photo of students sitting in a row with notebooks out
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Over the past decade, we have witnessed a dwindling number of tenure-track academic jobs available to advanced degree holders. This worrisome trend has been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, triggering additional hiring freezes throughout the country.

While it may be too early to fully assess the long-term effects of the pandemic on the academic job market, this does not mean that staff, faculty, and administrations should shy away from candid conversations about non-academic careers. More than ever, graduate students can benefit from robust systems of professional development support that provide in-depth and clear information about their career options. 

To address a general lack of information regarding non-academic pathways, a volunteer group of UC Berkeley graduate students and postdocs started an initiative called Beyond Academia (BA) in 2012. Today, BA has become a nationally-recognized non-profit organization whose mission is to empower and educate graduate students and postdocs across disciplines by disseminating up-to-date information about options beyond the traditional academic career path. To fulfill its core mission, the organization provides year-round programming so that the campus community can learn more about these postgraduate careers. This programming includes workshops, tutorials, panels, and a flagship two-day conference that carries the same name as the organization. 

This year’s Beyond Academia Conference 2022 was held online on February 24-25. The conference brought together 2 keynote lectures, 18 panels, and 9 professional development workshops. Conference speakers came from an array of disciplines and sectors, including individuals with expertise in the nonprofit, technology, arts, policy, and consulting industries. Conference speakers candidly shared their insights about transitioning into non-academic careers. Workshop topics included but were not limited to: how to conduct informational interviews, network, convert a curriculum vitae into a resume, negotiate a job salary, and much more. The conference also reached a large audience, with graduate students across the country attending.

Workshop attendees left the conference with concrete and tangible professional development advice. For example, Grace Anderson, a Ph.D. student in the Department of Biomolecular and Chemical Engineering, noted how she particularly benefited from attending a data science panel. During the panel, Grace gained useful insights about how to prepare successful job application materials and best practices for interviewing and networking. Grace highlighted that the advice that she received from the data science panel was “relevant and specific to the industry and not information you can commonly read about and find online or at other events.”

Behind each year’s BA Conference, there is a passionate group of volunteers. For this year’s conference, Angélica González-Sánchez, BA’s Co-Director and Logistics Lead for the 2020-2022 academic years played a pivotal role in organizing the logistics for the event. In addition to serving as a BA Co-Director, Angélica is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Comparative Biochemistry Graduate Program. When interviewed about what were some of the most challenging aspects of her work with BA, Angélica responded that it was balancing her time between her BA position and academics. However, Angélica also underscored how BA’s volunteer group is the most well-organized and caring team that she has worked with, which motivates her involvement with the organization. Angélica also conveyed that one of the most rewarding aspects of organizing the conference is “receiving positive feedback from conference attendees,” who find the annual conference “educational, inspiring, and enjoyable.” As she reflected on the impact of BA within the broader UC Berkeley community, Angélica added, “It’s also incredibly fulfilling to find out from attendees who have made connections with invited speakers at our events that those connections have resulted in collaborations and even job offers. All of this truly reminds me of why we work so hard on organizing these events.”

The Beyond Academia organization and conference are valuable resources for graduate students across the country who are working on their professional development and non-academic career preparation. If you are interested in learning more about non-academic career opportunities, consider attending a workshop offered by BA or next year’s conference, or joining the organization’s team of volunteers.

Martha Ortega Mendoza is a Ph.D. Candidate in Graduate School of Education. Currently, Martha serves as a Professional Development Liaison with the Graduate Division and is excited to connect with fellow graduate students.