Life After Graduate School

Loyola alumnae presenting after MMLA 2011
With another Loyola alumna and good friend following our presentations at the 2011 MMLA conference in Cincinnati.

Last year I joined my fellow Loyola alumni at a panel discussion as part of a Career Pathways Symposium to explore opportunities for PhDs beyond academia. I’ve found myself reflecting on that experience recently

Here’s why:

  1. Because I have reason to celebrate the graduate study of two important people. One of my former students recently let me know that she had been admitted to a masters in education program while another friend and former colleague is completing her first semester of a PhD program in criminal justice.
    I couldn’t be happier for these women, but I’m also aware of the challenges and struggles they’ll face—imposter syndrome, short deadlines, and lack of sleep are common graduate school experiences.
  2. I’ve been guiding several members of my marketing team through various professional development activities, with a recent emphasis on confidence, leadership, and professional communication. The very challenges I faced in graduate school I see reflected in their day-to-day, and it’s been a pleasure to help them begin to view every interaction as an opportunity to practice collaborative leadership skills and to find their professional voice—out loud and in writing.

Closing the Gap Between Academia and the Business World

While it may seem obvious that professionals in the business world face the same difficulties as graduate students, the very nature of graduate school tends to insulate candidates from these shared realities. Indeed, this is what struck me most about the conversation that took place in the panel discussion: Most of the students in attendance had no idea what a valuable contribution they would make to any business that would be lucky enough to land them.

The organizers at the panel discussion asked us to respond to the following questions and then opened it up for discussion with the audience:

  • What is the relationship between your training and what you do today?
  • What are the challenges and pleasures of working in a non-academic setting?

When it was my turn, I drew parallels between the techniques of classroom management and those of efficient staff meetings; developing a curriculum and strategic planning; making conference presentations and leading client consultations; completing a dissertation and project management; and earning student trust and respect and managing a direct report.

Learning how to deploy the skills of graduate school outside of academia is not entirely unlike the translation skills military veterans must learn to describe their experience when looking for a job in civilian life. It’s merely a matter of knowing your audience. And yet, during that panel discussion, far too few of the student attendees felt confident in their experience and capacity to be collaborators and leaders in the non-profit or for-profit world to even broach the conversation.

I’m hopeful that the Q&A and discussion that followed helped open some eyes to the direct applicability of their study to life after graduate school. If you’re a former (or current) graduate student and want some advice on how to better market yourself in the non-academic world, please contact me. I’d be happy to help you see your strengths so you can find a life after graduate school that’s right for you.