Starting Over

The One Thing PhDs Wish Someone Had Told Them


On October 12, I gave a talk (slides online here, and posted below) to Vanderbilt’s history PhDs, about finding non-academic jobs. Before presenting, I talked to a lot of amazingly helpful PhDs in industry, and I always asked them one question: “What’s the one thing you wish someone had told you, while you were still in grad school?” Some of the answers follow, edited for clarity and anonymity:

“To work on my resume at the same time as my CV, from Day 1, continuously thinking about how the skills I was developing for one career would translate into another.”

It’s OK to take the time to develop skills that might not be relevant to the dissertation but will go a long way towards finding a job.”

Take a business class — at your school, on Coursera, wherever. Because when you get into industry, you’re going to have to learn that jargon.”

Take a stats class. You won’t necessarily be running statistics, but it’s really beneficial to be able to speak that language when you need to.”

How to network. When you’re twentysomething you don’t really know what networking is, and grad school doesn’t equip you with real-world networking skills.”

Find a mentor in your target industry, if you can. That makes the transition so much easier.”

And I’ll end by giving this advice from someone on the hiring side, who didn’t have a PhD, so I asked them for the one thing they’d tell a job-seeking PhD:

Get your story straight. If you’re sitting across from someone, they’re going to be wondering why you spent years in grad school and are now looking to go into industry.”

It’s okay, they emphasized, to say that you want more job security, or money, or geographical choice, or even that you’re just burned out. (Perhaps something else that more PhDs wished they knew?)