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Beyond the Ivory Tower: Alternative and Non-Academic Career Choices

Posted by on Friday, January 4, 2013 in Events.

GTF Adam Wilsman discusses the upcoming gradSTEP session: Beyond the Ivory Tower: Alternative and Non-Academic Career Choices.

Held in January each year, GradSTEP provides several workshops and discussions on teaching, learning, and professional development issues across the disciplines. This year’s line-up includes a session on alternative and non-academic careers featuring Dr. Ruth Schemmer, Assistant Dean for Career Development.  Registration and more details about GradSTEP are now available.

If you’re a graduate student at Vanderbilt University, chances are you desire or once desired a tenure-track position at an institution of higher learning.  You are likely aware of the travails of the current academic job market, but you also know friends and colleagues who have completed graduate school and secured a good job at a well-regarded university.  Others among you, uninterested in a career in academia, have resolved to avoid the search for a tenure-track job altogether, and want to pursue an alternative career path.  You are likely hopeful, but also concerned.

Across a range of disciplines, this concern is warranted.  The job market for many graduate students is challenging; a fact that a vast body of research verifies.  A recent National Science Foundation report, entitled “Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: 2011,” has revealed that 43% of PhD graduates in the humanities had no employment or post-doctoral commitments upon completion of their programs, up from 33% five years ago.[1] While PhDs in the humanities have been especially hard hit, many graduate students in STEM disciplines have felt a similar pinch.

Where do all of these PhDs go?  Many are working on the fringes of academia, as adjuncts or part-time instructors.  According to a recent study by the American Association of University Professors, 68% of all faculty jobs are now non-tenure-track.[2] These jobs usually pay poorly and come with no health insurance, retirement plans, or other benefits.

With this new reality in higher education in mind, many graduate students are choosing to broaden their job searches.  Indeed, becoming a college professor is but one of the many careers that graduate students at Vanderbilt can pursue.  However, while most graduate students understand the nature of the academic job market, to many, alternative academic and non-academic career choices remain shrouded in mystery.  What is meant by an alternative academic career?  How does one leverage a PhD or Masters in the non-academic job market?

For Vanderbilt graduate students facing the challenges of the current job market, these can be important questions.  If you are interested in learning more about these issues and more, we encourage you to attend the gradSTEP session entitled, “Beyond the Ivory Tower: Alternative and Non-Academic Career Choices,” set to take place on January 26th from 12:45-1:50pm at Buttrick Hall (Room TBD).  The workshop will feature Dr. Ruth Schemmer, Assistant Dean for Career Development, who will speak and answer questions on the alternative and non-academic job markets.  Whether you’re on the job market now or planning ahead, we hope to see you there!

[1] Stacey Patton, “Doctoral Degrees Rose in 2011, but Career Options Weren’t So Rosy,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, December 5, 2012,

[2] Lynn O’Shaughnessy, “12 Reasons Not to Get a PhD,” CBS Money Watch, July 10, 2012,




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