Academics: I left higher ed and so can you

I left the security of a tenure track assistant professor role for an industry job in 2021 and haven’t regretted it for even a second. Since that time, I’ve heard from many other professors expressing an interest in switching to a career track outside of higher education but having doubts about how—or even if—their academic experience translates into a useful skillset in a different work ecosystem. Over time, I’ve landed on a handful of insights that seem to be relevant and helpful to most people I speak with. Here are my top five for you, wayward, weary, and job-seeking professor:

ONE .:. Smart employers value workers who are intellectually curious and capable of critical thought. You are both. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have earned a terminal degree by developing a deep interest and understanding of an intellectually-demanding topic. Remember: your Ph.D. isn’t a certificate of knowing everything; It’s a license that signals your ability to teach yourself.

TWO .:. You are likely a very strong, if not masterful, communicator. You’ve given thousands of lectures in rooms of a few to a few hundred students or colleagues. You know how to organize ideas. Your grammar is better than average. Can you explain difficult or complex concepts in ways that audiences easily understand? Of course you can. It’s what you do every time you teach. And companies need competent communicators capable of commanding attention in a room.

THREE .:. You’ve managed more Gen Z Zoomers than most. Good non-academic managers understand the need to negotiate objectives, timelines, and other expectations with employees and to give constructive feedback that helps move projects along to completion. That’s exactly what you’ve done in course after course. You gave grades instead of paychecks, but the managing principles between classroom and cubicle are incredibly similar. 

FOUR .:. You have a deep understanding of research methods and data analysis. You know what can and can’t be established from a survey, focus group, or interview’s findings and conclusions. You can call bullshit on bad research vendors more competently than anyone currently working for most companies. Business leaders rely on research insights more than ever to make informed decisions. You’re an asset to potential employers as a result.

FIVE .:. Contemporary employers are actively, rapidly, and (for the most part) sincerely adopting diversity, equity, and inclusion practices and policies. To their credit, universities have largely led on DEI initiatives and you’ve likely served on committees, contributed to handbooks, and implemented DEI language into classrooms which makes you knowledgeable in ways that can benefit many potential employers. 

Those are my top five. I’m sure there are plenty of other helpful insights out in the aether of the internet that can help you think through selling the tremendous value you can offer employers that don’t have college or university in their name. 

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