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Helen, this is a really good post. You make some crucial and accurate observations, e.g. about the warped view that lies behind a title like "when to call it quits". I think this view is closely related to the underpreparation of PhDs for the non-ac. job market. This under preparation causes al lot of fear and misery. It is important to not stay stuck where you are because you fear sunken costs and a jump into the unknown. Making small bets by enjoying your skills and activities besides academic philosophy can open new worlds. This Fall, the Dutch National PhD Network is organizing an event (http://nationalphdday.nl) aiming to make PhD candidates aware of the need for timely career orientation and of the many options available. Program is still under construction, but it is going to feature workshops on discovering specific PhD competences etc. ;-)

Some further nuts and bolts about becoming self-employed as a post-ac or alt-ac you can find on on http://thescholarpreneur.com. There on his blog and podcast, Scott Rank gathers a host of excellent information, stories from role models, and how to's on scholars becoming entrepreneurs.

Zachary Ernst

Excellent post. Your point that you don't have to make a definite decision is really valuable. If you're considering a move out of academia, you don't need to burn down your department first; there are plenty of ways to test the waters while hedging your bets. In fact, I think it's kinda dumb not to.

Kei Hotoda

This is a great guide for a wide range of folks - people starting to think about alt-ac, people on the job market, people in VAPs etc., and people on TT or tenured.

I'd like to add two resources for those who are still affiliated with schools: (1) career counseling centers (alum may be eligible for services for a certain number of years, depending on the institution), and (2) folks in Midwest schools should know about the Humanities Without Walls alt-ac summer program (it's funded!) (http://www.humanitieswithoutwalls.illinois.edu/initiatives//pre-doctoral/resources.html ). I was in the inaugural class and it was incredibly helpful and resourceful in so many ways -- in terms of networking, thinking about what "alt-ac" means, and what is possible and likely for humanities PhDs. I've seen similar kinds of mini-workshops like this provided by career centers in different universities, and I wouldn't be surprised if these sorts of things continue to pop up across campuses.

Generally, I think the underlying principle for getting started in alt-ac, regardless of whether it's Plan A or B or Z or whatever, is to talk to as many people about it -- friends, family, career counselors, people within your department (fellow grads, faculty to the extent that that is possible!), other people in other humanities and STEM departments, friends and acquaintances from high school and college out in the "real world," the guy helping you with your MacBook at the Apple Store (true story), and so on. That will help diffuse the "consolation prize" myth, that alt-ac is a cop-out, but it will also help concretely in terms of both understanding what is out there, possible, and realistic, as well as in terms of networking (which should not be seen as a contaminated endeavor - networking is not using people are mere means rather than ends in themselves). I think this post is a great start and wish I had seen it earlier in my grad school career -- but better late than never. Thanks for posting.


The chronicle of higher ed jobs has sections for both administrative & other non-academic jobs (including some think tank type jobs). These should only be a *starting point* for an alt-ac job search, of course, but they might be worth looking at.


I'm a year out from my PhD from a bottom leiter ranked program with 6 publications, 3 top 20 journals. Is this competitive?

I'm thinking that prestige and pedigree matter too much, and that even with my publishing success I won't be able to get any interviews. Everyone wants that Harvard or Yale PhD.

Helen De Cruz

While it's true that prestige and pedigree matter in philosophy it's not to such an extent that one can draw conclusions for individuals based on these observations (i.e., people from lower-ranked programmes still regularly get jobs, and if I remember correctly people from lower-ranked programmes have more publications at time of hiring, indicating publications may offset some of the prestige bias. FWIW, in the UK academic pedigree is less important (although an Oxbridge degree will still make you jump further) and publications matter more because of the REF.

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