Finding Life After Academia — and Not Feeling Bad About It

Historians in the News
tags: historians, academic lives




ON a recent Sunday afternoon, a monthly meeting convened around a long table in a Whole Foods cafeteria on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. As people settled in, the organizer plopped down a bag of potato chips and tackled housekeeping matters, like soliciting contributions. But she did not insist. “I know that some of you are in fragile situations,” she said.

One attendee recalled scraping by on $9,000 a year. “I was exhausted by years of living in poverty,” she said. Her neighbor chimed in: “Amen, sister.”

An eavesdropper might have been surprised to learn what the group had in common: formidable academic credentials. Sitting at the table were a historian, a sociologist, a linguist and a dozen other scholars. Most held doctorates; a few were either close to completion or had left before finishing. All had toiled for years in graduate school but, by choice or circumstance, almost none had arrived at the promised destination of tenure-track professorships (the one who had was thinking of leaving). Now they found themselves at a gathering of a group called Versatile Ph.D. to support their pursuit of nontraditional careers.

After a round of introductions, the participants broke into clusters to swap stories and tips. A 32-year-old man who had studied ancient religion at Princeton wore a T-shirt emblazoned with the name of his employer, a finance website; he talked up his job to a physicist who was finalizing her thesis. The historian, a teacher at an elite private school, advised a recent American studies Ph.D. on where to find job postings and how to package himself. That young Ph.D., Adam Capitanio, who completed his degree in 2012, had looked for an academic position for three years, focusing his search on the Northeast and applying for at least 60 jobs. He hadn’t received a single interview. Now he was working as an editorial associate at an academic publisher, trying to devise a long-term plan. “Things were kind of desperate before I had that job,” he said. “This gives me some flexibility to figure out what I actually want to do.”...




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