Career opportunities: Beyond Academia

Graduate students at UC Berkeley aim to empower PhD students and postdocs to expand their career options beyond the traditional academic track.
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Most PhD graduates work in careers outside academic research. Arathi Govind, Joe Papp and Alicia Roy explain how Beyond Academia highlights these career paths for PhD students and postdocs at UC Berkeley.

Beyond Academia's logo

What inspired you to set up Beyond Academia?

Many PhD students and postdocs feel anxious about the scarcity of tenure-track positions available. Others find that they do not want to work in an academic environment upon finishing their degree. In 2012, a team of PhD students at UC Berkeley noticed a growing interest in non-academic careers amongst their peers and found that their respective departments did not adequately train them on how to seek out such jobs.

How do you highlight the career options available to early-career researchers?

Every year, we invite recruiters and recent graduates to speak at our annual conference about career options. Recruiters give insights into what research industries look for during the recruitment process, while recent graduates provide a realistic view of what the job market currently looks like. We also hold additional professional development events throughout the academic year, such as workshops, tutorials and lectures. These events are open primarily to current PhD students and postdocs at UC Berkeley, although some tickets for the annual conference are reserved for PhD students and postdocs at UC Davis and UCSF. We collaborate frequently with UC Berkeley’s Career Center for events, and they also advertise our events on their website and encourage graduate students to attend them.

What has been your biggest achievement so far?

The continued growth and diversity of the annual conference is our biggest achievement. In 2018, we reached capacity with 120 speakers and over 300 attendees over the course of two days.

What has been your biggest frustration, and how did you overcome it?

We previously had a reputation for being a STEM-only organization, despite being open to all disciplines at UC Berkeley. Recognizing this problem, in 2017 the Beyond Academia team made a stronger effort to recruit from Humanities and Social Science departments. We are proud to report that at the 2018 conference, 40% of attendees were from these fields. In fact, we have recruited so many Humanities and Social Science students for the 2018–2019 organization committee that we are currently in need of more STEM representation!

What is your top piece of advice for researchers who want to explore the careers available to them?

In both formal and informal settings, engage in conversation with people who are doing things you want to do. Ask them questions. Be genuinely interested in what they do. This has multiple advantages: you establish a relationship with someone in your field of interest, you can learn how they acquired their position, and you may be able to help them in the future, directly or indirectly. This is basic networking, but it sounds a bit less daunting when framed as a conversation.

How can the research community better support the career development of PhD students and postdocs?

PhD students and postdocs often feel like they are isolated in an academic bubble. It is therefore extremely helpful when former PhDs offer to return to academic institutions for conversations about the breadth of career options (like at our conference!). Moreover, simply being available to discuss career paths online or via email with current graduate students or postdocs is always appreciated.

How can readers learn more about Beyond Academia?

Please visit our website at http://www.beyondacademia.org. Also follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter: @BeyondAcademia.