PhD Networking: How to Talk About Yourself When You Decide to Leave Academia
One of the most essential tasks that must be accomplished prior to PhD networking after you decide to leave academia is to reconnect with yourself. Why? Simply because in order to expand your network, you will need something to say about yourself to the new people you meet. In other words, you need a “pitch” about yourself in the same way that you needed to pitch your research ideas to others while you were in academia.
As a PhD about to leave academia, either as someone who holds a precarious job or as one who is unemployed, it might not be easy to feel excited about yourself. You might find it very difficult to answer the question “What are you doing now?” since you might have no idea about where you are going, or you may feel defeated by the fact that you won’t be able to reach the career goals that you had set out for yourself so long ago.
Let’s face it: our identities are closely tied to our careers. As an academic, you have become accustomed to having a specific story about who you are, what you have done, where you are going, etc. Now that you can’t use this story, you might find that you have nothing exciting to report, or you might find the process of constantly justifying yourself painstaking and exhausting. This is why being prepared with a new positive “story” about yourself is so important. Without a positive take on your situation, your self-esteem and confidence might be in jeopardy, leaving you with a bitter taste in your mouth. You might even feel invisible or, even worse, worthless.
The good news is that you’re not alone. The data shows it: today’s careers are not set in stone anymore. Working for the same organization for the rest of your life has become less and less of a reality. More and more people, like you, change careers. And many people like you find themselves in a sort of hiatus between jobs for a few months or even a few years. Whatever the circumstances and whatever your plans (or even a lack of defined plans), there is no reason to not be proud of yourself and your accomplishments. Not having a “real job” should not erase your past accomplishments. You should see this period as merely a transitory situation that should in no way diminish what you are doing right now. You may not have a clear idea of your next move, but this doesn’t imply that you should have nothing interesting to say about yourself. On the contrary, you need to come up with uplifting and inspiring stories about yourself and what you are doing to avoid coming off as bitter, filled with self-doubt, gloomy, or negative. PhD networking is about getting people excited about you, not feeling sorry for you!
It’s important for you to self-promote by going back to what makes you special and unique. You need to have a clear sense of who you are, and how your past and present accomplishments fit in to your identity. In other words, you need to have a clear idea of what defines you as an individual. You can achieve this by making an inventory of your professional and personal history. What’s your story? Once you have crafted two or three interesting, targeted micro-pitches that make you memorable, don’t be afraid to test them out on friends and family members. In no time, you will come up with intriguing narratives about yourself that feel natural and authentic, and that you don’t mind sharing with others.
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