Tuesday, 22 May 2012

How to Successfully Not Leave Academia

A Guide to Making the Transition from the Bench to the Other Bench

1. Leave all thoughts of career paths and job options until After you finish your thesis and do your Viva. After all, it’s just way too hard to worry about your future and career while you’re racing to submit a 300-page manuscript and gearing up to defend it in front of a panel of academic meanies.

2. Once you’re done, take loads of time off. After all, you deserve it, right? You’ll worry about jobs and careers after you’ve traveled a bit, caught up with the best/worst TV series of the last three years, read all five (seven?) of the Game of Thrones books, and resuscitated your ailing social life. This is where the money that you made teaching those snotty medical students comes in handy.

3. Once you’ve decided to start the Job Hunt, spend a lot of time reading about alternative careers and how people successfully got off the academic career bandwagon and went on to do fulfilling, high-paying, fun jobs where their PhDs are appreciated and their talents made use of. Do all sorts of online tests about what kind of career would be right for you (am I a doer or a thinker or an organiser or a creator?). Buy books on Amazon written by so-called ‘career doctors’ who will tell you not to make spelling mistakes on your CV and not to wear ripped jeans that show your bum to an interview. Join LinkedIn and Twitter (but only professionally!) and get your mailbox swamped each morning with emails from groups you’ve joined and about people you’ve never heard of following you. Start a blog about your experiences.

4. Apply to jobs. Be extremely picky. Apply only to jobs that pay well and sound fab and are in cities that you’d like to live in. Spend hours tailoring your CV and Cover Letters to sound less academic and more well-rounded and apply to more jobs. Apply to jobs that pay less well and sound less fab, but still only in cities you’d like to live in. Apply to unpaid internships in cities you really don’t want to live in. This is where the money that you made teaching those snotty medical students starts to dwindle.

5. Be too embarrassed/too proud to network. This one’s important, because apparently 80% of people get jobs through their social network. But you have a PhD, you shouldn’t have to go around begging for jobs!

6. Go through an existential crisis. Ask yourself what you’re doing, where you’re going, and what it all means. Ask yourself why you’ve studied so hard all your life, gotten good grades, won competitions, participated in extracurricular activities, worked long hours in the lab, and defended a 300-page manuscript to a panel of academic meanies, when you were only going to end up an undervalued, unemployable bum. Ask yourself why you’re trying to sell your soul so badly when no one seems to want to buy it.

7. In a moment of weakness, apply to one, very unlikely, post-doc. Just to see if you can get it. Just to be doing something. Just to fill up the time while you’re waiting for the people from your last job application to get back to you. But then get really excited about the project and do loads of reading and come up with cool ideas for experiments and ace the interview. And get the position. And move there a month later.  And find that you’re kind of looking forward to teaching those snotty medical students. And you can always try leaving academia again next year.


  1. Hahahahaha. Funny how it looks in hindsight, isn't it?

  2. Ah hindsight. A wonderful and utterly useless thing.