The Official Blog of UChicago's PATHS Program

Tag: Event Summaries

Career Exploration Series: Networking

In winter quarter of 2018, PATHS hosted a series of workshops covering different aspects of career exploration for humanities graduate students. This article is the third in a three-part series summarizing the advice and discussion from those workshops. PATHS would like to thank our panelists Monica Felix, Natasha Ayers, Mollie McFee, Donald Chae, and Novia Pagone for sharing their experience and expertise.


How can students use networking to pursue their goals and interests?

Networking, especially informational interviewing, is consistently one of the most reliable ways to find new career options. The main advice our alumni give to current students is to use your networks–including acquaintances and classmates’ contacts–to try to get a personal introduction to anyone you want to talk to. Learning from people in a field that seems interesting is one of the easiest ways to get a sense for the work and whether it might be a good fit for your background and interests. Cold emailing people can be a fruitful way to network, but is likely to require more effort to get the same success as contacting people through introductions.

Informational interviews can also help by expanding your own network. Even if the person you talked to never has a job opening to recommend to you, he or she can often introduce you to other people or point you to related jobs. Donald Chae, a Music PhD alumnus with a long career in business and consulting, said he talked to 50-100 people for every big job search, more during the times when he wasn’t sure what type of job he was looking for. Informational interviews can help you pinpoint specific jobs or industries that fit you the best, and help you find leads once you narrow that down.

When doing an informational interview with someone, flexibility is key. Don’t be afraid to ask open-ended or even vague questions about their experience and background, especially if you are in early exploration stages; you want to learn as much as you can! Be open to picking up on the negative, which sometimes requires paying attention to recurring themes, as not everyone will be completely open about drawbacks to their jobs. Questions to ask include: What allows you to do your best work? What does success look like for that industry? What skills do you use daily, and what skills are you working on developing?

UChicagoGRAD has resources like practice interviewing and career counseling to help you identify networking opportunities and make the most of them.

Career Exploration Series: Branching Out during Graduate School

In winter quarter of 2018, PATHS hosted a series of workshops covering different aspects of career exploration for humanities graduate students. This article is the second in a three-part series summarizing the advice and discussion from those workshops. PATHS would like to thank our panelists Monica Felix, Natasha Ayers, Mollie McFee, Donald Chae, and Novia Pagone for sharing their experience and expertise.

What can students do to explore these options during their graduate studies?

Students should regularly reflect on the skills they are developing and on the skills they want to develop. Opportunities like grant writing, project managing, and public speaking can lead to interesting career options.

When looking for ways to branch out in your career, getting some experience in a field adjacent or related to academia or your subject can feel like a natural evolution. A professional network built through side projects, conferences, or other related work can also help facilitate a long-term career move. Be flexible and creative about looking for jobs broadly related to something you’re interested in or good at. Joining other professional organizations–at a student rate–can be a way to explore related fields and meet active professionals without committing to a job.

Trying new experiences outside of graduate work, even if it doesn’t lead to a career, can also be valuable more generally. Having experience that non-academic employers understand can help communicate that you have the skills they want, even if it’s volunteer or part-time work. These skills and experience are useful even for people who are doing the academic job market; being a professor is not necessarily a ‘more natural’ evolution from being a grad student than other jobs! Cultivating new skills and experiences helps any career transition, even when they don’t immediately seem directly relevant.

Consider what time-management approach works for you. Some people find that doing career and scholarly exploration together during coursework is helpful while reserving time to work full-time on a dissertation in later years. Other people find that the structure of having a part-time job while ABD helps them manage their dissertation project more efficiently. Don’t feel bad if something that works for a colleague doesn’t work for you! Everyone manages time differently. UChicagoGRAD advisors can help you think through this question if you’re not sure what would fit best with your working style.

Career Exploration Series: What’s out there?

In winter quarter of 2018, PATHS hosted a series of workshops covering different aspects of career exploration for humanities graduate students. This article is the first in a three-part series summarizing the advice and discussion from those workshops. PATHS would like to thank our panelists Monica Felix, Natasha Ayers, Mollie McFee, Donald Chae, and Novia Pagone for sharing their experience and expertise.

What career options are available for humanities graduate students?

There are a huge array of careers that build on skills from a humanities graduate education, and a surprisingly large community of fellow humanities scholars interested in these fields.

Plenty of people with PhDs have great outcomes and professional satisfaction outside of academia! Many professional organizations, such as the American Historical Association and the Modern Language Association, have started tracking where people with PhDs in their field make their careers. For example, even before the recession in 2008, MLA & AHA tracked that over a quarter of PhDs were working in fields outside of academia. The University of Chicago has also started tracking PhD careers– you can see a list of some of these careers here.

