In my previous posts, I discussed my exit from the academy and questions to better understand a pivot to a non-academic career. In this third post, I discuss practical strategies as you navigate new job application processes.
When I started applying for non-academic jobs, I felt directionless and did not know how to start. Providentially, I stumbled upon the simple realization that I can leverage skills and expertise gained in graduate experience to navigate these new unknowns. By adopting familiar practices of research, replication, and resilience, I became more organized, confident, and ultimately successful in the job application process.
Given how uninformed I was of the non-academic world, I started to research career options using the same practices honed as a graduate student. Not knowing where to start, I first cast a wide net, using simple google searches like “jobs I can do with Political Science PhD”. As I gained a rudimentary landscape understanding of possible career fields, I searched job sites to identify the types of qualifications and experiences firms were looking for in ideal candidates. I also conducted a literature review of my possible new career field, in my case, commercial market research. From browsing online introductory course syllabi to reading blogs, industry publications, podcasts, and online videos, I gave myself a crash into the practices, experts, debates, and vernacular of my potential new career.
Second, I began to replicate the norms and activities of the new field in which I was interested. As a young graduate student, I learned how to ask questions in seminars, structure research, and interact with peers at academic conferences by emulating senior graduate students. In my case, I did not know anyone in market research to ask. Instead, I looked at online resumes of people who had positions similar to those I would apply for; this helped me identify common descriptions and key words to rebrand my experiences and expertise into the desired qualifications of potential employers. I then aggregated my findings and list of key descriptors to convert my academic CV into a professional resume. I also adopted the professional practices and persona of my field. In my case, it was to create a Linkedin account. Instead of focusing on my research interests, as I would in an academic website, my Linkedin profile focused on my research expertise and experiences. Finally, I spent time each day reading up on my new field. On my social media accounts and RSS reader, I followed leading professional organizations, bloggers, and journals so I could be knowledgeable about the current state of the industry.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, I drew on the resilience cultivated during graduate school. Every time I presented ideas and research, from a conversation in the hall to a seminar to a conference presentation, I could expect feedback and criticism. I was not successful in the majority of grants and fellowships I applied for, most of my article submission were rejected, and it took nearly two years and dozens of proposals before my dissertation prospectus was accepted. Then there was the dissertation process, arguably the most challenging and trying endeavor of my life so far. By God’s grace, I survived and even thrived. And as God was faithful in my former life, so I can be confident He will remain faithful. While there were setbacks and missteps when I applied for jobs in my new field, I drew on how I had previously overcome disappointments and failures. And that helped me to persevere and continue knocking on doors until I found one God has opened for me.
As Moses commissioned Joshua to lead Israel, he extolled Joshua to “be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of [what is ahead], for is it the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6). I pray that this truth would resonate in your life as you apply for new jobs and opportunities outside the academy. While tempting to forsake your graduate experience out of bitterness or disappointment at how it did not result in an academic career, I encourage you to embrace and be empowered to use familiar practices of research, replication, and resilience as you navigate the new unknowns that God is leading you into.
Joshua Su-Ya Wu is a husband, father, pastor’s kid, and social scientist seeking to faithfully reflect Christ in all aspects of his life. He has a doctorate in Political Science from The Ohio State University, works in analytics and data science, and writes about data analytics at Reasonable Research and the intersection of faith and culture at Stuff I Didn’t Learn in Church. He currently lives in Rochester New York with his wife and two kids, and can be reached on Linkedin or on Facebook