Do I need to dumb down my resume? If so, how?
January 21, 2022 11:46 PM   Subscribe

I'm trying to de-escalate my worklife from that of a Ph.D and need a little guidance.

For Reasons, various, I was on the higher-ed academic science track very intently until I wasn't. I've now been off for 5 years. I don't want back on that track, for Reasons, various.
I would like to apply for more low stakes (itinerant science demonstrator/part time gig) stuff while I sketch out a transition to another career, most likely in 'lower' education.

BUT: my resume has a highfalutin-seeming fellowship and a Ph.D. which is exactly what I was doing with myself then, but I don't know how to account for it to the non-academic audience. They don't care who my advisors were do they? or do they? Publications? Talks? Awards? Where should I put the emphasis in my experience/education?

TLDR: What to write in your CV when you're applying for jobs that don't need ANY of your qualifications really? Just schools and dates? Nothing about any research? or just what may possibly be relevant to the job? And how much dumbing down is too much? How much detail is good ( "I worked with insects" vs. enumerating the species of Drosophila i've husbanded.) and how much is completely unnecessary?
with talks etc should I just list them? or delete them?
I'm pretty sure the publications are irrelevant for non-academics, but ugh, they're the only metric for your existence in that world, so should there be any acknowledgement of them?

TLDR the TLDR: Hiring people: what is the best tone/pose to strike when people seem to have too much resume for the position, even though they'd be perfect (theoretically)
What are the details that actually matter, and what are the ones that just get in your way of seeing the candidate at hand or raise more questions than they're worth?

additional handholding question: The very fact that I've had to confront these questions makes me wonder if this is right. I know that my academic science ship has sailed, and i'm fine with it... generally, but when I'm confronted with the stuff I was doing in the past, that I loved, however problematically. vs. what I can do now pragmatically... the self-doubt just creeps in and takes over. I need to stairstep my way out of this stage somehow, but when I have to rewrite my whole resume it gives me pause that this isn't a correct direction to take.
please hope me, metafilter.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (16 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I'd ask yourself what skills did you gain that might be relevant to whatever you're applying for? (Mentoring/teaching? Writing grants? Working with/managing interns or grad students?)

I'm an ABD dropout now working in tech. For the two jobs I've applied to post-flounce, I left off the Ph.D work and just listed my masters, as I didn't want to answer questions about why I'd flounced. I included a couple of relevant publications, under that headline, but otherwise focused on relevant tech experience gained through the research I'd been doing, and teaching experience (I'd been adjunct faculty, based on my M.A.). At this point I've got a strong enough resume that my grad school experience will get demoted to a single bullet point for the next application I do.
posted by Alterscape at 2:29 AM on January 22 [2 favorites]

TLDR the TLDR: Hiring people: what is the best tone/pose to strike when people seem to have too much resume for the position, even though they'd be perfect (theoretically). What are the details that actually matter, and what are the ones that just get in your way of seeing the candidate at hand or raise more questions than they're worth?

I think you're missing the point of the resume: It's to tell me, the hiring manager, about your specific qualifications that are relevant to the job you're applying for.

We all have education, and skills, and experiences that aren't relevant to where we are today, or where we want to be tomorrow. You're supposed to edit your resume to be relevant to the reader.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 4:33 AM on January 22 [16 favorites]

A lot of people have doctoral degrees and most of them are not on the academic track. I'd list all your experiences, with a teaching slant. I enumerated Drosophila for X purpose while mentoring two undergraduate students. The world is filled with non-tenure track PhDs. This is the standard outcome and you don't need to feel weird about it. Go ahead and list your accomplishments and feel good about them. Lots of accomplished folks teach for extended periods of time. Go ahead and feel good about your accomplishments. Teaching is a great way to give back and you should feel proud you're looking into this route.
posted by Kalmya at 5:20 AM on January 22 [10 favorites]

If the short-term goal is to be a science demonstrator, then the immediate resume should emphasize showing people science.

When choosing what to trim, I would focus on emphasizing the teaching and showing. Because nonacademic resumes tend to be shorter than academic CVs, you likely can't list all your accomplishments.

For background, I have changed careers 2.5 times.
posted by NotLost at 5:55 AM on January 22 [6 favorites]

An academic CV and a resume for non-academic jobs are completely different genres, so yes, you do need to rewrite from scratch.

