up a part of your academic portfolio in the same way every report you run at a job makes up part of your professional resume. By the time you are in graduate school, you probably consider yourself a political scientist (hello!), biologist, creative writer, or what have you. What you did during those years is a job, so treat it that way on your resume.

Here’s how I wrote out mine:

  • Set goals that facilitated successful, on-time completion of more than 20 simultaneous short-term and long-term projects
  • Identified research questions and solved issues that arose during the research process

Doesn’t that sound impressive? Be sure to mention any publications or conference presentations. Also, did you see how I quantified how much work I did? That’s important.

You Can Do Anything

It’s true. I went from writing political theory to starting a career in copywriting and marketing. It takes a little tenacity and a fair amount of cheekiness to take that leap away from what you thought was a career, but it is possible ““ and you don’t even have to go back to school!

There are also plenty of positions related to a degree. For example, I could have worked on a campaign or become a bureaucrat. Bottom line: academia prepares you for many things, so do what you want.

Don’t Forget What You Loved

Even if you never want to look at another journal article again, something did draw you to your graduate program. It’s important to recognize your passion and to keep part of it going as you transition to the non-academic life. I still love political science and have become a news junkie. I still read political theory and the occasional article. While my former academic life may be more of a hobby now, it’s a hobby that enriches me in important ways.

What are your tips for the post-academic life?

By [E] Sally Lawton

My food groups are cheese, bacon, and hot tea. I like studying cities and playing with my cat, Buffy.

4 replies on “How to Go from Academia to the Office”

Great post. I love how-to testimonials explaining the pivot from seemingly unmarketable majors and degrees to satisfying jobs. Faculty often cannot understand some grad students do not share their career ambitions. Some grad students are indeed exploring options (yrs 1 and 2 especially) and figuring out what they want. I’ve seen a lot of hostility directed at students for merely considering non-academic paths. There are so many unhappy PhDs because of the grad school culture that bullies people into finishing degrees (and thus pushing them into careers) they do not want. Hooray for SSP for doing what makes her happy!

Awwww, I’m blushing! But you’re right — it’s a myth that everyone in grad school wants to be there. You might start out into it, but it’s okay to change – just like it’s okay to start out on a career path after undergrad and then decide at 30 that you want to explore something different.

enjoy the pace of non-academic work! one of my reasons for not continuing to a phd after my MA was that the pace of research and work seemed glacial.

to be honest my MA has never not been am asset, even though I’ve worked in two totally unrelated fields afterwards. if you can talk about your work and its application clearly and with passion, employers love it.

also-stats. such an asset later on.

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