Professional Development

Avoiding the Post-Grad Scramble: Dr. Jennifer Polk, history grad, on her alt-ac career path

June 27, 2014

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).

Worried about what you are going to do after you graduate? Don't. According to Jennifer Polk, the way forward is easier than you think.

Jennifer graduated with a PhD in history from the University of Toronto in 2012.

“I decided early on that I didn’t want a faculty position. I would look at those job postings and feel sick. So I was working freelance, being a virtual assistant. I was doing lots of different work—after a particularly bad consulting contract I decided that was it—I didn’t want to do that anymore either.”

Jennifer was scrambling from one thing to the next and felt like she had few choices and nothing to offer. Hiring a coach helped her break out of that mindset.

“My coach helped me stop feeling like a loser and instead focus on what I wanted and what steps I could take towards that.”

Jennifer realized that the same talents which she used and developed in graduate school could also be applied to start her own career and academic coaching consultancy

“I have always been a community builder. During my program, I sat on committees and ran conferences and organized pub night. I am digger—I like getting to the core of things-- I have always been interested in people’s stories. As an academic and career coach, I use these inquiry and relationship-building skills to help clients who feel stuck in some part of their work or life.”

Jennifer has appeared on radio stations, podcasts, conferences, and magazines across the world speaking on issues related to alterative academic career development for PhDs. You can see her sharing more of her story at Vitae's June 26 web panel, What do Researchers do Next?  

To other students considering their transition out of graduate school, Jennifer urges them to slow down and look inward first.    

“We PhDs have skills. We have strengths. What we need is to know ourselves, feel supported, and know that there are exciting things we can do in the world.”  By simply taking the time to uncover what inspires you and what your talents are, you will be on your way to defining what that next big post-graduate school step will be.

- Jackie Amsden, APEX Certificate Professional Development Program Coordinator

Interested in hearing PhDs like Jennifer share their experiences on landing a position outside of academia? Email to be put on a notification list for our fall 2014 Alternate-Academic Career Cafe.

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