Released: 15 June 2023
Published: Issue 28.1 (Fall 2023)
For a decade now, we at Kairos have been noticing people with PhDs in our discipline have been leaving the confines of tenure-track/tenured positions and venturing forth with new agendas in their professional lives. At first, it was startling. Now it seems de rigeur. It's not just the Great Resignation from the pandemic-times that has people leaving these positions, and this migration also doesn't seem to be the case of frantically finding alt-ac positions because—as someone recently said on social media—humanities PhDs are the greatest multilevel marketing scam on the planet. It's a conscious quitting, in many cases, to pursue other avenues that might bring better work–life balance, or just make time for something outside of work, or even just because fuck this shit, universities are more and more of a suckhole lately. Whatever the reason, those of us in digital writing studies are poised slightly differently (yes, we're special! 😛) to enter the workforce—in many cases because that's where we were before we pursued higher education/PhDs. And there are likely to be many more who want to make that transition away from starting or finishing PhDs into industry, alt-ac positions, nonprofits, consulting, dog grooming, you name it!
The entries below started with a simple question posted on social media with a few folks tagged who we knew had changed career paths (all used with permission). We hope this is the start of a longer, growing list. If you're considering leaving the PhD/tenure-track/tenured/academia, perhaps this site can be a small resource for you. If you've left already, perhaps you will consider adding your own thoughts? If so, please get in touch with us at email@example.com.
We have summarized a list of skills that most of the respondents have reported using in their non-academic or academic-adjacent work, which they learned while in grad school (in no particular order).
- Writing (and applying that across the disciplines)
- Quick and deep textual analysis
- Synthesizing information
- Making sense of complexity in multimodal ways
- Teaching (curriculum planning, learning objectives, working with student populations)
- Understanding how a university/system works
- Learning new skills quickly
- Radical empathy!
Let's hear what they have to share...
Alice Daer, CEO for Quick Brown Fox Consulting (a writing consultancy for data science and tech folks)
Biggest things: Being able to educate and advise on the tangible things I can do for their folks like teach them to find a narrative in a data set or make good arguments for their solutions to stakeholder problems. That yes I can edit but I can also do all these other things and here’s my list of them…. That kind of thing. Yes I do what you think you need me for but ALSO I do X, Y, and Z and that will make your life better because…. And I get to do it 1) on my schedule and 2) with no grading!
Our greatest skill is that we know how to do really quick, rich textual analysis. USE THAT. Read all the textbooks and the LinkedIn posts and classes and syllabi so that you can understand what their pain points are and better argue for how you will solve them. The more you can speak their language and show that you will slot into their day-to-day smoothly, the more likely they are to leap.
Definitely my research and synthesis skills. Understanding and making sense of complexity. And I know this isn't universal, but my writing skills, that I refined during graduate school. It's amazing how valuable a skill it is. I'm in a staff position, and I've had positions called assistant director for digital learning, instructional technology specialist, and learning design specialist. It's funny because of course my PhD didn't really prepare me to teach, right? But here I am, in technology and pedagogy.
I use my teaching, coaching, and proposal writing skills every day in running my business. For me, the skill sets were 1:1 applicable (and I could largely ditch the academic skill set of political maneuvering—big bonus!!).
I use all of the skills, too—deep analysis, communication (both in understanding and in advising communication approaches; frequent application of sci/med writing/rhetoric and communication to lay audiences); teaching/presenting; writing & policy analysis; technical/business communication…. Really, all the things! I received specific bioethics training (both in an additional MA and in clinical ethics in hospitals), but was hired for that AND all of my previous experience.
I've got a few things that transferred:
- The ability to quickly google and evaluate information quality is the most important skill I learned during my MA work.
- Setting expectations and learning objectives for training sessions and online resources.
- Radical empathy. Everyone is going through it and sometimes that's all that matters on a call.
- I regularly write, draft and consult on email templates, advertising campaigns, and marketing materials.
- Navigating the politics of the university. Learned a lot from Bill Hart-Davidson and Malea Powell, and I use it every day.
I'll add that my job is basically all the fun of teaching and none of the bullshit that eats all my time. No one approves my lesson plans, I don't have to do any grading, everyone comes by choice.
I'm not out of university but not at all faculty. Before this, Assistant Dean, Academic Advising and Support at a smaller university recently upgraded from a college. That job was based in the Provost's Office. I use my understanding of curricula, academic policy and process, my ability to work with undergrads and skill in that, and my writing ability ALL the time. Same when I spent time in international education—when I was director of an international center after being associate director of a summer program of the same.
I'm not even close to being near higher education. I am a CEO of two companies: a mobile notary company and a photography company. These are disparate endeavors, but they engage my skill sets. I have learned to embrace my disparateness which actually is something I did learn in grad school by some pretty rad professors (Vitanza). Another thing, I work well with a wide array of people, something that teaching as long as I did—in a range of environments—trained me to do. I also can find ways to connect radical points, and this helps me connect primarily in the film community.
I'm still in academia, do I still count? [YES!] By far the skill I use most is teaching. I give workshops every week, if not multiple times a week, and these are grounded in experiential, accessible, student-centered learning models I honed through years of experience in the classroom. Relatedly, I often have to learn new skills quickly in order to be able to teach them to others. So years of developing research methods and digital scholarship strategies across tools and platforms enable me to be flexible and transfer skills learned from one context to another.
--> If you've left a tenured, tenure-track, full or part-time position in academia, or made a radical switch within your positions inside academia, we'd love for you to contribute your own thoughts on how you made that switch and how your skills are still absolutely pertinent! Please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your story and skills so that others may learn. Thank you!