Before rewriting, can you get in touch with people who have the sorts of jobs you are interested in, and see whether any of them are willing to share their resumes or resume templates? "Networking" is often described as an awkward and amorphous beast, but this is exactly the sort of practical assistance that makes participation in a network feel good.
posted by yarntheory at 6:43 AM on January 22 [2 favorites]

I'm ABD. When I was applying for editing jobs, I listed my publications (there weren't that many) to show that I had writing experience. I listed plays of mine that had been performed to show my interest in language. I eventually just left off my ABD status, though I kept the teaching I did while I was in that program. I did have one hiring manager who got burned by a PhD (he griped constantly about how the job was beneath him and quit after a few months), and she swore she'd never hire another one, but I think she was being unfair.

I agree with looking over your resume for what is pertinent for the specific jobs you're applying for. If you want to demonstrate science, teaching experience is good. If there's an age range, think about that range when you're giving info about your work - if you want to demonstrate for middle school kids, maybe Drosophila as a general term rather than specific species. Giving talks is good experience if you want to demonstrate science. Also, academic CVs can be very long - don't go over two pages. When hiring managers have a pile of 70 resumes, they start by giving them a quick glance to rule people out - make it easier for them by providing only the most pertinent information.

You don't mention the cover letter, but that's what's going to be really important here (and my company has eliminated many, many applicants who did not include one when it was specifically asked for). That's where you can highlight how you fit the specific job and very briefly explain reasons why you WANT to make this switch.

Also, if you don't know about AskAManager, head on over there for help with resumes and cover letters. That site is a treasure, and I really wish there had been something like it when I was younger. If I were you, I'd think seriously about submitting this question there, but I would not be surprised if similar questions are in the archives.
posted by FencingGal at 6:43 AM on January 22 [3 favorites]

How much detail is good ( "I worked with insects" vs. enumerating the species of Drosophila i've husbanded.)

I know you're freaked out, but: don't get too into the weeds, but don't assume that the folks reading your resume - once you get past the HR pass and are actually being read by the folks you'd be working with - don't have higher science degrees themselves. "I worked with insects" is going to get you binned. :) And probably poked fun of on science.Twitter. :)

Look, I'm not a pro but I'm free and I've had some luck with folks in similar situations; I helped my wife package army + law enforcement + a biology degree into her current research specialist job, and another friend package customer service + libraries + an mdiv into university staff jobs (she starts a res life job next week!) If you want to MeMail me, we can exchange contact info and I'm happy to take a look and run up a suggested resume and sample cover letter.
posted by joycehealy at 7:22 AM on January 22 [6 favorites]

As someone who left a PhD program, got a series of non research science adjacent jobs for 8 years, and then came back to a PhD program, my advice is that you should sit down with your CV and the recommendations above to fit your resume to the position, and write a one page resume for one specific job ad. And yes, you're right to think that no one cares who you trained with. If you have an excellent relationship with them and you think they'd be competent providing a reference for this type of position, you can always provide their name as a reference.

Keep the CV around, it's very useful for picking and choosing what goes into what resume for which position.
posted by deludingmyself at 8:34 AM on January 22 [4 favorites]

A resume for a non-academic role is not a “dumbed down” CV.

It’s a totally different sort of doc. Think of it as an ad, meant to be customized to succinctly show why you have the skills and experiences called for in the particular job description.
posted by kapers at 9:09 AM on January 22 [12 favorites]

I'm a few years post-PhD, and I left an instructional faculty position for a private sector job just last month. To get from CV to resume, I removed some things and added others -- I wouldn't say my private sector resume was any "less than" my academic CV, but it was very different. I removed: lists of courses taught, talks, awards, etc. I added: specific details about concrete technical projects I completed and duties I performed as a researcher and instructor during my grad program and in my lecturer position. Both my PhD program and my lecturer position got bulleted lists beneath them with highlights chosen to be relevant. For example, I didn't get into the fine details about my OCR research, but I did talk about the software I wrote for it. And I leaned on selling my teaching experience as evidence that I could communicate complex technical ideas to audiences at many different levels of technical sophistication.

I'll second the recommendation for Ask A Manager above -- I leaned heavily on Alison's advice both for writing a cover letter and also in preparing for my interviews. The cover letter is where you make the case that the specific things you put on your resume will make you a good fit for the job in question.

Finally, I found it helpful to read examples of CVs and cover letters that worked for others. There are some in the book So What are You Going to Do With That?, even though it leans more toward humanities PhDs than STEM. And if you would like, feel free to MeMail me and I would be happy to share mine with you.

