"So What Are You Going to Do with That?": A Guide to Career-Changing for M.A.'s and Ph.D.'s


A guide for Ph.D.s and Ph.D. candidates to getting a job outside the academy

With the current dearth of tenure-track positions in academia, graduate students are more than ever in need of a guide to the alternative job market. Ph. D.'s take heart! As Susan Basalla and Maggie Debelius convincingly show you, you are more marketable than you might expect. Academics, whether they have completed a doctorate or not, already have the requisite ...
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A guide for Ph.D.s and Ph.D. candidates to getting a job outside the academy

With the current dearth of tenure-track positions in academia, graduate students are more than ever in need of a guide to the alternative job market. Ph. D.'s take heart! As Susan Basalla and Maggie Debelius convincingly show you, you are more marketable than you might expect. Academics, whether they have completed a doctorate or not, already have the requisite skills to thrive beyond the academy.This comprehensive, practical, and potentially life-changing guide will help you find your way in the postacademic world.

The authors' advice is based on personal experience. Both have gone on to rewarding postacademic careers. They have conducted hundreds of interviews with former graduate students and professors, from every academic specialty. Their stories, combined with a wealth of practical advice, from the creation of a resume to interview etiquette, make this book an inspiring and useful tool.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
What if, while one is ensconced in a six-year art history doctoral program, the idea of a career in academia loses its luster? Susan Basalla and Maggie Debelius have been there, and they've used their Ph.D.s in English from Princeton--along with the additional confidence and skills their degrees have provided--to open doors into different (and higher-paying) careers. In "So What Are You Going to Do with That?": A Guide to Career-Changing for M.A.'s and Ph.D.'s, they use wit, directness and great anecdotal evidence to guide readers through the soul-searching decision to leave academia, turning a stuffy C.V. into a high-powered r sum and landing the interview--and the job. Agent, Daniel Greenberg. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $15 paper 176p ISBN 0-374-52621-4; Jan.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
This might be the best graduation present from those unhappy parents to the child who has informed them she's going on to graduate school. Basalla and Debelius both have PhD's in English from Princeton and both went on to successful non-academic careers. Based on interviews with hundreds of former graduates like themselves, this upbeat and sympathetic book relates how those who never saw themselves outside of academe but can't find a teaching job can turn their lives around, rethink what they want to do, rewrite their CV into a marketable resume, conduct successful information interviews, and get a job they like. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374526214
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 1/3/2001
  • Edition description: Older Edition
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.52 (w) x 8.22 (h) x 0.46 (d)

Meet the Author

Susan Basalla earned a Ph.D. in English from Princeton University and now works as a medical journalist.

Maggie Debelius is a Ph.D. candidate in English at Princeteon University and is working as an editor for an internet start-up company.
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Read an Excerpt


If you are now or have ever been a graduate student, you've heard the universal question about earning an M.A. or Ph.D.: "So what are you going do with that? Teach?" One of the occupational hazards of academic life is enduring this kind of questioning from friends and family. Your least-favorite uncle has probably called you overeducated and unemployable. And maybe, somewhere in the back of your mind, you also have occasional moments of doubt about your future: What am I going to do with my graduate degree?

Maybe you're halfway to graduation and suddenly wondering if teaching is the right career for you. Maybe your heart's not in it anymore, maybe you'd like to earn more money, maybe You'd like to live somewhere where there are few college-level teaching jobs. Or maybe, like increasing numbers of graduates, you'd love to teach but can't find a job. With the market for college and university teaching jobs shrinking at an alarming rate, you need to consider all your options before, during, and after graduate school.

Or maybe you're a faculty member — tenured or otherwise — who's ready for a new way of life. Are you an academic nomad, traveling around the country from one adjunct position to another? Did your departmental review go badly and you just don't have the heart to seek another academic position? Or are you a tenured professor who can't face teaching the same courses and clashing with the same colleagues for one more semester? This book is. for faculty as well as grad students. (In fact, we were surprised in our research to see how common it was for faculty to jump ship from academia.) You'll hear advice and anecdotes from plenty of former professors in the chapters to come.

And scientists of all stripes, we're talking to you, too. Conventional wisdom says that scientists have "hard skills" and therefore don't need any help with postacademic job hunting. But we know it's not always that easy, especially for people in the softer sciences, like biology and chemistry. You may have spent years enduring low pay and little independence in a postdoctoral position only to find that you're no closer to a tenure track job. When you start to look for jobs outside academia, you may have trouble convincing employers that your intensive research on mouse digestive systems is relevant to their needs. And if you want to enter a field like consulting or law, how do you prepare yourself for life outside the laboratory? We have plenty of examples and advice for you, as well.

Whether you are grad students or professors, humanists or scientists, as academics you all probably have one major trait in common: You feel like you'll never be able to reshape yourself into a real-world success after spending ten years studying one obscure topic. (Heck, you might not even own a suit.) We felt that way, too. But, believe it or not, the same skills you need to succeed in academia — researching, writing, and teaching — will give you the edge in your job hunt. This comprehensive, practical, and potentially life-changing guide will help you decide whether or not you want to go to graduate school, show you how to make the best use of your time while you're there, and teach you how to market yourself to employers after you leave. We'll show you everything you need to know to translate your academic credentials into a real-world job.

