The Pursuit of Meaningful Careers after Graduate School

The Pursuit of Meaningful Careers after Graduate School

In this week’s #GRADprofdev blog, I sat down with Jennifer Polk, History PhD and founder of From PhD to Life who visited the University of South Carolina on March 16-17, 2017.

What do you do in your current position as a coach?

Jen – as she prefers to be called – gives her clients time and space to think about what they value and what they want in their career. She works with graduate students, PhDs, tenure-track professors, and even tenured professors. She finds that all of them are seeking meaning in their work, and she seeks to help them find meaning – in whatever path they choose. Jen enjoys the freedom of being self-employed and finds the work intellectually stimulating and challenging. Jen has found a career rooted in her own values, and she wants that for everyone.

What is one recommendation you have for graduate students who are interested in exploring career paths outside academia?

First and without hesitation, Jen said networking. Networking is critical. It is important to get out there and take time to learn about your options. Jen mentioned the importance of interacting in more traditional in-person ways and using online tools, such as social media and LinkedIn. If someone is doing work that is of interest to you, reach out and request an information interview to learn more. Engage people on twitter. Make sure your LinkedIn profile is updated and enticing. Use LinkedIn to reach out.

How can graduate students in doctoral programs learn about their options?

Jen shared that she was familiar with the anxiety and uncertainty that can accompany the idea of looking outside of academia. In order to help graduate students and PhDs, she started a blog series on her website called #withaphd. #withaPhD started as a biweekly Twitter chat and hashtag for graduate students, academics, and anyone else who has or may wish to have PhD experience. Now, graduate students and PhDs can read about many options. There are so many options, and Jen thinks that sometimes her clients – and graduate students and PhDs, in general – do not consider the wide range of options available to them.

Tell us about Beyond the Professoriate. This seems like a great resource for graduate students.

Beyond the Professoriate started as an online conference for PhDs in career transition and is rapidly transforming into an online community of graduate students and PhDs interested in non-faculty careers. Maren Wood and I started this conference. This year will be the fourth year – 4th Annual Beyond the Professoriate: The Online Career Conference for PhDs. The conference is on May 6 and May 13, 2017. Early bird registration for the conference is only $49. We try to keep this affordable for students. The conference is hosted entirely online, so it is convenient for students to participate. All registered attendees can access conference videos for up to 21 days after.

It has been a pleasure to have Jen with us at UofSC. We look forward to staying in touch with her and accessing resources she recommends.

Dr. Jennifer Polk works as an academic, life, and career coach for graduate students and PhDs. To put it simply, she helps PhDs launch meaningful careers. Learn more about Jen and her work at

Questions? Comments? Ideas? Contact Dr. Heather Brandt at

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