Monday, June 18, 2012

Review: SO WHAT ARE GOING TO DO WITH THAT? by Susan Basalla and Maggie Debelius

what are you going to do with that cover

A PhD is traditionally seen as training for a life of teaching or doing research in academia. But there are thousands of people who get PhDs every year, and only a relatively small number of tenured positions. Where do all those PhDs go? There are tons of reasons why someone with an advanced degree might want a career outside of academia--money, geography, temperament, or maybe they just need a change. Susan Basalla and Maggie Debelius propose to help these lost PhDs find homes outside the Ivory Tower.

I've been trying to find a career outside of academia for about a year now, so when I chanced upon So What Are You Going To Do with That? at the library while searching for something completely unrelated (I think it was the Mad Men cocktail book), you can imagine that I gots all excited. After reading it and trying some of the things Basalla and Debelius suggested (there are a lot exercises to do), my feelings on the book are a little torn. On one hand, none of the things I tried were very helpful. On the other hand, I do think there's a lot of valuable information here, and it did inspire me to keep on searching.

PhD comic

What I personally didn't know until I went through grad school is that it seriously rewires your brain. This is a great thing if you find, or want to find, a job in academics; but if you want to transition into the real world, things that are obvious to most people can be completely obscure to an academic. For example: did you know that most people get information from talking to other people, not from books? It's weird but apparently true. Therefore Basalla and Debelius suggest talking to other people instead of looking at books for tips on how to find a new career (ironic, all things considered, but at least they know their audience). I.e., the dreaded NETWORKING. Gah. Basalla and Debelius make networking in the real world slightly more approachable by basically breaking it down into a research project. Research! Academics know how to do that! They suggest informational interviews, sending someone you admire a gracious note, or e-mailing people who work in a field you're interested in to see if you can ask them a few questions.

Another hurdle is turning a CV into a resume. Curriculum vitaes are ├╝ber-detailed histories of your academic career. Apparently I've been failing utterly at turning my CV into a working resume, and the chapter on resumes was very illuminating for me.

That being said, I still feel like a lot of the stuff in here didn't apply to me. The books says it's for people with either a master's or doctorate, but everyone Basalla and Debelius talk to are either PhDs or ABD (all-but-dissertation); and many of the jobs people got were more by chance than design.

Still, it would be impossible for any book, especially one like So What Are You Going To Do with That?, to cover every specific problem a person might face. The book is quite general, but it's also very encouraging. More than anything else I think Basalla and Debelius' goal is to assure academics that their degrees and skills are valued outside academia, and there's no reason not to look for a job in the real world other than the fear of failing. They definitely succeed--I was on the verge of giving up, but So What Are You Going To Do with That? gave me renewed energy and optimism in my job search. For that reason I think this is a valuable resource for anyone who wishes they could do something new but feels constrained by their degree and experience.

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