We've interviewed more than a hundred former graduate students and professors who have found challenging and fulfilling careers as everything from midwife to private investigator to television cooking-show host to National Football League executive. We've also talked to plenty of people working happily in more traditional careers, such as editors, high-school teachers, computer gurus, management consultants, entrepreneurs, and researchers. In the course of this book, we will introduce you to dozens of postgraduate alumni from the humanities, sciences, and social sciences, and explain exactly how they reached their goals. These alumni generously shared with us their advice, their anecdotes, and their secrets for success. They are all insightful, funny, inspiring, creative, and ambitious people — it was a joy to meet them. We've made their stories the heart of this book so you can learn as much from them as we did.

So Who Are We to Talk?

Only people who have been through the experience of postacademic job hunting understand the dos and don'ts. We've been there. Susan, twenty-nine, and Maggie, thirty-three, are friends who met in 1993 as grad students in Princeton's English department. One of us loves to teach; one of us lives to write. One of us came to graduate school straight from college; one of us worked outside academia first. Between us, we cover all the bases.


Ph.D. in English, Princeton University, 1997

I figured out that I didn't want to be a professor about halfway through my program, but I was determined to finish the degree. Although I wasn't sure what else I could do, I knew it was time to leave because I couldn't imagine a single academic job that would make me happy — not Stanford, not NYU, not the University of Hawaii. Luckily, my parents (including my father, the history professor) and my advisor were supportive and sympathetic.

Once I made my decision, my advisor helped me streamline my dissertation. My parents agreed to support me for a year so I could write without having to teach. I stocked up on diet Coke and hummus and wrote as fast as I could. Although I was afraid my parents would be disappointed by my leaving academia, they were actually relieved that I didn't want to cycle through the job market year after year. They are wonderful — I am very lucky.

During that year, I also started researching other careers. The university career center didn't have many resources for grad students, and my department had little experience with the issue. But the chair of the department helped me obtain a list of English Ph.D.'s working outside academia from our alumni office. I started cold-calling people to ask for advice. Everyone I spoke to seemed happy and fulfilled in their new careers. They helped me develop a resume and introduced me to networking.

After I defended my dissertation, I started temping at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to pay my bills and began learning about health policy. I worked for myself for a year under a generous grant from the foundation, and then decided that I wanted to move to Washington, D.C. Living where I wanted to live, what a radical idea! I worked for a news organization called FDC Reports for a year and a half, where I got a wonderful overview of several fields: medicine, business, politics, law, and journalism. Just as Maggie and I were finishing this book, I started a much-longed-for job with the personal-finance and investing Web site The Motley Fool (www.fool.com).

Sometimes people mistake my enthusiasm about postacademic life for academia bashing. I have plenty of complaints about the ways universities are run, but I would go through graduate school all over again without hesitation. I made wonderful friends, was exposed to brilliant people in every field, and gained confidence in my own intellectual ability. And now I have a credential that opens more doors than it closes.

But could I go back to academia? No way. I've learned that I'm too fidgety intellectually to pursue a single subject for as long as academia requires. I'd miss the challenge of exploring new sides of my brain — figuring out how the stock market works, understanding new Internet technology, learning how everyone else knows what they know. Plus, my job gives me the time and the resources to do things I could never have done as an academic, like the four-day, 320-mile bike ride to raise money for AIDS charities that I did last summer.

Copyright © 2001 Susan Basalla and Maggie Debelius

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Table of Contents

Introduction 3
1 Will I Have to Wear a Suit?: Rethinking Life After Graduate School 21
Getting Your Head Ready 23
Should I Finish My Dissertation? 26
How to Use Your Grad-School Years Wisely 30
Whodunit? And How Can I Do It Too? 34
So What Am I Going to Do? 37
Five Myths About Postacademic Careers 38
Five Questions for Rethinking Graduate School 40
Your Eclectic Mix 43
Postacademic Profile: Tom Magliozzi, Co-Host of NPR's Car Talk, Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering 45
2 How Do I Figure Out What Else to Do?: Soul-Searching Before Job Searching 47
Take Inventory 50
Break It Down 53
Looking Backward: Seven Stories 54
The Bookstore at the End of the Mind 56
"This Is Your Brain on Graduate School" 56
No Need for a Number-Two Pencil 57
Where Are All Those Ph.D.'s, Anyway? 59
Create Your Own Possibilities 72
Postacademic Profile: David Rosengarten, Television Cooking-Show Host, Ph.D. in Theater History 72
3 Testing the Waters: Information Interviews and Internships 74
Information Interviews 76
Getting Your Feet Wet: Internships, Part-Time Jobs, and Volunteer Work 89
So When Do I Start Looking for a Job? 96
Postacademic Profile: Shannon Mrksich, Patent Attorney, Ph.D. in Chemistry 97
4 This Might Hurt a Bit: Turning a CV into a Resume 99
Getting Ready to Write a Resume 101
Writing a Resume: The First Draft 108
A Few More Words of Advice 111
After You've Drafted a Resume 113
Case Studies and Sample Resumes 114
Cover Letters That Will Get You Hired 128
Postacademic Profile: Bryan Garman, High-School Teacher, Ph.D. in American Studies 131
5 Sweaty Palms, Warm Heart: How to Turn an Interview into a Job 133
How to Land a Job Interview 135
Before the Interview 139
During the Interview 143
After the Interview 150
What If the Interview Doesn't Go Well? 150
The Job Offer (or Lack Thereof) 151
Adjusting to Your New Job 154
Postacademic Profile: Annie Hurlbut, Founder of Peruvian Connection, A.B.D. in Anthropology 155
Conclusion 156
Web Sites About Postacademic Careers 159
Recommended Career Guides 165
Acknowledgments 166
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