Many successful careers outside of academia are based on skills developed during graduate school, like writing, editing, project management, and building expertise. Some of the most popular fields for humanities PhDs to pursue include academic and arts administration, teaching and research–both inside and outside universities, marketing and communications, and government. More general career options, like consulting and entrepreneurship, can also be a good fit for humanities scholars who are motivated by things like problem-solving and building relationships. When considering careers in these types of fields, it it sometimes fruitful to look at the intersection between fields, where non-traditional applicants like a humanities PhD can build their own niche.

Remember, you’ll always be stepping into a different role with different skills no matter where you go. Consider whatever you do next to be a career transition, and start working on how to make that transition easier before you finish your degree–whether your next job is as faculty or somewhere else. Treat your future career like a research project: learn as much as you can about your options and what you need to prepare, and reflect on what that means for your personality and background. Take advantage of UChicagoGRAD resources like career guides, or other sources like ImaginePhD and Versatile PhD for researching career paths.

How to Get Your Dream Job . . . and then Give It Up for Your Dream Job

By Allison Turner, Ph.D. Student in English Language and Literature


Neil Chudgar is one of those rarest of creatures: someone who got a coveted tenure-track position and then left the academy voluntarily. I met him this past April at a UChicagoGRAD event called “What We Talk About When We Talk About Work.” Chudgar was a graduate of UChicago’s English PhD program and a specialist in eighteenth-century literature like myself, so I was particularly eager to hear what he had to say.

I had heard about Chudgar and his unusual career path before—to me, he seemed practically legendary. In anticipation of finally getting to hear his story, I wondered privately: What could possibly motivate someone to give up his dream job—or my dream job, anyway—to become a communications consultant? Isn’t consulting what graduates of elite colleges do when they’re 22? I was baffled but intrigued: I wanted to know what Chudgar knew.

From the moment the discussion began, it was clear that Chudgar must have been amazing in the classroom. There were at least two dozen graduate students circled around him, all from a variety of programs and disciplines. Chudgar has an infectiously vibrant personality and a talent for putting others at ease. We talked about what we valued in our work and ourselves, about what we wanted from our professional lives, and about what we imagined would constitute our success. As if by magic, Chudgar created an environment in which we felt not only willing but eager to share thoughts and desires we so rarely discuss in our home departments.

Chudgar told us about himself too, about the life events that had led him to his position as an Assistant Professor at Macalester College. He recalled feeling lucky to have gotten the job—so lucky, in fact, that it never even occurred to him to think about how much he would be paid. It turns out, he later realized, that you’re supposed to negotiate these things.

In his fourth year at Macalester, though, just as he was beginning to think about putting together his tenure package, there was a death in Chudgar’s family. That loss led him to think about time in a new way. Suddenly, the idea of going up for tenure amounted to choosing to be an English professor for the rest of his life. Did he want to be an English professor when he died? He’d hit the jackpot in landing this job. But did he actually like it? He realized that he didn’t. And so he left Macalester, turning his expertise into a communications consulting business.

Chudgar’s workshop could easily have been a two- or three-part series. Indeed, when it was over, many of us wanted to know more. How did you decide to go into communications consulting? How did you transition from not being able to find anyone to hire you to starting your own business? How do you start your own business? How do you find clients?

We may not have gotten to all the particulars, but what we did get from this conversation with Chudgar was something more foundational: a new (for many of us) sense of confidence in the simple fact that there are other things, aside from academia, that we can do. That a non-academic career path is not a failure. That there are many legitimate choices we can make.

There’s a lot to value in academic work. Many of us are drawn to it for the sense of autonomy it gives us. We steer our own courses, set our own schedules, and define the horizons of our projects. Many of us relish in the thrill of making discoveries. We want to intervene in our fields, to see and help others see the world in a new and different way.

However, as Chudgar helped us to see, these are not the only aspects of our work or ourselves to value. Successful work might not be measured by the amount of autonomy one has. It might also be something that makes other people happy. As a scholar in the humanities, Chudgar consistently felt that no one wanted what he was selling. He had plenty of freedom, yes, but he always had to persuade others to value his work—to take his classes, to publish his articles, and so on. In many other kinds of jobs, people actually want what you do for them. They might even ask you for it. And while there’s much to be said for the kind of disruption we’re drawn to in the academy, there’s also value in work that gives order to our lives. “A lot of the work that the world requires is maintenance,” Chudgar said. “Variety needs structure to make it joyful.”

I am grateful to Chudgar and UChicagoGRAD for hosting this conversation. I took away from it—and have taken great joy in sharing—an expanded sense of what might count as good work as well as a renewed appreciation for the parts of academic life that are special. One example, of course, is the form of the seminar itself—in Chudgar’s words, “sitting around and talking about a thing.”



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