PhD in Progress Podcast

Fear of Becoming “Nonacademic”

April 11th, 2014

Nikhil brought up a good point while we were producing our first episode and has reflected it in his biography. When we are asked who we are, we tend to say “I’m a graduate student that studies _______ and hopes to pursue a career in _______. Currently, I’m working on _________ and have found that ________.” See the problem? [more…] We instantly limit ourselves to our education and professional goals.

This is not only a problem for early career academics but it seems to come more natural to them, especially if they have been in school from age 5 through 30. Their whole lives have been spent being a student.

Were you ever asked “Who are you?” when you were in middle school? I’m sure I did not spend much time trying to explain that I was “an eighth-grader who excelled in math and science”. Of course I’d mention school at some level, but at that stage I would have talked about how much I enjoyed my hobbies, why my family was awesome, which books I loved, and what my favorite strategy in Starcraft was.

The big change with us professional students is just that: we have chosen to be professional students. No longer have we only followed the path that we were legally obligated to. Instead we have so much invested in our current situation and often it greatly influences our personal lives. Graduate school, much like any job or field, controls our schedules, duties, and schedules, in the way we socialize and present ourselves.

That said, going into a “nonacademic” after we leave our graduate programs can be a very scary thought exactly because “academic” described a large portion of our lives before that point. Suddenly (if you do not end up in Research and Development) you will feel the need to justify your PhD. Some may think you failed being an academic when in reality you made a choice to go for an alternative. You took charge of your needs and interests and aspirations, so do not feel that you failed yourself.

At the same time, if you DO remain in academia, that’s great! At risk of this podcast and blog appearing anti-academic, we want to help others to identify and pursue the types of careers that utilize their strengths and talents. Do not let others dictate what you do with your life.

Is there merit to this? Are you worried about potentially losing this part of your identity?


  1. […] Fatimah PhD (see: Podcast Episode 2 and sent in a great response to my Fear of Becoming “Nonacademic” post. She […]