June 24, 2003

The Nonacademic Job Search: Wealth and of Resources

QUESTION: I have decided I don't want to stay in academe, but what else can I do?

ANSWER: The first thing to do is to rephrase your question to, 'What do I want to do?'...

A wealth of resources is available to help you in a nonacademic job search...

...One of the most entertaining ways to test your reactions to the career choices of people of your age and background is to read the weddings and engagements section of The New York Times on Sundays. Take a look some time and use your reactions to what people do to help you figure out what you want to do.

-- Mary Dillon Johnson, What Else Can I Do?

Well, okay. So now that I've perused what David Brooks calls "the mergers and acquisitions page" ("Harvard marries Yale. Princeton marries Stanford. Magna cum laude marries magna cum laude"), I've decided that what I'd like to do is to start from scratch and begin a new life as an Episcopalian with a trust fund.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at June 24, 2003 12:05 PM

*shrug* If you had a trust fund you wouldn't have to leave academia.

The article is just trying to help you articulate what your gut knows that you don't. The listed method is a little goofy, but the thought behind it is fairly sound.

Posted by: Dorothea Salo at June 24, 2003 12:26 PM

Hah! Too funny.

One thing I keep noticing about these "transition" guides is how blithely they tell you to find your new bliss by thinking about what appeals to you. I get the basic theory, but the practice is not well spelled out. This is, in fact, one of the more specific examples I've seen.

It makes me wonder why these advice-givers never share the story of how they found their own career path.

Posted by: Rana at June 24, 2003 12:27 PM


You're a Canadian--you really ought to aim higher. At least have the decency to start your new life as an Anglican (with a trust fund).

Posted by: Eric at June 24, 2003 12:48 PM

But I am aiming higher, Eric. Americans are wealthier, and Episcopalians have much bigger trust funds.
Anyway, I couldn't quite bring myself to say I'd rather come back as an A****can: if my grandfather heard me say that, he would not rest easy in his grave.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at June 24, 2003 12:55 PM

In reference to the first response above: I think my gut -- and my brain -- are both quite aware that I am not born of the American WASP aristocracy. If getting myself out of academe entails meeting and marrying Wendy Wasp from Yale (if she's a bit funky, which is hard to imagine for Wendy, then maybe Brown), I am screwed.

Ah, but you see my gut and all other entrails and cognitive apparatuses are all-too-aware that I am screwed.

So you see, I'm fine ... (though methinks I would like to be Canadian)

Posted by: Chris at June 24, 2003 01:49 PM

"Ah, but you see my gut and all other entrails and cognitive apparatuses are all-too-aware that I am screwed."

I hear you.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at June 24, 2003 02:06 PM

You two. :)

Let me put it this way. There are things you can do that will be odious to you. And there are things you can do that will be somewhat less odious to you. Chances are you don't rightly know what falls into that latter group.

It's worth finding out.

Posted by: Dorothea Salo at June 24, 2003 02:10 PM

1) It ain't the trust fund. You don't see the trust fund babies who are miserable grad/ex-grad/post-grad students in the Times. "If you had a trust fund you wouldn't have to leave academia" is just wrong.

2) Don't think of what you do next as what you'll do forever. That's an impossible decision. Look for something intriguing and see what happens.

3) Talk to people. Lots of people, particularly strangers. If you read in the paper about someone doing something cool, call him up; he'll talk to you and tell you things you don't know. Same for organizations you admire: call the head honcho, not for a job, but just to talk.

Posted by: ogged at June 24, 2003 02:37 PM

You are going down the wrong path entirely. All former academics are required by law to attend law school. Don't try to fight it - just give in and go with the flow.

Posted by: unf at June 24, 2003 02:42 PM

In my neighborhood I know a fair number of aging trust fund kids. One is, no kidding, a 45-year-old Cheech and Chong type. Relatives in very high positions. A few I can't tell if they have small trust funds of if they're in some kind of disability rehab. Others are just mediocre neighborhood guys who never seem to do anything.

This is an elite neighborhood and most of these people grew up here. In modern life there seems to be a rule that if you end up in the neighborhood you grew up in, even if it's a high-class neighborhood, you're a loser. (With the exception af anyone reading these words to whom that applies, of course).

