Helping Humanities Students Explore Careers Beyond Academia

January 24, 2022

By Katya Hrichak

Humanities doctoral students begin their programs with an area of interest. This focus narrows as dissertation research progresses until, by the end of a doctoral program, it narrows to the point that students see only a path to a faculty or research career. To broaden their view, the Graduate School’s Careers Beyond Academia has expanded its programs to illuminate many more possible careers.

Peiying Zhu
Peiying Zhu

Among the new programs, a two-day online “mini-residency” gives Cornell students the opportunity to listen to professionals talk about their transitions out of academia and into industry. The mini-residencies are composed of a lecture-based discussion the first day followed by a workshop consisting of breakout rooms with focused prompts the next day. Mini-residencies included humanities Ph.D. students from other universities, which created a greater sense of community for brainstorming and opportunities.

“The mini-residency I attended was eye-opening,” said philosophy doctoral candidate Peiying Zhu. “The workshop provided me with a clear picture of how to proceed if I should decide to leave the profession. This allows me to focus on my current projects without excessive anxiety about the future.”

Campus units can contribute to career exposure too. Careers Beyond Academia and Cornell’s Management Library worked together to compile their LibGuide, a collection of resources to aid doctoral students and postdocs in non-academic career searches. Continuing the partnership, Careers Beyond Academia and Cornell’s Libraries offered a panel discussion during which library professionals spoke about their careers as well as workshops focused on leveraging library resources during the job search.

Denise DiRienzo
Denise DiRienzo

“Humanities doctoral students may not realize that the Management Library contains career resources relevant for non-business students,” said Denise DiRienzo, director of outreach and engagement. “Careers Beyond Academia is here to help all students and postdocs expand their career exploration as well as raise awareness about the richness of resources on and off campus to help them broaden and define their career direction.”

Careers Beyond Academia also hosts small group question and answer sessions around job searches, which are available to doctoral students and postdocs in any field who are interested in learning more about careers outside of the professoriate. All sessions include information on how Careers Beyond Academia can support students and postdocs in non-academic career searches, but each is tailored to the participants’ experiences and needs as determined during the session. Having made use of these opportunities and secured a job as an instruction technologist before graduating in December, Malcolm Bare, Ph.D. ’21, even served as a featured speaker during a session.

Malcolm Bare
Malcolm Bare, Ph.D. ’21

“Meeting with Denise DiRienzo and company helped because it shed a different light on the Ph.D.,” he said. “I had no clue how organizations were structured, what jobs and departments I should look into, or how to tailor the work I had been doing for those opportunities. Careers Beyond Academia offered some places to start and provided continued support during the process.”

For the spring semester, Careers Beyond Academia will offer programs exploring careers in different sectors of industry and exploratory programming, as well as partner with other units to leverage on- and off-campus expertise. Information is available on the Careers Beyond Academia website.

“We want humanities scholars to see that the barriers they perceive are instead opportunities and that their paths do not have to be linear,” said DiRienzo. “Our job at Careers Beyond Academia is to make sure that doctoral students and postdocs realize that the options are overwhelmingly vast, not overwhelmingly narrow.”

Mini-residencies were hosted by the Central New York (CNY) Humanities Corridor working group, “Careers Beyond the Academy,” which includes Cornell and Syracuse Universities and the University of Rochester. The Graduate School’s involvement with the CNY Humanities Corridor began with Careers Beyond the Academy’s formation in 2020, though Cornell has been an institutional member since 2008.