I decided to blog about Susan Basalla & Maggie Debelius’ article So What Are You Going to Do With That? because I can relate to this. So much. I get asked the exact same question by pretty much everyone when I first mention that I study German: “German literature? What for? What kind of job can you find with a degree in German? Do any of them pay well?” All of this was expressed perfectly in the article’s first paragraph. Fortunately, the authors also gave us a useful advice: “In order to see through the fog that sometimes surrounds us in grad school, you first have to abandon some myths about postacademic careers and replace them with questions that will help you think about your skills and your potential in a more positive and productive way.” So what are these myths?
- No one would hire me. I have no useful skills.
- People who work in the business world are stupid and boring.
- Jobs in the business world are stupid and boring.
- It’s too late to change careers.
- I’m too old.
I agree that it’s very important to think about all of them and reflect on what it is we’re doing. It’s not true that academics do not have any useful skills: many of them simply haven’t thought about the way their skills can be an asset in the job market. Studying and knowing foreign languages, for example, is something that can be very useful wherever you are working. I worked for a research company for several years and I went from interviewer to supervisor in no time because I spoke 3-4 languages well enough to take care of various translation tasks. Pretty much everywhere, but especially in a province that’s officially bilingual, knowing more than one or two languages is always a great asset to have. If I think about this course specifically, being good with computers and digital tools is also a great asset. Technology is constantly evolving and so are the workplaces, so academics should think about how to apply the knowledge they’ve acquired to different jobs and therefore stand out. As Basalla and Debelius said, academics simply need to recognise the many talents they’ve developed as teachers and researchers. It is also true that people in the business world aren’t stupid and boring. As a matter of fact, “the postacademic world offers a greater variety of backgrounds and more room for interaction than academia.” The same goes for the jobs out there. The authors talked about how everything was boring when we were fifteen, because we simply didn’t know enough to appreciate it. And to be honest, that kind of explains the feeling I first had with this course. I saw the course name, read the course description and went through the syllabus sent by Professor Sinclair, and I thought to myself “what have I gotten myself into?” At first glance, everything looked a little boring and way too theoretical to me. However, I was reassured as soon as I attended the first class. I noticed that most people didn’t have any DH background either and that us being from different disciplines would most likely make the discussions very interesting, and I was right. The more I learned about DH, the more interesting it became. Academics simply need to do the same with the jobs out there and stop assuming everything will be stupid and boring: they just need to give it a try. It is also not too late to change careers, and you’re never too old. As the authors of this article said, there’s no shame in changing tacks. “The key to successful career changing is learning the customs and vocabulary of the field you want to enter and then articulating your value. […] Gaining new experience, investigating other uses for your skills, and keeping a foot in another career are all wise pursuits at any age.”
As mentioned earlier, the most important thing is to replace these myths with questions that will help you think about your skills and your potential in a more positive and productive way. Think about the world outside academia: the experience you’ve had, your expectations, your friends’ jobs, your pressing concerns, etc. These are all important questions to think about. Are you happy in graduate school? Are your friends who aren’t academics happier with their work? Why did you come to grad school in the first place? It’s very important to constantly keep that in mind in order to figure out what you want for yourself. Basalla and Debelius wrote that “keeping one foot outside academia, in a part-time job or a computer class, may help you adjust more quickly.” Their advice is to simply find a job and experience something new for a while, which might be very intimidating at first, but ends up being very rewarding. A friend of mine had actually been looking for a job in academia for almost a year, when she decided to abandon the idea for a while and explore other options. She ended up applying for a job in Brazil and spent 6 months in Salvador da Bahia, teaching French to future immigrants to Quebec. Basalla and Debelius ended their article on a note, which perfectly describes my friend’s experience abroad: “You’ll be a stronger and more confident candidate for having proven yourself in the outside world; plus, you won’t feel pressured to take any academic job that’s offered.” Sometimes, you simply need the right timing to find the job you wanted, and by exploring other options, you might even find out that you’re happier somewhere else. The outside world isn’t as scary as it seems, so abandon the myths, ask yourself questions and dare to try something new.