Post Academic


Another book Post Academic likes: So What Are You Going to Do with That?

Since we’re on the topic of post-academic books, it’s probably a good time to tout So What Are You Going to Do with That?, a helpful how-to guide for Ph.D.s interested in transitioning from academia to the hamster world, whether willingly or not.  It’s usually the first title mentioned when Ph.D.s and ABDs ask about what options are out there for them and don’t know where or how to start looking.

Written by two Princeton lit Ph.D.s, Susan Basalla and Maggie Debelius, the book can be read either as a practical toolkit that provides the nuts-and-bolts on how to rethink your professional life or as a collection of narratives about experiences your peers have had going through what you’re going through now.  And don’t worry that the book takes a sappy self-help approach to career advice, because it’s written in a smart, conversational, and casual way that’s neither rah-rah nor an invite to a pity party.  However you like your advice, it’s going to help you brainstorm and give you ideas about career paths you might not have considered.

More about the book, after the jump…

The book is broken into clear, easy-to-follow chapters that are basically organized according to the process you’d go through in making your transition, starting with the baggage-laden self-examination one goes through at the beginning of the job search, then running through some hands-on tips about how to network, convert your CV into a resume, and what to expect in an interview.  (Hey, that’s some of the stuff that Caroline has written about on our blog, so you should check out her advice on resumes and interviewing, too!)  The book helps to answer a lot of questions post-academic Ph.D.s might have but don’t know who or even how to ask, like whether it’s too late to switch careers after many, many years in grad school and how to translate your skills for the hamster world.  What’s particularly illuminating about the book is that the chapters are interspersed with personal experiences told by folks from different disciplines and different personal backgrounds who ended up in a variety of vocations, which shows how there’s more than one way to go about looking for a new profession.  And dissatisfied faculty who ditched the tenure-track are included as well, suggesting that an academic career isn’t always the be-all end-all of getting a Ph.D.

Even if the book can’t help you fully get through your mental block in giving up your pursuit of a life in academia, it’ll give you practical things to work on until you do.  For academics used to writing long, detailed cover letters and even longer, more detailed CVs, Basalla and Debelius force you to cut to the chase and learn a new genre of writing, offering samples and even something so focused as a list of verbs to use on your resume.  By emphasizing these hands-on techniques, they get the post-academic to shed her/his attachments to an academic profile through the back door, suggesting that many of the things that are held the most dear to a Ph.D., like conferencing, teaching, and even the dissertation, hold less intrinsic value outside of the university.

All in all, the book offers both frank reassurance and clear-headed pragmatism, which are as much as anyone going through this can expect from someone else.  “In the face of so much despair about Ph.D.’s can and can’t do with their lives, we are willing to err on the side of optimism,” the authors put it.  “We’re here to say that as intimidating as the process appears at first, there is a universe of possibilities open to you” (16).

For the book’s table of contents and an excerpt, go to: www.careersforphds.com.

“A toolbox” by Per Erik Strandberg from Wikimedia Commons, licensed by Creative Commons

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