Escaping Academia; or, Job Question #567,890
September 9, 2020 6:19 AM   Subscribe

Without consciously meaning to, I’ve spent the past ten-plus years in academia. I’m eager to get out, but to what? Help me brainstorm some job options.

Years ago, after being rudderless following undergrad and a graduate degree, I wound up teaching writing and working in academic support services, work I’m still doing to this day. I liked doing the academic support work so much that I asked my supervisor how to swing a full-time gig. She encouraged me to get a PhD, which I did. As I taught and held various positions throughout my doctorate, I saw some of the underbelly of academia—which, I understand, any industry has. Currently, I’m teaching writing and doing academic support at a small college that decided to be in person. I may be more than a little on edge thanks to the pandemic, but with the current situation on top of the deeper issues afflicting higher ed, I’m considering a major career change.

But what sort of job I’d jump into, I have no idea. My family isn’t a well-connected sort, nor did they give me much by way of advice in searching for jobs. My stints in grad school—I have three degrees beyond the BA—means I know lots of people working in or adjacent to higher ed who don’t have much knowledge of other fields/industries. I also know lots of creative types/freelancers, which sounds way too tenuous for me to cope with. (Do jobs still exist that are generally forty hours, nine to five? I think I want one of those.)

I’m hoping, then, that the MeFi hive-mind can help me see some possibilities I haven’t considered before. My formal education is in English/humanities, with particular focus on writing. I’ve taught and tutored, worked for a few magazines and newspapers (though my clips are old), done retail and food service, and I’ve been in offices in low-level administrative roles. I’m an introvert, so while I’m fine working with others, making customers or clients happy doesn’t give me life. I like reading, research, and figuring out solutions to problems. I’m creative, independent, and thoughtful to a fault. I’m not much for high stakes or fast paces. I like the idea of working toward a better world, though I don’t think my job has to fulfill this need. On the flipside, I don’t think I could stomach employment that feels too trivial.

Some possibilities I’ve considered: tech writing, but the listings I see require previous experience, and I’m not sure how to break in. I think I’d be good in a library setting, but I recognize those jobs are few and far between, to say nothing of needing more schooling (and I’ve had my share, thanks). I’m told consulting is a popular choice for former academics, but I have no clue, even after researching, what the job entails or even how I’d get such a job. Nonprofit work seems like it might be a good fit, but again, getting a foot in the door seems like an obstacle. What other jobs is someone with my skills qualified for?

I feel discombobulated with the anxiety of teaching in person, so I’m sure I’ve left out some details. I hope I’ve at least included enough info to prompt some suggestions. I’ll try to answer any questions without thread-sitting.

tl;dr: Educated in writing, been teaching and tutoring, looking for job alternatives. Thoughts?

Thanks for any insights you can share.
posted by Definitely Not A Robot to Work & Money (9 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Instructional design is having a moment right now. I do this (at a university right now, but there are LOTS of other places to do it). I have a MEd but I work with people with a variety of academic backgrounds, including a couple of PhDs.
posted by wellred at 6:24 AM on September 9, 2020 [3 favorites]

tech writing, but the listings I see require previous experience

Many places would accept teaching writing and having completed a PhD as enough experience for non-senior level tech writing positions. If you want to build a portfolio of software documentation, you can look for open source projects that could use some help with theirs (most do).
posted by Candleman at 6:26 AM on September 9, 2020 [6 favorites]

Government communications, potentially. We have a lot of staff in government whose main job is just to write things better. In my current agency, our writers and editors work on formal regulatory decisions. In my previous department, staff writers answered the minister's correspondence. In both, there are comms people who put together plans for announcing and promoting initiatives which include writers/editors who do press releases, etc. It is often a start as a junior writer work your way into more strategic positions kinda field.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:37 AM on September 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

You mention non-profit, one particularly tricky part is bid/grant writing. I have a feeling the more the recession bites the more charities will need to apply for funding from more disparate pots that offer smaller amounts - so more bid writing in general. You might be able to get a few freelance bits (lots of charities are too small to have their own staff for this) which you can parlay into a larger charity with full time staff who do this.
posted by london explorer girl at 6:39 AM on September 9, 2020 [4 favorites]

If dealing with money doesn’t cause you undue anxiety, grant writing is a definite possibility. My first boss in grant management had a PhD in philosophy. There are also tons of admin-y roles in nonprofits that might fit. Spend some time surfing for ideas. You may also be suited for program work (ie administering or designing the work done by the nonprofit).
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:34 AM on September 9, 2020

If you have any interest in publishing, you might be able to get a position as an editorial assistant, which could lead to a position as a copy editor. I am ABD in English and work as a copy editor in scientific publishing. It's tedious, but the pay is decent and it's mostly a 9 to 5 job. (You could try applying as a copy editor, but there is a lot of competition and it's tough to get in if you aren't experienced - I'd advise against claiming copyediting for friends and family as experience - those statements tend to get laughed at.) If you want to know more, feel free to MeMail me.
posted by FencingGal at 8:37 AM on September 9, 2020 [2 favorites]

Yeah, echoing other commenters that your background definitely suits you for grantwriting work. Introvert/reading/research is basically perfect. (It helps if you're detail-oriented too.) And it sounds like nonprofitland might be a comfortable place for you: most nonprofits that are large enough to have a fundraising team are pretty stable, and fundraising itself practically never gets cut.

I can think of two ways you could get in the door. 1) Segue into grantwriting or somehow supporting grant-related work at your current academic institution, or 2) do some volunteer work with a local small nonprofit.

Here's how I would do #2: First, brainstorm a list of local nonprofits whose mission you like (small ones though, not like, the Red Cross), and check their donor thank-you pages or 990s to see if any of their funding comes from private foundations or government sources. If yes, then just get in touch with them and ask if there's any way in which you can help support their grantwriting efforts as a volunteer. If they are so small they don't have dedicated grantwriting staff, they might be willing to let you write their proposals, working from raw material provided by their program staff and using previous proposals as a template. If they're a little bigger, they might want you to do copy-editing and formatting of drafts made by a staff person.

The odds are really high that they will welcome your help & figure out a way you can be useful. They'll be excited by your credentials and your interest in their work. And you can be 100% candid (if you want) that you're doing it to pave the way to a career change: they won't mind that at all.
posted by Susan PG at 9:06 AM on September 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

Yeah, to echo london explorer girl and showbiz_liz (and, on edit, Susan PG), the post-ac people in my life who make the most money are all in grant development. In addition to freelance and nonprofit, there are whole chunks of the university that are dedicated to bringing in government and private funding for the institution as a whole, and the people interviewing you will more often than not have academic backgrounds like yours (I got interviewed by two English PhDs for one of those jobs). Go to university websites and look for jobs listed under things like 'the office of research and innovation'...
posted by Beardman at 9:08 AM on September 9, 2020

I would like to offer caution about pursuing nonprofit grantwriting right now. I work in the industry as a consultant and we are just at the beginning of seeing a huge change in structure in the nonprofit sector in the US including institutional giving (foundations and corporate foundations) and those who seek it. Some trends I am seeing around grantwriting now lead me to believe that this is not a field to get into until things stabilize and we see what's left.

To wit; more than ten grantwriters I know personally that have been laid off have pivoted into instructional design. A few more have shifted to technical writing. If you have good research skills and like working alone and on the internet and want to work in nonprofits, I think you'd be better served looking into prospect research.
posted by juniperesque at 10:48 AM on September 9, 2020 [4 favorites]

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