"In many disciplines, for the majority of graduates, the Ph.D. indicates the logical conclusion of an academic career." Marc Bousquet

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Nonacademic Jobs That Require Academic Credentials

Every now and then I poke around the interwebs to see what's out there for postacademcis. I'm not talking about the many, many more jobs out there, like my current one, that any postacademic could do but which do not require academic credentials. I'm talking about the ones that actually want you to have that alphabet soup after your name, even if what you'd be doing isn't exactly what you taught to undergrads or wrote your dissertation about.

My sense is that people in the social sciences and in history (and, of course, the hard sciences) have a better shot at finding such a position (because there are more positions out there demanding their particular background) than those of us in literature and languages or other humanities fields. But, my point in this post is to suggest, especially to those of you still inside academe and trying to figure out an exit strategy, that you should do some research. Besides learning what employers want regardless of whether you have a PhD or not, spend some time figuring out what employers want from job seekers WITH PhDs and see if you can position yourself from the beginning of your nonacademic job search to give it to them.

To get you thinking positively, below is an ad for a position I stumbled on today. It's for someone with a social sciences background, so I won't be applying for it. However, it is still an open position. Go for it if the qualifications sound like you and you are ready to make the leap!
Job Title: Item Development Associate/Analyst
The [Organization's Name] is a not-for-profit behavioral and social science research organization founded in 1946. {Organization's] Federal Statistics Program (FSP) assists its government client by providing technical support and content expertise in the management, implementation, and reporting of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). NAEP is the largest nationally representative and continuing assessment of what America's students know in various subject areas. We are currently seeking an Item Development Associate/Analyst for an upcoming project in the development of the NAEP background questionnaires.
In conjunction with assessments of 4th-, 8th-, and 12th-graders’ knowledge in different subject areas, background questionnaires are completed by students, teachers, and school administrators. The questionnaires cover topics such as demographics, course taking, teacher education and training, class-room organization, instruction, and school characteristics and policies. The data are collected using self-administered paper-and-pencil and computer-based modes. The Item Development Associate/Analyst will work closely with FSP’s item development team, the client, and contractors to ensure that data collected by the NAEP background questionnaires are accurate, valid, and will provide relevant information for national and state policy makers, researchers, educators, and the general public.
• Assist in the development of student, teacher, and school background questionnaires by reviewing and providing comments on background questionnaire items for different subjects and grade levels
• Keep up with the latest research on item writing, both computer-based and paper-and-pencil, as well as issues related to multi-mode data collections
• Review and evaluate item performance using data from past assessments
• Participate in meetings with clients and other contractors
• Review and provide comments on cognitive laboratory samples and protocols
• Observe cognitive laboratory sessions and operational data collections if requested
• Conduct studies related to data quality

• A Master’s degree or Ph.D. in survey methodology, education, sociology, or other social sciences
• Prior experience writing items for surveys (either paper or online) is required
• Familiarity with large-scale assessment and basic statistics
• Excellent oral and written communication skills
• Ability to work independently and as a member of a team
• Detail-oriented and able to produce high-quality work within tight deadlines
• Proficiency with MS Office
• Familiarity with SAS, Stata, or SPSS

Writing samples and transcripts may be required of candidates selected to interview.
Well, as I said, being a lit. rather than a soc. person (and not really looking right now anyway), this particular job isn't for me, but there are other jobs out there if you do your research. I just wanted to give you a positive nudge today and a glimmer of REASONABLE hope (as opposed to the totally unreasonable bs kind you get inside academe about tt jobs).

You DO have options out there besides eternal adjuncthood and Starbucks, sometimes seemingly your only options yet a false, terrifying, and utterly misguided and reductive dichotomy if ever there was one!

Via, an article about job prospects aimed mostly at undergrads, but the takeaway for grad students planning to stick it out for another semester or year is that you might seriously want to consider getting an internship rather than teaching an extra class.


  1. Wow, this is a great idea for a post/series.

    Once I get back into my job hunt after the New Year, perhaps I'll do something similar. I think one of the biggest things that keeps unhappy people trapped in academia or in exploitative adjunct jobs is the fear that they won't be able to do anything else. Of course that's not true ... but you really need to see what's out there (and think about how your skills compare) in order to really BELIEVE it.

    So yeah, great idea.

  2. Yes, this is a good topic for a blog post. I think that JC has put her finger on the problem. These unhappy people in academia or in exploitative adjunct jobs do think that they won't be able to find anything. It is a case of thinking out of the box, working out what skills does one have and which of these skills can be quickly redeployed giving you time if you think that you need it to work on the other skills.

  3. I realize that what I say in the caption under the picture about internships appears to contradict what I say in the rest of the post, so I should clarify: I think the greatest value an internship could have for a graduate student who already has skills and work experience and is essentially a career changer is the opportunity to network and gain a better understanding of HOW their academic skills and work experience can be valuable in nonacademic jobs and/or a particular nonacademic industry. For an undergrad, an internship offers networking opportunities, too, but it's more about just gaining "experience" at a job, any job (other than, say, delivering pizza), something grad students who've been teaching already have.