Finding Your Path
Where to begin? For many graduate students and PhDs, identifying alternative career paths can be daunting. After having trained for 5, 6, 7 or more years, many doctoral candidates feel unprepared for other careers, out of touch with the rest of the working world, and overwhelmed by the inaccurate belief that they’ll need to start all over. While there’s no magic formula to tell you what you should do with your life, there are a number of smaller questions you can answer that may provide a sense of professional purpose and direction. This section will help you do that.
Transitioning from one career to another can be challenging, frustrating, and overwhelming. Adopt a healthy approach by remembering to:
Be confident. Understand that the transition, while exciting, may also be difficult. Depending on the career paths you’re exploring, you may encounter skepticism from potential employers who don’t quite see how your PhD translates to their line of work. Despite the obstacles, however, be confident that you will land a great job and that the right employers will be eager to hire you.
Be patient. Keep in mind that it will may take longer than you expect to land your first job outside of academia. In fact, you should plan your search to take about 6 months from start to finish. It will take time for you to network, time for employers to review applications, and time for them to conduct multiple rounds of interviews before actually making an offer. It will also take you time to perfect your ability to market yourself–to explain the reasons for your transition and describe how the skills you acquired in grad school will make you a valuable employee.
Focus on the next 2-3 years, not the rest of your life. Thinking about committing yourself to a single career path is an overwhelming thought for most people. Instead, focus on finding a job that will make you happy in the short term but also open professional doors for you in the long term. Do this by focusing on the skills you would gain in each job you’re considering rather than the job title or industry.
Set realistic expectations. Think about your first job as a starter job, not your dream job. Few people spend their entire professional lives within a single industry anymore, so don’t think that your first job out of grad school will determine the rest of your professional life. Also, keep in mind that this starter job will make subsequent job searches much less painful, since it’s always easier to find jobs when you have a track record of employment.
Find a buddy. The decision to leave academia–for whatever reason–can be a hard one to make, even without the pressure of having to find a new job. As with any other major challenge, spending time with others who are in the same boat will help you feel less isolated. Doing so can also generate new ideas and expose you to new professional opportunities.