Last week guest blogger Dr. Erin Clow, of Queen’s Equity and Human Rights Offices, told you what kinds of experiences you can get as a graduate student to prepare you for an alt-ac career. This week she explains how to pitch them to the places you want to work.
In part II of my guest blog series, I will turn my attention to how one translates the “academic” experiences gained throughout the course of a graduate degree into easily understandable and applicable skills for the alt-ac employer.
I have tried learning to speak different languages multiple times throughout my life, each time with very limited success. When learning a new language I experience a wide range of emotions, from excitement to trepidation and everything in between. Constant throughout the process is a sense of being overwhelmed, confused, and at times, completely inadequate. After completing the mandatory second language reading translation passage for my PhD, I thought I was finished. But what I didn’t know was that my biggest challenge was yet to come.
For the last four years of my life I was immersed in the language of academese. I would consider myself fluent in conversations around interdisciplinary research methodologies, critical discourse analysis and qualitative research design and execution. After graduating from my PhD I began the journey into the post-PhD, alternative career world. Eager to start my career, I scoured various job boards and websites looking for positions that were a good fit for my skills and previous experiences. I was confronted with an unfamiliar, foreign language, which at first glance did not resonate with my most recent educational experiences. Words and phrases like “project management experience,” “supervisory and or leadership experience” and “proven interpersonal skills” appeared in the job ads before me. Where was my familiar and comfortable academese?
Thus began my experience of learning a new language and translating my educationally based skills into relevant, marketable experiences for the world of non-traditional academic careers. Translating PhD skills and experiences into the context of non-traditional academic work is a process. It is an ongoing, thought provoking, introspective process which takes time, and from my personal experience, a lot of energy.
An important first step in the process of re-imagining your academic skills and experiences is to take stock of all the things you have done or been part of throughout your degree – and I mean everything. Have you been a research assistant, a teaching assistant, or a teaching fellow? Have you designed and executed a research project, published articles in scholarly journals, or presented at scholarly conferences? The list goes on and on. Once you’ve compiled this list, take a moment to reflect. This list, in and of itself, represents incredible accomplishments that you have achieved. Each and every one of these experiences is applicable to the alternative academic job market; it is, however, up to us as job applicants to translate and telegraph this information to potential employers.
Now comes the challenging part, disentangling these experiences from the academic context. Let me explain what I mean by this – experiences like being a teaching assistant, research assistant, or publishing articles in a scholarly journal are inextricably tied to the world of academia. These experiences have a specific meaning within the academic context. For example, publishing an article in a prestigious scholarly journal is an important step in the process of CV building and, in turn, important for gaining recognition as a scholar in a particular field of study. But outside of the academic context, what skills did this experience develop or strengthen? Start deconstructing these academic experiences to understand the fundamental and transferable skills which you have gained. When you published a scholarly article did you work with a co-author? If the answer is yes, then how did you navigate this interpersonal relationship? Did you complete revisions on the original manuscript? If yes, then how did you manage and oversee the editing process? Hopefully you are starting to see what I am trying to convey. It is through this line of questioning that new ideas, experiences and skills emerge. Deconstructing and then reconstructing these academic experiences is essential in understanding and, in turn, translating your academic experiences into relevant, job ready skills that employers are seeking.
And what about that dissertation? A source of pride once completed but an equal source of nightmares and sleep derivation while in progress. How does one take an experience – one so unique to the PhD and littered with academese – and translate it into skills readily understandable and applicable to the post-academic employer? Again, it is about deconstructing this experience into smaller more manageable parts and then identifying specific transferable skills. There are so many skills that one gains through the conceptualization and writing of a dissertation: editing, organization, research and – wait for it, my favourite – project management experience. Project management experience: a vague, amorphous phrase capable of inducing fear and panic in the souls of would-be job applicants. Once you have completed your dissertation, you have planned, managed and executed a multi-phase, multi-layered and multi-year project. You have a wealth of project management experience that is applicable and relevant to the post-academic employer.
When I first finished my PhD there was an immediate feeling of relief. I was finally done. Almost immediately following this was what my friends and family would probably describe as complete and utter panic. I was trapped, feeling like the skills and experiences I gained during the last four years of my life were completely irrelevant and without value outside of the academy. Now, months into the process of re-imagining, re-conceptualizing and translating my academic experiences, I can say with confidence that these academic experiences were invaluable in finding an alternative academic career which is both stimulating and rewarding. Learning a new language is possible. It is not without challenges, but definitely worth the time and investment.