Alternative Careers

Graduate students should invest serious consideration into the employment opportunities that exist post-graduation well before earning their degree. The College of Liberal Arts wants to see its graduate students find success, and CoLA would like to begin the conversation about finding alternative academic careers. While graduate students often face unique experiences, it is necessary that they become aware of available careers both on and off the tenure-track. Students across disciplines, and especially in the liberal arts, continue to see tenure-track jobs as the golden ticket in terms of employment, even though the state of the job market shows that such an outcome is no longer a possibility for most PhDs.

Overwhelmingly, most teaching positions in universities do not go to full-time, tenure-track employees; rather, 76% of jobs go to part-time, contingent labor known as adjuncts. A 2012 survey released by the Coalition on the Academic Workforce found that, out of 20,000 adjunct respondents, 54% were under the age of 35, and 52% reported earning less than $35,000 per year. This has made an already competitive academic job market even more daunting for new PhDs. Still, most who enter the job market have one goal in mind: secure a tenure-track position. This is what PhD students are trained to prepare for, because it is the career academic mentors know. This has made tenure-track jobs the marker of success after graduation, and alternative career options appear, instead, as a form of failure.

This should not be the case!

It is important for students to be aware that the post-PhD road does not exclusively run toward a tenure-track position. A multitude of career options exist both within and without academia. While many PhD students pursue a higher-level degree because they love what they do, it is still possible to put that passion and inspiration toward other careers. Tenure-track jobs are not the be all and end all in academia. It is important students keep options open. Both PhD students and faculty should know that alternative academic careers are becoming the norm. Students should do research on what jobs exist within the university system that may appear to be a good fit. Ultimately, it is crucial for PhDs and PhD students to recognize they have transferable skills that they can use to secure a career that is feasible and sustainable. One cannot pursue a doctoral degree because they expect to get a job as a professor. PhD students should also be aware that a tenure-track job may not be the right path, and they should be prepared to shift their employment objectives as needed. Finally, it is important that students take the first step and begin to think about, as well as research, alternative career options well before completing the degree. The University of Texas at Arlington offers resources to help graduate students learn more about these alternative career opportunities and prepare for a non-academic job market.

(Written by Kristen D. Burton, University of Texas at Arlington)