Question: I would love to see you write about making the transition from a nonacademic job back into academe. I am a medical sociologist by training, working as a public-health epidemiologist. I would like to go back to academe full time, but I can't even get an interview.
Career Talk: We haven't written about this topic because in most fields it is very difficult to get a tenure-track position once you've launched a career outside academe. The few who manage to do it have kept one foot in the academic arena so that people in their discipline know who they are and are familiar with their work. That is, they speak at academic conferences, publish articles in publications read by academics, and continue to be involved in other areas that could make them attractive to search committees.
Teaching part time at a college or university can also be a way to create new career possibilities for yourself within academe. Although it can be challenging to teach a course while working full time, it can also be a good way to strengthen your CV and to demonstrate your commitment to teaching. If you haven't taught since 2000, you will not be a competitive candidate at many institutions. You might also look for full-time administrative positions in higher education in which you might also have the opportunity to teach a course in your field.
In either case, try to present your time in the public sector as an asset, especially in the advising of students who may be interested in learning more about the practical implications of a sociology major.
In fields where practice is important—business, nursing, architecture, and the like—people are sometimes able to move back to academe after significant achievements in the professional world. Although you may wish to return to your original field of study, it might be more practical to think of ways in which you can build your profile as a public-health epidemiologist over the next few years, and parley that experience into an academic job.
Finally, keep your eye out for people in your field who have managed to make the transition and be sure to do informational interviews with them.
Question: Thanks for the earlier columns on "Switching Sides"—on working in a dean's or provost's office or in student advising. But I noticed there was no mention of tenure for the new young administrators making such a career change. Considerable numbers of older administrators seem to have tenure and, thus, a guarantee of a future, albeit with a smaller income, once they leave administration.
But not so for the young administrators. Is this because of corporatization? Feminization? Deprofessionalization? Thanks for continuing to focus on employment issues for new Ph.D.'s.
Career Talk: Your question points to the two different paths through which one can enter academic administration. Many people begin their careers in academe as tenure-track faculty members, with teaching and research as their primary responsibilities, only to find that they are also interested in managing people, building organizations, and working on projects that affect the institution as a whole. Such faculty members often seek out roles in campus administration, starting at the department-chair level and moving up from there. If they have been awarded tenure, which is often the case, they will continue to have tenure as an administrator. After a few years (or decades) as administrators, they may decide to return to research and teaching.
However, the administrators we interviewed in the "Switching Sides" columns did not begin their careers on the faculty but as professional staff members (whose positions are not on the tenure track). It is for that reason, and no other, that they do not have tenure in their administrative jobs.
Question: I have a seemingly useless Ph.D. in educational psychology and would like to have my own public-speaking and consulting practice. Are there any professionals who specialize in how to work with displaced academicians, who have adjuncted all of their lives and now want to do consulting work? Any advice would be helpful. I really need to start earning a living. Also, are there recruitment agencies that specialize in redirecting Ph.D.'s?
Career Talk: We're sorry that your Ph.D. feels useless but admire your interest in starting your own practice. We showed your question to a friend, John Tuton, a Ph.D. who is an independent organizational consultant and also works part time as a graduate-career counselor in the career-services office at the University of Pennsylvania.
Tuton thinks you need to look at your degree in a different way: "I'd suggest that you consider both your Ph.D. and your work experience as clear signs of high-level capacities to digest complex information, organize ideas, and synthesize various points of view, rather than as 'seemingly useless.' Your degree may not be valued in some contexts, but the abilities that you've proved you have by earning it could be very valuable in the right setting."
In starting your own consulting practice, he said, you need to determine what you are selling, who your customers are, and how you are going to reach them. He added: "This may not be as complicated as it looks, and could be done by having conversations with folks who have established consulting practices focused on training design, communication skills, negotiating, and 'platform skills'—four fields of consulting which, whether you know it or not, you may already have some expertise in. When you talk to them, though, you need to discover how your expertise is defined in a nonacademic setting—i.e., what your 'transferable skills' are. For instance, the two words 'cognition' and 'instruction' may not mean anything to someone in the training department of a corporation or a consulting group, but the words 'action learning' might."
The best place to start, he said, is by reaching out to people you know in your field who have already moved into consulting. Also contact anyone you know in the human-resources department of a company or group that's large enough to do training and development. He added: "You should also explore what is going on in the world of human resources itself. Two of the leading professional organizations in the field are the Society for Human Resource Management (www.shrm.org) and the American Society for Training & Development (www.astd.org)." Their sites post articles on employee development and training as well as job openings. "Reading the job postings could help you understand how to present yourself in ways that make sense to a prospective client," he said. "Also explore the Web sites of consulting groups who include employee, management, or executive development in their offerings—a well-established one with a long history of hiring Ph.D.'s is RHR International (www.rhrinternational.com)."
Tuton also suggested that your last question about recruiters can be easily answered by exploring the Directory of Executive and Professional Recruiters, which lists executive recruiters by geographical location and specialty. "Look for recruiters who specialize in the areas you're eligible to practice in, like human resources, consulting, and/or training and development, and, as a first step, consider starting out in an in-house role that would allow you to develop your expertise to the point where you can launch your own independent practice."
People often feel their degrees are "useless" if no obvious career path seems open to them. But that's rarely true. It's important that you understand your skills and interests so that you can show an employer why you are a good fit for its position.
Question: Some CV critiques suggest that it would be wise to add career objectives to the document, and others do not. I wonder which one to follow. And some recommend listing a home address, while others do not. What should I do? Also, what is the main difference between a résumé and a CV?
Career Talk: People applying for college or university teaching positions are asked to submit a "CV," also called a "curriculum vitae" or a "vita." If you apply for positions in a nonacademic setting where many of the employees have Ph.D.'s, the terms "CV" and "résumé" may be used interchangeably. For most other kinds of nonacademic jobs, employers will request a "résumé."
While a CV is usually longer than a résumé, includes more academic detail, and is more understated, the purpose in preparing either document is to interest a prospective employer enough to invite you for an interview. The difference is sometimes in name only, but a significant contrast is that a CV lists the publications of a job candidate because the position is in teaching or research and the employer wants to see that information. For a résumé or a CV to be effective, it must be targeted to the employer(s) who are going to read it.
A stated "career objective" rarely appears on a CV for a faculty position but is sometimes used on a CV for a nonfaculty position such as a research and development scientist.
As for which address to use, if you are still a graduate student, do what is normally done in your department. Many people applying for faculty jobs use their departmental address. However, if you are applying for a nonfaculty position and don't want your adviser to know about it, you might be more comfortable using your home address.
Many books and Web sites can help you understand what different kinds of employers look for in potential employees. Those resources can help you as you put together your CV or résumé. Our own book, The Academic Job Search Handbook (University of Pennsylvania Press), provides a thorough discussion of constructing a curriculum vitae as well as a résumé for nonacademic jobs.
We receive a lot of mail from our readers and are unable to answer each message individually. A few times a year we like to dip into our mailbag and respond to questions and comments. We welcome your questions on any topic related to careers for Ph.D.'s. Send them to: email@example.com.