When I first reached out to my undergrad professors about applying to English graduate programs, I was met with what at the time felt like a disheartening response. Yes, they would write me rec letters, but they also asked me to really think about why I wanted to get a PhD. “You have to want it for the degree itself,” they told me, “because a career as a professor is not guaranteed.” After some reflection, I decided that I did want the degree, even if a career teaching at a college or university didn’t appear at the end.
I’ve been thankful a number of times over the past 6 years that I started my grad school journey with that knowledge in-mind. Now that COVID-19 has turned our world upside down and made an already dismal academic job market comedically bad (see this, this, and this), I am even more thankful. Knowing I was pursuing a degree with no guarantee of the “traditional” job outcome at the end has meant I’ve always been thinking about how I would transition out of academia if needed (or, honestly, if I just decided that leaving academia was the right choice for me).
Unfortunately, graduate programs in the Humanities are still very much works-in-progress when it comes to counseling grad students on careers outside of academia. If the current pandemic has you thinking about non-ac jobs for the first time, you might be wondering where to even begin. I won’t pretend to have all the answers, but since this topic is probably on a lot of our minds, I thought I’d share some of the resources I’ve found over the years. To be clear, these resources are geared towards grad students in the Humanities (though many will likely also be applicable to those in the Social Sciences and/or STEM).
Finally, these are resources I’ve personally found useful or plan to read when they become available. I am not being compensated by any authors or companies for listing them. You should also check out your college or university’s Career Center and alumni network.
Putting the Humanities PhD to Work: Thriving In and Beyond the Classroom (forthcoming from Duke UP, Aug. 2020)
The Professor is In: The Essential Guide to Turning Your PH.D. into a Job by Karen Kelsky (2015)–specifically the final section of the book: “Leaving the Cult”
Imagine PhD (a FREE career exploration and planning tool for the humanities and social sciences)
The Beyond Tenure Track section of The Professor is In (these services are not free but might be worthwhile depending on your situation)
The Versatile PhD (check to see if your institution has a subscription)
“Not So Graceful Period: My Alt-Ac Story” by Kelly J. Baker (a good read if you’re considering freelance writing; you might also check out her memoir Grace Period: A Memoir in Pieces about leaving academia)
“Overcoming the Ph.D. Stereotype” by Jennifer Polk and L. Maren Wood (2019)
“The Ph.D.’s Guide to a Nonfaculty Job Search” by L. Maren Wood (2014)
“‘Putting the Humanities PhD to Work’ (An interview with Katina Rogers)” by Scott Jaschik (July 8, 2020)
“What Can You Do With a Humanities Ph.D., Anyway?” by Elizabeth Segran (2014)
These are just a couple of general career-advice books, outside of well-known books like What Color is Your Parachute?
Designing Your Work Life: How to Thrive and Change and Find Happiness at Work by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans (2020; I read their earlier book Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life. This newer book appears to be focused on work specifically but I’m guessing maintains the same over-arching theme.)
Pivot: The Only Move That Matters Is Your Next One by Jenny Blake (2015)
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t still anxious about my future job prospects (I’m scheduled to be on the job market this coming fall, after all), but knowing about these resources has kept me from complete panic.
I’m sure there are many great resources that I’m missing here. If you know of one, please send me a message or leave a recommendation in the comments!