Finally finally, I very much felt this way: The very fact that I've had to confront these questions makes me wonder if this is right. I know that my academic science ship has sailed, and i'm fine with it... generally, but when I'm confronted with the stuff I was doing in the past, that I loved, however problematically. vs. what I can do now pragmatically... the self-doubt just creeps in and takes over. I assure you this will get better. One thing that helped me was to find a few jobs that were interesting enough to apply for, but not my "dream job," so that I didn't feel like I would be terribly disappointed if I didn't get them. That took enough pressure off to get me over the hurdle of writing the resume and letter for the first time.
posted by egregious theorem at 9:56 AM on January 22 [2 favorites]

(Disclaimer: There are jobs out there that are chock full of PhDs. Use your academic C.V.)

For commercial purposes:

You might want to reconsider the "dumb down" attitude. You are likely entering a world where "smart" has a very different definition than what you're used to. In my career I spent a lot of time retraining Ph.Ds to be useful members of a commercial operation.

So for starters, resumes are a lot like Google Search -- no one ever gets to page 2. If you feel compelled to include everything put it at the back.

Page 1 should include only things that are relevant to the position you are applying for. For me that meant having three or four different stock resumes(*) and on occasion resumes specifically tailored to different companies. In general I used one page resumes and got a lot of good feedback. (the phrase "available upon request" is your friend when writing those)

While you might want to call out particular papers for some resumes, that fact that you produced and/or presented N papers is a nice one liner. Your ability to complete a task is important.

A list of awards would be good too. Just the names.

The actual researching is uninteresting and in fact a bit of a put off. Research has a connotation of unscheduled time which may or may not produce something, which is the opposite of what people want.

In general use the resume as a simple poster to get people's attention. If they want more information they will ask for it later.

(*) I once got an interview with Apple's software infrastructure team largely because they were curious why a guy who's career was all about networking was applying to them. The answer is because the friend who was passing along resumes for me messed up and gave them my networking resume instead of my infrastructure resume.

The very fact that I've had to confront these questions makes me wonder if this is right

You were very high on the academic student ladder and presumably planning on moving to the faculty ladder soon. In the commercial world that would put you about mid-career.

This is a big demotion. Some of the skills (and maybe some of the knowledge) you've learned will expedite rising through the commercial ranks, but only you know if you're willing to put in the time.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:14 AM on January 22

I feel you. Yes, I few of my peers went into teaching at private schools (middle and high); depending on your jurisdiction, getting a teaching cert will definitely help.

Yes, I've been openly mocked for having PhD at times. But fuck them.

As for your resume - maybe it can help to think about it in a functional way. Not what you have achieved, but what your skills are.

Project management? All of the research (literature and bench) and all of the different projects that you've brought from conception to a performance-indicating outcome (funding, publication).

Organization? Filesystems, data management.

Supervision? Any undergrads or co-op/ work-study students you've brought up to speed? Training others?

For me, now in retrospect, I lost a lot of self worth - first sliding out of academia, then sliding out of Science!.

FWIW, from lab medicine, to molecular neuroscience, to commercial genetic engineering, to commercial in vitro diagnostics, I ended up doing regulatory stuff (Health Canada's cannabis framework; recordkeeping and reporting - that I spearheaded from ground-up), quality management (not accredited, also, homebrewed), project management (operations), and security (opportunity and mandate to "think like a bad actor"). That was good until it went very much not so.

After 8 months of unemployment, I'm at an ISO 9001 shop now doing international/ national regulatory stuff for EEE hardware for use with clinical in vitro diagnostics and quality management. It's a shit underappreciated job and it's tedious and made me pull the trigger on pharmaceutical antidepressants. But it pays the bills.

I have a side gig developing something tech in the cannabis space, as a co-founding CSO with biz partners who respect me, and that opportunity is keeping me going, but as a pre-startup it's an emotional rollercoaster.

If you want, I'd be happy to look at your resume (stop thinking about it as a CV, yeah, sorry) and give you some feedback.

Other areas you might look into, aside from project management (getting a PM cert can help), are clinical trials management (the pay is comparatively shit, at least where I am) and product management at a biotech, or [ugh] sales.
posted by porpoise at 10:18 AM on January 22 [1 favorite]

I spent most of the last year sending out job applications to leave the standard academic career path from my postdoc. I adapted my CV into a resume that I thought was pretty strong but spent months feeling like I was shouting into a void. After one nearly-successful application, a friend offered to share my resume with a hiring manager in the field I was trying to break into, to get feedback. I made some relatively small changes based on that feedback that changed the way certain things were emphasized, and suddenly my applications went from almost never hearing any response to an extremely high rate of getting interviews. If you have anyone with experience who is willing to look at your resume to tell you how to make sure it's organized and emphasized in a way that communicates your strengths using the style that hiring managers are used to reading (as some people here have offered), I strongly suggest accepting that help.

