This week on Ask Victoria: How to identify a career path upon completing a Ph.D:
I am a 48 year old Ph.D. student in Community College Leadership. I expect to complete requirements for comprehensive exams and dissertation completion within the next 12 months.
I have an undergraduate degree in Computer Science, an MBA in Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate. The Ph.D. program is geared to develop the next generation of community college leaders.
I am interested in Social Entrepreneurship, agriculture, and diabetes prevention. I have worked in various technology roles for more than 25 years and I have volunteered with banking with a local credit union for over 12 years. I see an intersection between big data analysis as it relates to education, finance, food security, and economic development.
I am not sure what positions to target once I add Ph.D. to my title. The current position with a large telecommunications company does not require the advanced education, but I was compelled to pursue the terminal degree because of my tremendous passion for social economics and observations from the various volunteer experiences.
I am having a difficult time finding something that will allow me to fully leverage my experience and pursue my passions for education. I had considered institutional research, data science certification, franchising, or private consulting. I have a high opportunity cost since the current position is fairly stable, but there are few opportunities to advance or leverage the advanced degrees.
Feeling trapped, but in a fairly good position to move to the "next" thing.
Wow, your list of accomplishments is impressive! It sounds like you are quite involved, both at work and in your community. As you’ve experienced, making the connection between a course of study that you feel passionate about and a career can be difficult when you have varied interests as well as many skills and areas of content knowledge that you can use to support the causes close to your heart. Exploring what is possible is really essential at this stage of the game.
Reflect and connect
Think back to when you were first considering the Ph.D. program. Ask yourself these questions:
- What career goals did you anticipate you would be able to reach after you completed your Ph.D.?
- How does your interest in social economics and your volunteer experiences relate to the Community College Leadership program?
- What area(s) of academia were compelling to you: academic administration, student affairs, teaching, research, something else?
Use your responses to help you recall your original ideas about the path you’d like to pursue.
Next, I would suggest to schedule chats with your professors (current and previous) and ask about what excites them about their field, what their career path has been, and how they got to where they are today. The time you have remaining until you complete your program is a great opportunity to leverage the resources at your university. Also ask what other candidates have done with this degree and how they positioned themselves for those careers.
Find out about career services programming for doctoral candidates at your university and if there are any career panels or alumni events you can attend. Learn from those who are already out in the field. Make connections and express your interest in learning about careers via informational interviews. If there are no such events planned, why not make the recommendation or even offer to help coordinate and identify possible speakers and panelists? This gives you the chance to have in-depth conversations with alumni in the field, provide a forum for others like you who may be wondering what to do next, and give you experience in a higher education department to add to your resume.
Staying in academia or not?
I was not certain where you would be tailoring your career focus: within academia or industry. I asked for some insights about each from Heather Krasna, a career coach specializing in nonprofit, government and social impact careers and Assistant Dean and Director of the Office of Career Services at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. If you are seeking a tenured-track faculty position you will package yourself differently than you would if you pursued a job at an organization.
When you are pursuing a faculty position for teaching or research, keep in mind that, “Every institution is different, and some need to see a serious track record of publications and/or teaching experience to consider you.” She recommends The Chronicle of Higher Education as a resource for learning more about preparing for this type of job search, and to not lose sight of the importance of networking. Since you are interested in community college leadership, consider joining professional associations and attending conferences to meet people and learn about opportunities in the field.
“Outside of higher ed,” Heather continues, “Ph.D.s get a huge array of jobs, depending on their specific skills. For instance, think tanks, government contractors, consulting firms, hospitals, government agencies, nonprofits, philanthropies, and pharmaceutical and other industries all might be interested in Ph.D.s, but it totally depends on what they are studying.” You might benefit from consulting with a career coach (like Heather!) who specializes in the transition from corporate to nonprofit sectors and has a clear understanding of the hiring methods in those fields.
Finding the right balance
While I don’t think it is impossible to find a job that blends all of your interests, you may find difficulty on the first try. Identifying the connection between agriculture, diabetes, and community college leadership is going to be difficult for employers, so you’ll need to connect the dots for them carefully. Think about the experiences you’ve had thus far and develop a list of clear examples that illustrate the connections. You may find it more manageable to focus on one or two areas rather than trying to blend each of your interests.
When you are researching employers, pay careful attention to those that seem receptive to “job crafting.” You may be hired for a position that blends only two of your interests and have the opportunity to integrate your other passions into your work later. In consultation with your manager, make your interests known and demonstrate how taking your role in a new direction will be beneficial to the organization.
Lastly, don’t lose sight of your connections and the people who are familiar with your work. For example, if you volunteer with a community organization to develop and fund a program aimed to improve the diets and health of local youth, talk to the administration about the possibility of becoming a paid consultant or employee. Perhaps after you’ve implemented the program, you will work with the organization on assessing data and outcomes, securing more work for yourself over the long-term. This could be a great way to meld your interests and create an opportunity at an organization where you already have a strong relationship.
Hope these suggestions help you gain clarity and find, land, and love your social impact career!
By Victoria Crispo