Beyond Academia logoSifting through a long lineup of workshops and panel discussions, hundreds of Berkeley graduate students gathered at the fourth annual Beyond Academia (BA) Conference on March 14 – 15, 2016, to explore career options, network with industry professionals, and empower themselves in preparation for the possibility of a career outside the tenure track.

Responding to a growing interest in non-academic careers, UC Berkeley graduate students founded Beyond Academia in 2012 by launching the first-ever BA Conference. The event has grown each subsequent year, and the most recent 2016 conference attracted nearly 300 graduate students, postdocs, and professionals.

Workshops and panel discussions catered to graduate students interested in a variety of careers. “Transitioning Into Tech,” for example, featured a panel of distinguished Bay Area tech workers who completed their Ph.D.s in fields varying from Medieval history to biochemistry to Near Eastern studies. “How to Network” eased the minds of Ph.D.s in a workshop presented by Peter Fiske, CEO of PAX Water Technologies, Inc. Fiske recalled the dreadful pain of feeling like a “phony” when networking, but he assured those listening that building a professional network can be an enjoyable task.

Opportunities for networking were built in to the daily schedule. The traditional catered midday meal was replaced by a structured networking lunch where all workshop presenters and panelists were seated according to a specific plan. Conference attendees were then free to mingle and build relationships with each other and especially with the professionals who have found success beyond academia. Networking continued at the end of each day over drinks and hors d’oeuvres as well.

Beyond Academia co-director Erica Lee seemed very pleased with the turnout at the conference and has already begun working with her colleagues on next year’s event. When asked which of the workshops or panels was the biggest hit, both Lee and co-director Rose Kantor agreed,

“Definitely the workshop on ‘How to tell your advisor you are going to leave academia’ — because it was led by Berkeley faculty who fully support the idea of exploring careers outside of academic teaching and research.”

All in all, the conference was a huge success. While the workshop and panel offerings were stellar alongside the invaluable networking opportunities, what really set the conference apart was the vibe. A sense of camaraderie and unity across all the attendees and presenters conveyed the message: “We are in this together.” There are indeed ways to find success and a fulfilling professional life outside of the academy, and this conference provided empowerment and support to venture beyond.