13 October 2012

The Versatile PhD

Amid the cooking and cleaning and child rearing, I rarely think about my PhD any more. Graduate school seems like such a lifetime ago - especially considering that, for most of it, I was newly married without children.

When I finished my dissertation, I had all but written off a life in academia. I was sick of the research and writing and endless periods of solitude. Plus, I had applied for several applicable positions at universities in the Denver metro area without any luck. I was quite happy to forego a job at a university. Turns out I entering the job force at the worst possible time - at the beginning of 2009, right after the economic collapse of 2008.

At that time I mostly saw my PhD as a liability. Who would hire me at an entry-level position or a little higher with that kind of degree? But after working in academia for nearly four years, I wasn't qualified for much more. particularly in a new city and in the nonprofit sector. And I was ready to work. When a grant writing position opened at an organization where I had volunteered, I figured it was a good place to start - and they were interested in hiring me.

Turns out that it was a key decision in my professional life. Sure, the pay wasn't great and I wasn't using my PhD. But, I met some amazing people. Like my team:

Tribute 2011, what would be our final event together (minus Mar).
Tribute 2012 ... reunited and all working for different organizations.
And it's not only the people I worked with at Mental Health America of Colorado, but the people I met. By working there, I increased my network in a way that is definitely paying off now. I met many members of the funding community, which has proved helpful for new clients. I also learned about an important issue: mental health.

I started Struckman Consulting mostly because I needed more flexibility in my schedule. When I was offered an adjunct position at the University of Denver last winter I couldn't refuse it. Being able to teach has validated why I got my PhD in the first place. It's wonderful to be a part of a community of learning again - even if it's only part-time. And I feel like I'm actually using my degree ... to a degree.

And you know what, my PhD is no longer a liability. Now it's an asset. When I started working at MHAC, I asked that my degree be omitted from my business cards. My Struckman Consulting cards proudly display those letters - and they do make a difference with new people I meet.

The long and short purpose of this rant is that I'm using this versatile PhD to carve out my own professional track. I won't be that professor who flies all over the world to conduct research or wins awards or publishes a book (yet). But, I am that professor who has a viable career outside of academia that allows me to explore my identity as a professional, as a professor and a mother without feeling guilty that I'm neglecting specific portions of my life.

Plus, but it's pretty amazing to get letters addressed to Dr. Struckman!

4 comments:

Simply Bike said...

Thanks so much for writing this post! As a fellow PhD with no interest in the traditional tenure track route, I really love hearing from others how they've forged a career path outside of the expected. It sounds like you're in such a good place with work and your personal life.

I would really like to work in the nonprofit sector as well doing something that feels meaningful even if it doesn't pay great. Right now though, we think about having a second baby and I feel like my return to work is still ages away. Sometimes I panick about what that will do to my career prospects when the time comes to pursue something outside of the home but mostly I trust that I'm where I want to be and need to me right now. And no part of me wishes I were on the tt job search right now!

S.

Simply Bike said...

PS: Did you ever try to freelance using your degree? And if so, any tips on places to look for freelance writing/research jobs other than Versatile PhD?

S.

Sara Struckman said...

S., I haven't tried freelancing with my degree - other than adjuncting. I'm not even sure where I'd start looking (or if I'd want to). I fell ass backwards into nonprofit consulting. It's a bit mundane, but it's worthwhile work. Things seem to fall into place somehow. Good luck!

Simply Bike said...

Thanks! I vascillate between feeling totally at ease with where I am professionally, thinking that something will surely be there for me when it's time to go back to work, and feeling totally panicked with the thought that I have no idea what I'm going to do and what will be there since I'm not planning on going the traditional academic route. I guess I just have to trust that it will work out in one way or another :) Either way, it's good to hear from others that there is life as a versatile PhDer :)

S.