When many of us were doing our PhDs, we had few—if any—resources for exploring career options outside academia. Departmental workshops with PhD graduates working outside academia, conference panels to discuss alt-ac careers, and graduate curricula offering concrete, meaningful guidance for careers besides the professoriate…they happen, but not as commonly in the profession as we’d like to see. The same can be said for “alternative” work being widely accepted as legitimate, successful career paths. Given the current academic job market, continued neoliberalization of the American university, and increased precarity of the academic workforce, many new PhDs and long-time NTT faculty are seeking other career options.
That’s why we’re here.
The alt-ac movement is growing and will continue to grow. More graduate students are exploring careers outside the traditional professorial track. Our new book series Rethinking Careers, Rethinking Academia (University Press of Kansas) plans to provide much-needed resources to help readers understand how academia works, expand their career options, and develop their skills for a variety of fields. This series will offer guidebooks for various career paths in, around, and outside academia. As series creators and coeditors, we have several goals for it:
- Allowing people who’ve left the teaching track (or academia altogether) to share their expertise about their work, career path, and translation of their PhD training into different fields.
- Creating a library of resources for new and would-be alt-acs to learn about what they can do with their skills and experience.
- Building a sense of community and understanding among a group of people who often feel (are made to feel) like their failure is individual and personal.
- Making the stakes real and clear for those in tenure-track or administrative positions, as well as inviting them to contribute in meaningful ways to a conversation about the ethics of graduate education.
- Continually redefining what “success” means for current and former PhD students.
We’re already developing some great projects, such as:
- an essay collection on being an independent scholar after leaving academia;
- a book on surviving a STEM PhD program and post-docs with one’s mental health and self-care practices intact;
- a part-memoir, part-advice book on moving from teaching to administration;
- and, an essay collection by PhD graduates from an elite program that takes aim at the structural problems underlying graduate study and the job market.
There are important conversations happening about how graduate education itself must push back and evolve in response to steadily-decreasing funding and steadily-increasing casualization. Our series will both contribute to and help develop these conversations. Even if the dynamics of the job market were to change tomorrow (hah!), the question of what PhDs can do with their skills and experiences off the teaching track would still be there. It’s clear that there are thousands of people who have often been going through this struggle alone, which has often prevented them from fully grieving or healing and making the most of the skills they have.
Rethinking Careers, Rethinking Academia is for those in graduate school, those beyond graduate school, those who teach in it, and those who run it. Learn more about the series here and see our extended call for projects here.
Joe Fruscione is an editor and writing consultant who taught American literature and writing in academia from 1999–2014. Most recently, he is coeditor (with Kelly J. Baker) of the brand-new book Succeeding Outside the Academy (see here). He’s written about his transition out of academia here and about his editing work here. Find him on Twitter @Joe_Fru.
Erin Bartram is a freelance writer and historian of women and religion in the United States. After three years on the tenure-track job market, she left full-time academic teaching in 2018. She has written extensively about pedagogy, and about her decision to leave academia and the difficult transition it involves. Find her on Twitter @erin_bartram.