This article is the fourth in a multipart series on career paths beyond the academy. The first piece provided advice on when and why to consider careers outside higher ed, the second provided advice for exploring career paths and taking care of yourself while navigating a potential career transition, and the third shared strategies for translating your academic experience in your application materials and interviews.
Once you’ve successfully transitioned to a career beyond the academy, celebrate! A career transition is a major accomplishment, and being intentional about reflecting on and acknowledging your successes is an integral component of flourishing.
At the same time, even while we are celebrating our job search success, it’s also helpful to recognize that major life changes—such as a significant career change—are often accompanied by a complex range of emotions. You may be feeling excited, energized and optimistic about your new career path, while at the same time feeling grief or loss about the career and life you may have previously envisioned, anxiety about your new role and myriad other emotions. However excited you may be about your new role, overwhelm and impostor syndrome are also common experiences as you learn a new role, new organization, new culture and new ways of doing, thinking and working. While the complicated emotions many of us experience during the process of moving to careers beyond the academy can be uncomfortable, they are a normal part of the process.
In the U.S., we often think of ourselves as our occupations, and this is especially true for those of us socialized through the doctoral training system: “I am a sociologist,” not “I work as a sociologist.” As you are making your career transition, you may consider whether you want your professional work to be at the core of how you see yourself and how you organize your life, or whether you want to intentionally work toward centering other parts of your life. There is no right answer, but the inflection point of a career transition is a useful moment to revisit the question of the role of our work in our broader lives.
A career transition is also an ideal moment to consider our work patterns, habits and routines. Which have served you well and should you carry over into your new career path? Which have not served you well or no longer serve you and should you intentionally work toward not carrying over into your new role? A new position is an excellent opportunity to create or reassert boundaries and priorities that will help you cultivate flourishing and well-being.
Being intentional about expanding your professional network as you are navigating your new role is an important foundation for your flourishing in your new career path. Within your new organization, ask for one-on-ones with as many people as you can—within your function as well as across the enterprise: people whose roles look interesting to you, people with whom you share any point of connection (city you live in, fellow Ph.D. holders, alumni of the same organization, etc.). Be curious. Especially within your first few months, you can ask almost anything through the lens of “I’m new here; tell me how this works.” If your organization has employee or business resource groups, consider joining those that reflect identities and experiences that are important to you. These are excellent opportunities to get to know people outside your immediate team or unit and can provide an important sense of connection and belonging, especially if you work in a large organization and/or in a remote or hybrid position.
Beyond your organization, be equally intentional in expanding your professional network. Connect with other colleagues working in the same field, as well as with other Ph.D.s who have transitioned out of the academy. Colleagues outside your organization can also be an important source of community and connection, and there are extensive, generous and compassionate former academics and higher ed professionals across social media participating in conversations about our career transitions and building community together. Try the hashtags #LeavingAcademia, #RecoveringAcademics and #PostAc.
Remember, too, that if your new position ends up being different from what you expected—even if, in the worst-case scenario, it ends up not being a good fit—the transition out is the hardest step, and it is much easier to move to another postacademic position after you’ve landed your first.
Most importantly, give yourself time, space and grace to be a human learning a new organizational culture and career path while also navigating a significant identity transition.
Brandy L. Simula (she/her/hers) is a consultant, coach and professional speaker working at the intersections of leadership development, diversity and inclusion, and well-being. After a decade working as a scholar, teacher and administrator in higher ed, Brandy transitioned to a corporate role with a Fortune 50. Read more about her work and career coaching at brandysimula.com.