Five years ago, a group of Berkeley graduate students and postdocs took the lead in organizing a groundbreaking conference for graduate students on exploring careers beyond academia. Since then, the Beyond Academia conference has become a nationally recognized professional development event and a model for similar programs elsewhere.
This year, the conference featured
- 12 interactive workshops and skill-focused seminars to help graduate students search for positions, acquire transferable skills, and make a successful transition to jobs beyond the academy
- 20 panels showcasing Ph.D.s who have assumed positions in a wide variety of careers (e.g., data science, education, media and communication, non-profit, and more
- networking sessions to connect with professionals in these fields
The conference was again a resounding success, enabling graduate students such as Mary Garner, a doctoral candidate in Chemistry to come away “feeling motivated and empowered.”
In its earliest years, the two-day Beyond Academia conference drew primarily students in STEM disciplines. But with the decrease in tenure-track positions in the humanities and social sciences and increased graduate student interest in exploring other career paths, organizers put extra effort into outreach to Ph.D. candidates from these fields.
And they succeeded. Roughly 30% of all doctoral students on campus are enrolled in humanities and social sciences; they made up almost one-third of the approximately 330 conference attendees.
As conference organizers stated: “One of our main goals this year was to better integrate the humanities and social sciences (HSS) with the STEM fields. Whereas last year, we had several HSS-focused panels and several STEM-focused panels, this year, most of our panels had at least one representative from an HSS background and at least one from a STEM background. Our Thursday keynote speaker completed her Ph.D. in the social sciences and is now working at a STEM company, while our Friday keynote speaker completed her Ph.D. in math and is now a vice president at a company more closely associated with the humanities and social sciences. We also sought to complement the panels with workshops that were more interactive and more focused on practical skills.”
““Before the Beyond Academia conference, I had the narrowest of views for a career after graduate school — I thought there was only ‘industry or academia,'” according to Garner.
Graduate students who attended the conference had nothing but praise. Jordan Greenwald is a Ph.D. candidate in Comparative Literature who attended the conference “first and foremost because I thought it was important to hear career narratives from Ph.D.s outside the narrow(ing) world of the tenure track professorship.” He found Jared Redick’s session on converting the academic CV into a résumé to be “absolutely essential.” Greenwald noted that “a lot of the tips Jared gave about translating one’s experience and skills from academia to other sectors were affirmative (probably my key word for Beyond Academia!), as he emphasized that the work one does as a Ph.D. student at Berkeley is by no means radically different from that required by the ‘outside’ world.” Greenwald was also quick to see that “a lot of Jared’s general tips about self-presentation are equally applicable within the increasingly competitive and professionalized world of academia.”
Mary Garner from Chemistry attended the conference “to learn more about potential career options available after completing my Ph.D.” According to Garner, “Before the Beyond Academia conference, I had the narrowest of views for a career after graduate school — I thought there was only ‘industry or academia.'”
Garner found panels featuring Ph.D.s in career paths such as “Teaching and Learning” to be particularly helpful. As she put it, they encouraged her to “take advantage of the opportunities at UC Berkeley to try new things, step outside your area of expertise, learn new skills, take a class in a different field than your own. Your future self will thank you for it!” Particularly illuminating to Garner was the “Non-Profit and Social Sector” panel as it enabled her to “think about what motivates me and inspires my future career aspirations. Knowing whether you are the type of person who is idea driven, profit driven, mission driven, etc., goes a long way in helping you decide the right career for you and feel the most fulfilled.”
Garner also valued the advice she received from the “Putting Your Ph.D. to Work” seminar: “Spend some amount of time every week working on your own professional development — read an article outside your field, conduct an informational interview with a potential employer, practice communicating your research to people in all walks of life. These are skills you will be grateful you worked on later when you are applying for jobs.”
Patrick Wilson, a Ph.D. candidate in Mathematics, attended the Beyond Academia conference because “it seemed like a great resource as I start planning my life after grad school.” Wilson stated that he “was very impressed by the number of speakers and the diversity of the careers and fields of study they represented.” He noted that “speakers were very personable and honest about the difficulties and doubts they had experienced as they transitioned out of academia.” During one of the career path sessions, “an audience member asked the panelists if they experience imposter syndrome. Every panelist knowingly smiled.”
Wilson found Jo-Ellen Pozner’s talk “Getting the Job Offer” very helpful as it brought to light “research showing that over fifty percent of people get jobs through leveraging their network.”
The students also appreciated the practical nature of many of the sessions. Wilson put it this way: “Beyond Academia did a good job of filtering through the participant’s intuition to find actionable first, second, and third steps. The program encouraged action rather than over-thinking every possibility.”
Takeaways: Attendees sum up insights
Garner: “Getting your Ph.D. from UC Berkeley already puts you ahead of the game when it comes to finding a job. By completing your Ph.D., you have already proven you can survive the ultimate test in project management.”
Wilson: “I’m not alone in leaving academia. In fact many people successfully make the transition each year, and I will, too.”
Greenwald: “So many of the skills we hone in academia are beneficial and even coveted in sectors outside the classroom: from teaching, to project management, to event planning, to networking and fundraising. Making the transition to a new career path is really less about learning new skills than it is about learning how to adapt the skills one has already learned to new contexts and working environments.”
For more information, please visit the Beyond Academia website.