Posted by: zizka at June 24, 2003 02:49 PM

Rather than looking at the marriages, you would do better to look at the "dating process." How did Yale marry Princeton? In other words, where can you hang out and with whom to remain among people you repect? Up until the "turn," PhDs have always been goal-directed, strivers, aiming with a "next step" in mind. Now, you get to meet Destiny, Fate, Chance, Mutibilitie, the Great God Luck. You are now competing for an entry level job with folks you left behind in highschool, actually, those are the people doing the interviewing! Harsh, hunh?

If I could share just one tip: hang around or look in places where you actually consider the people reasonably intelligent. The worst fate is working for a Fool who resents your intelligence, yet wants to slack off based on your doing his or her job for them.

The best way to stay in your own world is to network though family, friends and online contacts. What does that mean? Exactly what you are doing here. Getting word out that you, "suddenly single," that is, "on the market." All you want is to chat with people about their experiences -- as you do every day on this blog. Keep it loose, keep it light, and stay involved with people who are intelligent.

Shame in the iconography hides her head. It feels shameful to fail, and you want to go far away -- I went so far away that I learned more about life in the lower income South than I ever needed to know. My suggestion is, screw the shame. Hold your head up and network with the best and brightest from your personal and institutional networks.

Yes, you will get a job at random, but you ain't that desperate. You can start at the bottom, but feel out the siutation and see if your "immediate superior" has a college degree.

Posted by: The Happy Tutor at June 24, 2003 03:03 PM

"You are now competing for an entry level job with folks you left behind in highschool, actually, those are the people doing the interviewing!"

In my blog entries, I try to resist (though admittedly I do not always succeed in resisting) the angst-ridden stream of consciouness me-zine mode. So let me sneak this into the comments section: something inside me is dying.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at June 24, 2003 03:37 PM

IA: I duno'. Apparently, we're supposed to go up and start talking to random people on the street -- and not get slapped or the cops called on us. And after we get out jail we're supposed hang out in bars full of Yalies. I live in Philly. I'm not sure where the Yalies hang, but I know where the Wharton hang outs are.

But really (and now I am speaking to the men and lesbians in the audience), do you really wanna' date women who wear crew neck sweaters with pearls and white -- God-awful-very-white -- sneakers and pressed jeans? I dunno'. They squeal a lot and talk about spending Spring Break in St. Moritz and shit ...

Posted by: Chris at June 24, 2003 03:41 PM

I can remember when I was about to graduate with a history degree. I wasn't sure academia was the place for me. I went to law school instead. I may have made a mistake, but I usually enjoy being an attorney.

Posted by: Sophorist at June 24, 2003 03:42 PM

IA: "something inside me is dying."

Look on it as a challenge. It's something no one else, except for your husband, will likely be able to appreciate -- but that doesn't matter. Think of WWII veterans who emerged from a situation in which their mates were being blown to bits around them. Then they return to America and resume their non-military lives and they can never tell any of their families what they went through. They go to their graves with the unexpressed knowledge. They know what they achieved. No one else does. And there were millions of them. You too can do it.

Posted by: JT at June 24, 2003 03:54 PM

Yes, IA, something is dying. You can mourn that. Mourning is not angst.

Eventually, we all hope and believe, something will grow in its place. It won't be the same thing as what died; that's impossible. But it'll be a worthwhile thing in its own right, and *that* is what you can legitimately look forward to.

Ogged, you're right -- but I would tend to draw a distinction between the people who could never, ever be happy in academia as it is constituted, and those who *could* but will not ever get the chance because they can't feed themselves doing it. I (and you also, I suspect) are in the former category, and IA strikes me as belonging to the latter.

Posted by: Dorothea Salo at June 24, 2003 04:06 PM

Here here, Dorothea. That's good advice and a good distinction.

And IA, I know we're supposed to be the doom and gloom crowd, but it's really not so godawful out here. One of the very pleasant surprises of joining the working world is that there are a lot of very smart, dedicated people doing cool things very far away from academia. And it's not as if you aren't now subordinate to people who shouldn't have any business judging you.

Posted by: ogged at June 24, 2003 04:32 PM

"You are now competing for an entry level job with folks you left behind in high school, actually, those are the people doing the interviewing!"

Can anyone tell me where to find that recent article on the earning potential of new doctorates in the humanities being lower than the earning potential of recent high school graduates?

Maybe I read it here? Anyway, I want to reference it in an upcoming CHE piece.

Thank you in advance!

Posted by: Thomas Hart Benton at June 24, 2003 04:45 PM

One other thing:

This thread makes me think of the recent piece in Harpers about the "New Nepotism." Nearly all of the alternative career success stories strike me as suggesting the outcome of pre-existing familial and social connections rather than all those wonderful "transferable skills."

I notice a lot of dynastic patterns in higher education too (the Foners, for example). I also know quite a few people from grad school who were related to someone BIG in the profession (but this is usually kept secret--but acknowledgements sections of books are very revealing). None of them needed to seek alternative careers. (All of this is just a small piece in the larger feeling I have that nobody believes in merit anymore--it's all about influence,)

When I was networking after grad school, I leveraged all kinds of advantages from people who were "retired" from manufacturing jobs, working as clerical temps or in telemarketing, serving in restaurants, or wrapping up their enlistments in the military.

Has anyone ever written about nepotism in higher ed in the U.S.--and named names?

Posted by: Thomas Hart Benton at June 24, 2003 05:03 PM

Don't think of what you do next as what you'll do forever.

Best advice ever. If you forget all the other Wise Sayings proffered in your comments, remember this. It's so easy to get hung up on whether a job is really what one wants to do; it helps to regard it as just the next step, something to put food on the table and pay the rent while you figure things out further. If it turns out to be perfect for you, so much the better, but the likelihood is that in a couple of years you'll be doing something quite different, so... don't sweat it.

...something inside me is dying.

No. I know it feels like that, but that sense of internal tearing and rending is just the feel of sudden change, the bandaid coming off. The only thing that's dying is the bond holding you to the source of your suffering. Once you're free of it, you'll realize that you feel much more alive. Trust me on this. (I just wish I'd had someone to tell me when I was going through this 25 years ago; I was flying blind and scared as hell.)

Posted by: language hat at June 24, 2003 05:22 PM

Can I just say that I love you guys?

IA -- Here's a big hug from a fellow divorcee-in-the-making -- it does hurt, doesn't it? But I am slowly coming around to realize that all of these folks have wonderful advice, and to realize it in my gut as well as my head. (My current angst stems from being unable to act on that advice at the moment.) If my experience is any guide, expect more ups and downs -- no fun, but I expect it's all necessary somehow.

Someday, you and I and the rest of the gang are going to kick some serious butt -- I just know it! -- if we can just manage to hang on until we get there.


Posted by: Rana at June 24, 2003 05:42 PM

Rana, Right back at you.

Mr Benton, I don't know of this article. I do know of another article ("Arts degrees reduce earnings") which I suspect would not suit your purposes: it concerns a UK study which claims those who pursue liberal arts BAs (and especially in English and history) earn less on average than those who only complete the UK equivalent of high school.

Chris, Are you sure you couldn't learn to love (or at least to live with) the pearls and the pressed jeans for the sake of the trust fund?

JT, Good point about putting things into perspective.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at June 24, 2003 10:46 PM

"something inside me is dying."

yes. That was my lived experience of academia as an adjunct.

I knew it too. The institution is no longer nourishing---as Language hat points out, when this dying inside takes place, it means that the bonds between our subjectivty and the institution are torn and frayed.

It slowly crunches down to a choice between life or death.

Who wants to become the walking dead?

Posted by: Gary Sauer-Thompson at June 25, 2003 02:32 AM

BTW - that link to the chronicle required a login.

Posted by: Barry at June 25, 2003 08:40 AM

I noticed that too. However, the articles usually become available free (as I remember -- please correct if wrong) a week later.

Posted by: Rana at June 25, 2003 12:45 PM

Sorry about that. I can't seem to get to it through a free URL.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at June 25, 2003 01:06 PM

It's free now. Here's the URL: http://chronicle.com/jobs/2003/06/2003062701c.htm

Posted by: Rana at June 27, 2003 12:10 PM