(The good) life beyond academia

According to 2015 estimates, the average psychology PhD graduate is 31.2 years old and has spent the last seven years in graduate school. What’s next? Approximately 32% plan to complete a postdoc, and 23% have definite employment lined up. This employment is more likely to be in non-academic sectors—industry, government, or non-profit—than in academia.

Then there are still the 20% of graduates actively looking for post-graduation employment, and those who will complete a postdoc but transition to a non-academic field after that. It stands to reason, then, that the path that graduate students are presented at the start of graduate school; namely, PhD to postdoc to tenure-track academic job, is anything but the norm.

Why do trained experimental psychologists leave academia and how do they make the transition out? What are their new careers like? And how can their experience help inform others who will soon be going down the same path, leaving the clear academic track that may no longer be available or desirable to people currently in graduate school?

In the following series of posts, this Digital Event of the Psychonomic Society will explore these issues. Eleven former experimental psychologists and cognitive scientists answered questions, including many sourced from Psychonomics readers, to cover two themes:

1. What is it like to be an experimental psychologist working outside of academia, and

2. How do you go about pursuing a new career outside of academia?

Our respondents were generous and detailed in sharing their insights, advice, mistakes, and resources, and we ended up with 47 (!) pages of written responses. Over the next 8 posts we’ll distil these 47 pages to cover topics such as: Why do experimental psychologists decide to pursue a non-academic career? What skills do they use in their new career and what new skills did they have to learn? How do you go about finding a new non-academic career? What can you do in graduate school to prepare for this increasingly-likely possibility?

We hope this digital event sparks discussion on the rise of experimental psychologists in non-academic careers and serves as a useful guide for those who are considering a transition out of academia themselves.

Now to introduce our eleven respondents. There was gender balance in people who volunteered to share their experiences (six women, five men), and a geographic spread all over North America. Most respondents transitioned out of academia immediately after their PhD (6 people), or after their postdoc (3 people), but we also had one person who transitioned out of academia after a Master’s degree, and one from a non-tenure-track research faculty position.

Here are the respondents, whose experience you’ll get to know closely over the upcoming series of posts:

Anita Bowles

  • Current position: Head of Academic Research & Learner Studies at Rosetta Stone
  • LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/anita-bowles-a7385b3
  • Twitter: https://twitter.com/ani_ta_twee_ta
  • Other: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Anita_Bowles

Brock Ferguson

  • Current position: Strong Analytics (Co-Founder), Optimail (Co-Founder), SureSwift Capital (VP Technology)
  • Personal website: brockferguson.com
  • LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/brock-ferguson-6a309726
  • Twitter: https://twitter.com/brocferg
  • Other: strong.io, optimail.io

Carly Kontra

  • Current Role: Research & Analytics Manager at Medallia, a global provider of customer experience management software.
  • LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/carlykontra

Eric Taylor

Katherine Livins

  • Current position: Senior Data Scientist, Analytics, Originals Product Innovation, Netflix
  • LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/klivins/
  • Twitter: https://twitter.com/KALivins

Katie Rotella

  • Current position: Senior Scientist at Johnson & Johnson (Consumer Inc)
  • LinkedIn:  https://www.linkedin.com/in/katie-rotella-70a774a/

Maria D’Angelo

  • Current position: Research Scientist at Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE)
  • LinkedIn: https://ca.linkedin.com/in/mariacdangelo
  • Twitter: https://twitter.com/mariacdangelo

Mike Winograd

  • Current position: Associate Consultant at ZS Associates
  • LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mike-winograd-5a0b4543

Nick Gaylord

  • Current position: Senior Data Scientist at CrowdFlower
  • LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/nick-gaylord-9b702631
  • Twitter: https://twitter.com/texastacos
  • Blog on transition from academia: https://phdeli.wordpress.com

Ryan Dewey

Stefania Mereu

  • Current position: Director, User Experience & Design at Pearson
  • LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/stefania-mereu-01402531
  • Twitter: https://twitter.com/smereux

For the remainder of this week, we’ll be covering the theme “What is it like to be an experimental psychologist working outside of academia?”, starting with a post tomorrow about people’s motivations for transitioning out of academia. The second series of posts on the theme “How do you go about pursuing a new career outside of academia?” will cover practical tips, resource recommendations, mistakes to avoid, and what you can do now to prepare for a transition to a non-academic career.

We look forward to sharing all those experiences with you.

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