Resume writing is a lot like writing a conference abstract or the aims for a grant: it's all about hooking the reader's interest enough that they are willing to give you more time with the next step, knowing that those readers are looking at hundreds of very similar documents all trying to achieve the same end. Based on where you are in your career right now, you're probably pretty experienced with getting inside the head of someone reading a conference abstract or grant application. Resume writing is a similar skill but a different set of expectations and goals that you need to learn to meet, and without help from someone experienced with being on the other side of that process, you probably aren't going to be able to guess at what they are looking for.
posted by biogeo at 1:48 PM on January 22 [6 favorites]

I'm a schoolteacher with a fancy CV. My advice to you, should you decide to teach in K12, is to apply for jobs in "fancy" school districts. IMHO these are no better or worse than less "fancy" districts but you will likely be seen as a catch for having a PhD. I grew up in an area like this and ultimately returned after years away. On on hand, the elitism is overrating and often annoying; on the other hand, it's nice to have my accolades respected and appreciated versus seen as a try hard or a threat. I think fondly of a great chemistry teacher who had her PhD, and how she was such a smart and kind educator. Perhaps someone in either the Education department or Career Services of your alma mater could help you tweak your resume.

Also, work to have HR recognize your years of teaching in grad school as years of experience so you start at a higher pay level; I know of people who did this successfully so it's totally possible!Additionally, you could look into a local "career switcher" program to earn your teaching license more quickly; you could probably earn the credentials almost immediately by passing your content area's Praxis II exam/s.

A great educator need not have a fancy or full education but how incredibly nice when they do because all kids deserve great, highly qualified teachers. Good luck!
posted by smorgasbord at 12:47 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]

I thought of two more things about transitioning into K12 education. You are correct that "lower", which fitting for the context of this question, is definitely not what you'd say to those in that field. It does tell me that you are maybe struggling with the identity change and may slightly feel that you've failed when, if anything, the higher education system of the US is failing its proud products, which is to say academics in 2022. What's sad is that, in my 15th year of teaching public school, I make more than many people with PhDs in academia -- it's not that teachers don't deserve it because we do but you all deserve it too, especially with all that extra schooling and amazing deep knowledge.

1. For starters, you can call it "K12 education" or "secondary education."

2. When you start interviewing and applying for jobs, the focus should be on why you are interested in teaching your subject area to the grade level at that specific school. Few people will think "Oh why did you leave academic? Were you not good enough so you had to 'settle' for teaching with us?" especially if you are enthusiastic and grounded: "I want students to start developing a deeper understanding and love for science as teens, and I know I can help them learn the scientific method and develop critical thinking skills." Or to a future colleague "Yes, I loved studying ABC at XYZ! And I appreciate your sharing your teaching wisdom with me so I can be a good teacher here!" K12 education is about credentials (check) but even more so it's about attitude (believing in what you do and wanting to teach kids!) and collegiality (working together to best support kids!) This may be an adjustment at first but also may be a refreshing change from the hyper competitive and sometimes mean world of academia.

Edited to add: I had a good discussion about this with someone who recently earned his PhD a few years ago and joined the US Park Service. He was enjoying his job and felt, while not super high paying, offered stability and joy that academia was not. That's another place you could look, at the federal, state or more local level.
posted by smorgasbord at 6:54 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]

and she swore she'd never hire another one, but I think she was being unfair.

I've had that happen to me a couple of times, too. Unfair to make a blanket pre-judgement, but it is a real risk. These people weren't exactly "I hate this job after all" types, but when offered a more prestigious-sounding one, still not in academia, they left immediately. Which, good for them! I don't blame them. But not good for me.

I like the advice to "un-CV" your resume. I mean, you must have spent some time TA-ing or whatever it is, put that in the experience section, because training-others skills are ALWAYS relevant. Don't assume people get that from the Ph.D being listed.

But also don't drop the Ph.D completely. I'd list it with minimal fanfare in the Education section and hope the hiring manager doesn't see it. But you want it in there because HR will see it, and there may be a pay offer bump associated with that.
posted by ctmf at 6:04 PM on January 23

« Older Negotiate Salary after Consulting   |   I really need a Microsoft Word CD or DVD for my... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments