Transition Q & A: Hillary Hutchinson

My newest blog post for University Affairs is an interview with career coach Hillary Hutchinson:

What do you do now?

I am a career coach specializing in helping people in academia either get their writing done in order to advance through the tenure process, or help them find an alternative career to academia if they decide to leave. I love helping career changers. Many people need help telling their new story in a positive way, showing that the current direction is built on past experiences.

Read the full post here.

Changing the post-PhD success story

In this week’s post I wonder how to change the dominant narrative of career success after a PhD. I share anecdotes and reflect on my own experiences and judgments. Let me know what you think! This is such an important issue, and I’d love to hear what solutions you think might work, or how the situation is or was different for you.

Read “Changing the dominant narrative of success after the PhD” at University Affairs.

Transition Q & A: Peter Larson

I’ve been remiss lately, not composing anything of my own for the blog… but I’m getting back on track and will let you know what I’ve been up to soon. The short version is: vacation! And continued coaching, learning, and fun.

In the meantime, I’m excited to share with you this wonderful Q & A contribution from Peter Larson, a former tenured professor who’s now a full-time blogger and running coach. Cool! Here’s a snippet:

What was the hardest part about giving up tenure?

The hardest part for me was that I didn’t hate my academic job, but there were parts of it that I didn’t enjoy. If I’d been miserable, the decision would have been a lot easier!

I love teaching. Working with students in the classroom and lab is what kept me going each day. While I published enough for tenure and promotion, I didn’t particularly enjoy writing scholarly journal articles — popular writing is more my style. I hated committee work. I despised being a department chair even though I had an exceptionally good department filled with colleagues who got along really well with one another. Dealing with academic and administrative politics drove me crazy. I think the latter combined with enduring several arduous years of curriculum change planning as a faculty senator did me in. I just wanted to teach my classes, but even there I saw it likely that I’d be teaching the same class every fall for the next 25 years if I stayed. I needed a change.

For the rest, head over to my University Affairs blog.

Transition Q & A: Peter Konieczny

Peter Konieczny earned his MA in history and MLS from the University of Toronto. He is now the librarian at Oxford College and the editor of Medievalists.net and four other history websites. Follow him@medievalicious.

When you finished your MA, did you have a plan for what you’d do next?

I finished my MA in 1999 and at the time I was looking to go into a PhD program. Unfortunately, there were few scholars who could take PhD students interested in medieval military history at the time, and none at the University of Toronto. That summer I got a job working at the University of Toronto library system, which I really enjoyed. I continued to work there as I kind of halfheartedly looked for a graduate school to go to in the United States.

After talking with a lot of friends in medieval academia, I came to the conclusion that even if I did get into a PhD program, getting a job afterward would be very difficult. Therefore, in 2001 I decided to do a new masters’ degree in library science.

What do you do now?

For most of the last ten years I have worked as a librarian, including stints at the University of Toronto, a public library, and my current job at Oxford College, a small private career college that runs programs in health care. Being the librarian for a small college (about 200 students) also means that I do several other jobs for them—I manage their website and social media, edit a monthly newsletter and write most of their marketing material.

My other job, which is slowly becoming my full-time position, is co-owning and running (with my business partner Sandra Alvarez) five different history websites—we post news, articles and videos. The most popular is Medievalists.net, which has been online since 2008. Originally, we saw this as something we could do on the side, but once we saw how many people were interested in it, we began to take it more seriously and our hope is that we can both make a good living from it.

What kind of tasks do you do on a daily and weekly basis?

I do a mix of my own writing for the website, and curating other content that exists online, such as news from a university or a video of a lecture that took place. The websites try to appeal to a broad audience, so one day I’ll be writing about ecclesiastical history in thirteenth-century Cyprus, and the next I’ll be reviewing the latest episode of Game of Thrones.

What are your favourite parts of your job(s)?

I think it is all the great people I get to meet, both online and in person. We regularly go to conferences, where we get to hear people talking about their research and passion in history.

What advice or thoughts do you have for post-MAs or -PhDs in transition now?

Keep in mind that you will come out of your education having expertise in one subject, but that you probably need a few more skills that you will need to learn elsewhere. My training as a librarian was really vital in helping me create Medievalists.net, and I continue to explore new ways I can learn—I just recently completed a university course in magazine editing.

Marketing the PhD

We know the prevailing attitude within academia tends toward the “tenure-track or bust” end of the acceptable jobs spectrum, but the problem exists on the outside, too. Most of the time, people I’m talking to assume something very similar: that I will become a professor. A while back I was talking with an acquaintance about being post-PhD but not looking for academic work, and he wondered why I’d done a PhD if I wasn’t going to become an academic. He wasn’t simply curious: he seemed to be questioning my intelligence! For him, doing a history PhD is a prelude to professordom.

That encounter is an anecdote, but things like this have happened many times over the years. Usually, people are confused about why academia doesn’t appeal to me, and are at a loss to imagine what else I might do. Sometimes, conversations aren’t at all pleasant: I’m told to seek out entry-level jobs but then told I’d never be hired. Essentially, the PhD—especially the humanities doctorate—has a major image problem. And sometimes it’s PhD holders themselves who denigrate their own worth! Just read some of the comments on this piece. (I’m guilty of this too, but I’m working on it.)

So what can be done? In the outside world, if a company’s in trouble or a product’s not reaching its potential, a new marketing strategy might be all that’s needed to turn around company fortunes.

The PhD needs a brand makeover.

The current brand is long out-dated: a PhD as training for academic employment; PhD students as, well, students. What if we thought instead about graduate school as a job? After all, PhD candidates participate in many activities that professors do: independent research and writing, presenting at conferences, applying for grants, teaching undergraduates, and all manner of other things within and without their universities. Going from school to the professorate is more akin to employees transitioning to management than undergraduates seeking full-time employment after earning their degrees. With this in mind, my job search can be framed as a career change. And career changes are common, expected, and don’t tend to land 30-something job seekers in entry-level positions!

So that’s it: I’m changing careers. My academic career is at an end (by choice), and I’m looking for other opportunities to use my skills and talents. This strikes me as a much better way of framing a post-PhD, non-academic job search than, “I’m just out of school and the academic job market is terrible.” Next time someone asks me if I’m going to become a professor, I’ll know what to say.