Professional Development

Academic Hacking: Joseph Topornycky, Philosophy PhD, on his alt-ac career path

July 31, 2014
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This article is part of a series exploring professional paths for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows that make use of or leverage academic training but are not limited to traditional faculty positions (#alt-ac).

The faculty road is crowded.

The tenure train is broken.

Or as described somewhat more descriptively by one PhD blogger, “our academic paradise is a smoldering ash heap (source).”

While many scholars are decrying the shortage of faculty positions available for doctoral graduates Joseph Topornycky claims it may actually be a good thing.

Joseph graduated with a PhD in Philosophy from UBC in 2012.

“I knew early on in my graduate degree that I didn’t want to become a professor, there are certain demands that come with that role that I wasn’t comfortable with.”

Instead Joseph pursued an alt-ac career even before it had its own hashtag and is currently the Manager of Graduate Student Programs with UBC's Centre for Teaching and Learning. But just because he doesn't hold a faculty position, that doesn’t mean he abandoned the discipline he loved and labored over during his graduate program.

“I apply concepts from my philolosophy studies to my workplace constantly, I use Wittgenstein to get through a meeting disagreement I use Kant to resolve a teaching and learning challenge. I am doing philosophy every day and I love it,” says Joseph.  

According to the philosophy doctorate, his is not the only discipline which endows its scholars with abilities they can apply to many diverse contexts. 

“Learning chemistry might change the way you cook. Historians might notice things in their environment that others don’t. Every field of scholarship about the world equips you with specific patterns of attention of understanding the world—this is a gift and an asset.”

Joseph may be on to something. Reading a recent web series highlighting the career alt-ac paths of 7 philosophy PhDs I was struck by how diverse their fields were, ranging from sustainability, software design and even television comedy writing. The only thing they had in common was their ability to use their academic training to create careers uniquely tailored to their own skills, interests and backgrounds.

“Don’t be afraid to start using what you know in a way you weren’t trained for. Those expectations are the walls of the ivory tower,” says Joseph. In the process, you just might create a career that is completely different than the one expected by your supervisors and peers--and fits you even better for it.   

If you are are interested in hearing people like Joseph share their alt-ac career paths, email jamsden@sfu.ca to be put on the registration list for our Nov 13, 2014 career cafe event.

Tags:  professional development, tips and tricks

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