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Beyond the Tenure-Track But Still In the Heart of Academia

As a student who is entering or completing a Ph.D. program, you're probably thinking about the kinds of careers you can begin after graduating with your doctorate. Some will choose to enter the professoriate, teaching at a college or university, but many aspire to a career beyond the classroom.

Andrew Klumpp, a current Ph.D. student at SMU, wanted such a career. He was interested in using the skills he gained in his doctoral program to serve in a vital role within academia, but one that was not a tenure-track position. In this interview, Andrew shares what led him to his career, how he prepared for and landed his current job, and some advice for those looking to do the same. 

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A Career in Academia and Beyond the Classroom

Before I started working remotely during the COVID-19 outbreak, every morning I walked past the golden dome of the Iowa Capitol Building and headed into my office at the State Historical Building—working just down the hall from a museum teeming with children and inside a research center filled with historians, genealogists, and volunteers. As a historian of the Midwest who grew up in Iowa, my new job as the editor of the state’s scholarly history journal is a dream job.

Teaching HeadshotEach day, I read cutting edge research in my field, provide feedback, teach writers how to improve their prose and arguments, and administer grants that support new research. Although my office isn’t at a university, each day I’m using my doctoral training.

There’s a perception that taking a job outside of a university means leaving academia — often referred to by the much-maligned term “alt-ac” (alternative to academia). This couldn’t be further from the truth! Non-faculty jobs can often be thoroughly academic. There are many ways to pursue careers doing the research, writing, and teaching that we learn in our graduate programs. I work beyond the professoriate but very much at the heart of academia.

But, how did I end up here?

I’ve always approached the job market with an open mind, knowing that there are many ways to do academic work. This fall, in a detailed spreadsheet, I managed 94 different job applications—a mix of faculty, post-doctoral, and non-university positions. It took an enormous amount of time to find these jobs, manage them, complete quality applications, and coordinate with recommenders. Ultimately, all of this effort proved to be worthwhile.

What actually proved to be the most important things in helping me land this job?

1. Networking

When my current job came open, three different people sent me the announcement: a colleague from TCU, the president of the Midwestern History Association, and my predecessor in the job. People saw the job and thought of me. They kept me aware of opportunities, and one even served as a reference for me. My relationships with these men and women didn’t guarantee me the job, but they provided a supportive and engaged network of scholars who shaped my thinking and connected me with opportunities.

2. Determining my Priorities

It’s important to ask what you really love about academic work. Is it the research, the writing, the teaching or some combination? For me, I loved the writing and editing, and enjoyed teaching as well. Now, I spend my days editing, writing, and coaching writers. When I looked for jobs, I sought positions that allowed me to do these things. Some of my friends who loved the classroom pursued positions as high school teachers, for instance. Like me, they are often still deeply connected with academia; however, they have found other spaces where they can pursue the parts of academia they found most rewarding.

3. Tapping into Resources

Most professional societies are thinking about career diversity—a better way to frame non-university positions—and I’ve taken advantage of those opportunities. The American Academy of Religion and American Historical Association, for instance, offered robust programming for people working outside of a university setting and provided tips on how to navigate a job market that looks different from the university faculty market. Take advantage of these opportunities!

4. Preparing for Accelerated Timelines

Non-faculty jobs do not move at the glacial pace associated with faculty positions. Tenure-track positions often accept applications in the fall, interview once, twice or even three times throughout the winter and spring and by March or April make an offer. I applied for my current job in late November, completed three rounds of interviews over the course of 10 days in December, and received my offer on January 2. Furthermore, they wanted me to start in two weeks. Things may not move that quickly for every position, but don’t expect to apply for a job in October and start the position in August.

5. Job Documents

For faculty jobs, I always submitted a two-page cover letter and a seven-page CV. At times, I included up to eight supplementary documents. For my current position, I submitted a tight one-page cover letter and a two-page resume. In that space, I had to translate my ability to edit, secure grants, manage large projects, speak publicly, and synthesize massive amounts of information. These skills are integral to doctoral work, but unless you name them specifically, their role in Ph.D. work may not be obvious to those who haven’t experienced a doctoral program.

Especially in a moment when many are losing their positions, I recognize my great fortune not only to have found a job but also to have found one that I love in my home state. I am, by all accounts, fortunate and there are no guarantees in the process.

For those who are thinking about looking for jobs beyond the university setting, go for it! Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re leaving academia or pursuing an “alternative.” The work of editors, high school teachers, museum curators, librarians, and many other academic professionals is not an alternative career that leaves behind the research, writing, reading, and teaching that so many of us love. It’s great work, and if you can, you should pursue it!

Are you thinking about earning a Ph.D.? If so, Dallas is an ideal city for graduate students. Find out why (and virtually explore the city) in our resource — The Graduate Student's Guide to Living in Dallas. 

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