Expand Your Career Options: Research Beyond Academia

It is truly a gift to the UConn community when our doctoral program alumni share the twists and turns of their career journeys and offer career preparation advice. This past October, three alumni came together for a virtual program called Expand Your Career Options. This program occurs each semester and features a different career field theme.

On this semester’s panel, Research Beyond Academia, were:

Dr. Cathy Buerger
Director of Research at the Dangerous Speech Project (DSP)
Ph.D. in Anthropology, UConn

Dr. Rucha Londhe
Senior Research Associate in the Social and Economic Policy Division with Abt Associates
Ph.D. in Human Development and Family Studies, UConn 

Dr. Andrew Tucker
Research Associate at the Connecticut Transportation Safety Research Center (CTSRC)
Ph.D. in Psychological Sciences, UConn 

While some of the advice might be familiar to you, hearing it from individuals who are working in research roles, at a variety of employers, makes it all the more meaningful. Here are some of the tips and insights shared by the panelists:

Networking & Connections

Maintain the connections you have across the years – a supervisor from early on in one’s career can be of great support and provide valued advice.

Arrive before and hangout after employer and alumni presentations in order to learn a bit more or to ask to follow-up with additional questions.

Exploring Careers & Employers

Think first about the work you seek to do and explore employers who are doing that work – “You are not your job title”. Think about how you want to spend the work hours in your day.

Important to consistently identify employers of interest and keep an eye on them, the jobs they post, and building networks with those companies.

When searching for jobs use broader terms than what you are called by your academic field. As an example, if you are an anthropologist, consider searching for jobs with the term “qualitative researcher.” Many more jobs will appear and you can begin to see that many of the skills you acquired in your academic pursuits are directly relevant to a role that focuses on qualitative research. 

Interviewing & Communicating 

When interviewing, share examples that demonstrate how you have the skills that an employer seeks. The complement of skills that are inherent in pursuing a doctoral degree “go a long way,” but you need examples to show the skills in action and relevant to the role to which you are applying.  

In order to enhance your communication with employers, when applying to opportunities outside of your academic area learn the jargon of the career fields of interest to you and adapt or omit the jargon you typically use. 

Create a narrative about how pursuing your doctoral degree, running original research, and bringing all of that to completion provides you with the ability to manage multiple tasks, establish goals, and achieve deliverables within timelines. 

Recognize that as a doctoral student you are likely the most prepared candidate, as you know how to “prepare to succeed,” and you have experience doing quality background research which can be applied to learning more about an employer and the position for which you are being interviewed.  

Practice communicating to lots of different audiences, and translating what you have done into non-academic writing.

Prepare & Build Skills

Invest in developing quantitative skills either inside and/or outside of your degree program, as these can be of value in many roles and workplaces. 

While still in your doctoral program, look for interdisciplinary opportunities, as many employers are interested in hiring individuals who can communicate across fields and who can successfully work in diverse project teams. 

Provide examples of short-term projects you have done either within the context of your degree or during other experiences that you have had. 

Be aware that there isn’t any one hiring cycle for industry or organizations. “Most employers are hiring today for a job they wish they could have filled yesterday.” Employers hire when someone leaves or when there is a need to hire for a new role. 

Employers beyond academia are often more interested in knowing that you understand how to publish and have gained skills in the process, and far less interested in your number of publications. In reviewing the job posting you can likely tell if scholarly publications are essential to the role. The number of publications have not mattered for the panelists, but understanding how to publish and the process involved was valued.

The panelists also shared some of the skills that they are actively using in their current work that have transferred over from the pursuit of their doctoral degree. 

    • Literature reviews
    • Project management
    • Data analysis
    • Fostering ethical standards
    • Report writing
    • Editing and providing feedback to individuals and within teams
    • Solving problems
    • Talking with other experts

When the panelists were asked about their final advice, they eagerly shared:

Remember that a job search is a process, it takes time, and you are employable!

By Kay Kimball Gruder
Kay Kimball Gruder Assistant Director of Graduate Student Career Programs and Services Kay Kimball Gruder