Professional Development

The Alt-Ac Career Café: Questions, Ideas and Insights on Your Next Big Career Move

November 24, 2014
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Twitter calls it ‘altac’, History-PhD-turned-life-coach Jennifer Polk calls it moving ‘beyond the professoriate’, and your supervisor might call it a disappointment. However, with fewer faculty jobs available, more and more graduate students and postdoctoral fellows are thinking about how apply the skills and expertise they have built through their academic training to roles other than tenure-track faculty. 


But how is it actually done? How does one go from student or trainee to career professional?

During the November 13, 2014 Alt-Ac Career Cafe, the Office of Graduate Studies and Postdoctoral Fellows' APEX Professional Development Program invited five former PhD students now working in such diverse fields as sustainabilty consulting to internet broadcasting to share their experiences with current graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. These guests included Tosha Tsang, Brendan Connors, Stephanie Chu, Lino Coria, Oba Harding and Val Walker.

“For more than a year I've been looking for forums and opportunities to talk to PhDs who work outside Academia, to hear about their stories, insight, and recommendations.The wisdom and insight they shared at the Alt-Ac Career Cafe will help me plan my next stage,” said Zhila Pirmoradi, PhD Candidate in Mechatronic Systems Engineering and event participant.

Zhila is also currently enrolled in the APEX Certificate Program


With over 45 students and postdoctoral fellows in the room, we spanned every discipline at from Engineering to English to Education, however the ideas generated for overcoming career obstacles were consistent:   

  • Take risks: "Take responsibility for your path. Be ready for a variety of opportunities."
  • Be Adaptable: "Successful careers: you can have more than one! Many skills developed in one can be transferred to another."
  • Communicate your strengths: "PhDs can be overqualified but it depends how you sell yourself. Tell people why they should care."
  • Be Self-Aware: "Make a promise to yourself that at the point when you stop enjoying what you do, leave it and move on.  The pain and stress simply isn’t worth it.  By really knowing yourself, you will be able to recognize what you would be giving up by staying."
  • Develop skills: "Keep asking which skills do I need now?"
  • Build Relationships: "Make efforts to engage people and often opportunity will come to you."

These ideas, along with many others, were then used to create a graphic representation of the professional journey of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows at SFU (below).  

At the end of the session, current and former graduate students committed to taking one action item based on what they learned during the session, such as following up with the guests via LinkedIn or volunteering for a local environmental NGO.

If you are interested in exploring these concepts further and applying them to your situation, check out the APEX Certificate Program. Our next program intake sessions will take place on January 15, 1pm- 4pm 2015 (Vancouver) OR January 20, 9am - 12pm (Burnaby). Go here for more information and to register for one of our December or January Information Sessions




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