As I approached the end of my Ph.D., I found myself increasingly unsure of whether or not I wanted to go on the academic job market. But if I wasn’t going to become a professor of ethnomusicology, what was I going to do?
All I knew for sure was that I wouldn’t wait around hoping for something to fall into my lap. I needed to be proactive. In the final two years of my Ph.D., I explored many of the campus career development resources, and before I even filed my dissertation in mid-2019, I found myself deciding between three attractive full-time job offers.
Below, I outline ten steps that helped me find fulfilling employment:
- Join campus and non-campus organizations outside of your department. In the summer of 2017, I decided to join Beyond Academia, a Ph.D. student and postdoc organization that focuses on career development for P.hD.s. I got to work with Ph.D.s across campus who, like me, were interested in exploring non-academic career paths. I also attended The Board Match in San Francisco, where I connected with a small nonprofit organization for which I now serve as a board member. In my final year, I served as a Professional Development Liaison with ten other graduate students across campus. Serving in these capacities helped me develop concrete skills for the non-academic job market.
- Take workshops and classes to develop more skills. I know taking more classes as a late-stage graduate student can be unappealing, but there are so many free learning opportunities on campus, and I suggest taking advantage of them while you still have access. I took workshops at GradPro, D-Lab, the Career Center, the Tang Center, and the Townsend Center. Also, look into semester-long classes in other departments or schools on campus, such as Haas or the Division of Data Science and Information.
- Attend events and conferences on career paths for Ph.D.s. The Beyond Academia conference is the largest campus-based event on non-academic career paths, but there are many events throughout the academic year. Check the GradPro calendar and digest for more information.
- Follow up on any potential job leads. In December 2019, I replied to an email to learn more about a job I was relatively certain I wasn’t interested in, but the company was looking for people with a skillset I had. I followed up, went through the interview process, and ultimately worked a two-month contract job that led to a full-time offer with them. Although I ended up accepting a different full-time position, I learned valuable information about what I wanted by going through the process.
- Do informational interviews, and take advantage of your network. Throughout the job search process, I sought the help of mentors, colleagues, and even strangers. If I found someone doing a job I was interested in, I cold-emailed them to set up informational interviews so I could learn how they obtained their position. When someone told me I should talk to someone else, I followed through with that suggestion. Soon, people started sending opportunities my way. I learned that the worst outcome was ignoring my email, but most people were genuinely interested in helping. I would not have been successful in my job search had I not asked for help.
- Use career exploration websites and attend career fairs. As Berkeley students, we have access to incredible resources like Versatile PhD, Imagine PhD, and more. Additionally, I found it helpful to go to career fairs and talk to recruiters to learn about potential career options for Ph.D.s. For more information, read Linda Louie’s short article about attending career fairs as a Ph.D.
- Search job boards and apply for appealing jobs along the way. In my final year, I applied to any job I came across that excited me. I got a lot of practice tailoring job documents and practicing basic interview skills. The job boards I used most frequently were Idealist and Indeed, and I also looked at the Careers pages of organizations I liked.
- Go to the Career Center. Did you know we have two dedicated Ph.D. career counselors? Debra Behrens and Andrew Green can help you (and did help me!) with anything relating to academic OR non-academic job exploration. Whether your question is as general as, “What do I want to do with my life?” or as specific as, “Can you give me feedback on my cover letter?,” Debra and Andrew will help you.
- Make an individual consultation appointment at GradPro. Linda Louie, the Professional Development Resource Coordinator, and her team of highly skilled Professional Development Liaisons, do individual consultations with graduate students to point you to resources that will help you succeed in your program and navigate your transition to a career. Sign up by clicking on “Schedule a Consultation” in the right sidebar of the GradPro site.
- Focus on your must-haves rather than the idea of the “perfect job.” I learned early on in the job search process that there is no such thing as the perfect job. Instead, I took time to identify my non-negotiables: if a job aligned with the hours and pay I desired, utilized skills I possess, and had opportunities for learning and growth, I applied. Once I got through that initial barrier and made it to interview rounds, I carefully considered how the job aligned with my personal values, helping me come to a final decision.
The non-academic job search can feel intimidating, but you do have the power to make it less so. Even taking two or three of these suggestions seriously can make an enormous difference in finding a fulfilling career.
Arathi Govind earned her Ph.D. in ethnomusicology from UC Berkeley in August 2019. She is a former Professional Development Liaison in the Graduate Division, and now works as a College Advisor for ScholarMatch in San Francisco.