The academic job market is tough. Therefore, it’s not surprising to read about programs and seminars being held to help PhDs pursue job opportunities outside of academia:
“Ph.D.’s often don’t know how to leverage and sell themselves to a nonacademic world,” says Steinfeld. “We can do that for them.” Steinfeld and other career counselors at Wasserman stress that the discipline that is needed to earn a doctorate degree makes Ph.D. candidates attractive to financial firms like Morgan Stanley and service firms like McKinsey and Boston Consulting.
One recent Wasserman workshop on alternative careers, “What You Can Do With a Ph.D. in the Humanities,” featured Michael Shae, who earned a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from Yale in 1992, and two years later began work at the New York Review of Books as an editorial assistant; he is now a senior editor. Another annual workshop, “Careers Outside the Academy: Sociology and Social Science Options,” featured a panel of career switchers with Ph.D.’s, including Preston Beckman, the executive vice president of scheduling for Fox Network. Beckman holds a Ph.D. in sociology from NYU.
Emi Lesure, a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at NYU, says she attended the workshops every year for the past few years and found them heartening. The panelists, she says, noted the perks of their jobs over academic careers: intellectual stimulation, reduced hours, better pay. “I’ve lived the life of a poor, stressed-out, overworked grad student for seven years now,” says Lesure. “I can’t keep that up for another decade.”
The good news, says Steinfeld, is that considering non-academic jobs is no longer career suicide. “Years ago, if you were a Ph.D. student at NYU and you talked in public about looking outside of academia for a job, you were put aside as not a serious candidate,” she says. “Faculty today have a much more realistic understanding of the pressures of job hunting.”
A few thoughts about this:
1. How many big-name graduate programs in different disciplines present jobs outside of academia as viable options?
2. Do graduate programs advertise the fact that some of their students now work outside academia? Since most programs list their recent graduates and their jobs somewhere, someone could look into this.
3. It sounds like hearing from PhDs who have successfully worked outside of academia could make a big difference. It would be nice to have some sort of database of “career switchers” who have sociology PhDs.
4. With the growing prevalence of master’s degrees within certain fields, will the PhD become the next step for non-academic employees who want to get a leg up on their coworkers and competition? If so, will graduate programs be willing to accept more students who they know have no interest in careers in academia?