roasting marshmellows in phd hell

Career Ideas for Those Stuck in the Academic Wasteland

with 15 comments

This WAS my list of My Career Ideas:

1. Professor at FancyPants Institute

2. Professor at Community College. 

3. Lord High Chancellor Czar of the Northern Hemisphere

4. Stripper

Thankfully, this  list has recently changed as I had a mini epiphany the other day.  (Thank you, T.S. Eliot.)
I’d been searching the far reaches of my tiny brain, searching for another ‘career’ option that I could apply to‘s ebook ‘how to get a fucking awesome job that you love and grow beautiful luxurious hair’ and kept coming up short.  He does provide the disclaimer that he can’t tell you what job would suit you best, which, of course, I found supremely disappointing because I just want to be told what to do, like that personality-less drone in that Fifty Shades of Gray book.  (cue loads of disappointed women finding my blog.  haay ladies!)

(James does provide an interesting list of off the beaten track jobs as a starting point and I did google them in order of biggest average salary..but I got bored reading the descriptions.   Increasing salary seemed to correlate with my personal distaste for particular tasks.)
Anyways.  I had been taking some time ‘away’ from the ebook to sort out my

Steven Soderbergh had to pay this dude in cold hard dollah bills.

brain (also some time away from my thesis to nurse my ego, much needed) when I had an idea, hallelujah!  I hadn’t realized it, but I have kinda been working on an ‘alternate’ career for awhile.  Over the course of the last few years, I’ve edited documents and written stuff for family, friends, and friends of friends.  Always for free, of course.  (Why, I have no idea.  I would not work as a cook for free or dance for money for no money.)  I guess I never thought to charge people cause I liked doing it and it never took too long.  Crazy, right?  But after my most recent foray into ‘business writing’ or whatever the hell you call it, I decided that I would like to do this Fo Real.   Like with sweet business cards on beautiful thick paper.

So the first thing I did was google ‘business writing’, as you do, and found some really poorly designed websites that looked like 1990s aol jobbies, or the more recent variety usually run by elderly conspiracy theorists.  Ya know, grey background, a lot of cramped writing in a tiny font, no aesthetic appeal whatsoever?  One even had a full length photo of a woman in full shoulder padded regalia.. I will not link here because she may very well be a nice person and a good writer.  But the site looked fucking terrible.  If I had a business and needed written material, I would NOT trust someone who can’t put together (or pay someone else to put together) a professional and visually pleasing website.  If their own advertising is so chaotic and unappealing, what kind of stuff can they generate for other people?

I will do some more research into the whole thing.. but I do wonder if (and how much) people are willing to pay for good writing, for someone to help them portray their business/product/whatevs in the best possible way, for whatever demographic they want to reach.  I feel like a lot of people don’t give a flaming shite about good writing or its power to reach people.  I hope this is wrong on my part, but I guess I’ll have to find out soon.
So I have an idea.. it ain’t much, but it’s a start.

15 Responses

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  1. I think you’re on the right track. In part, due to Jame’s “How to Find a Job with Your Humanities Degree” ebook, I was inspired to rekindle my long held (but long ignored, due to fear) desire to become a technical writer. Like you, I too would often write for free because I like it. And like you, I wouldn’t cook for free. I don’t even like to cook for ME, much less do it because I have to. (Apparently Rachel Ray comes home from a long day cooking and relaxes….by cooking!)

    There is a phenomenal amount of bad writing out there and people are paying GOOD money for it. I know I can create GREAT writing. The trick is to believe in yourself AS a professional writer, which is what I’m working on right now. I am working through the book as well. The ideas are good. I have no doubt that eventually, I will be a Technical Writer.

    Thanks for being brave enough to post your experience. The keyword Google comment about “50 Shades” is rather hiliarious. Good luck to you!

    P.S. Your #2 IS my current job and its not a very good option.


    August 12, 2012 at 12:21

    • Thanks for your comment, Anon. And you just confirmed for me that Rachael Ray is as crazy as she looks.

      It’s really interesting to hear that we have had similar experiences.. I guess the most obvious things are often difficult to see. I also like your point about having to believe in yourself as a professional. How’s the whole process going for you so far? I feel like a lot of the same demons that can plague a person in academia (like the dreaded impostor syndrome) carry over into the ‘regular’ working world.. so glad to hear that you have identified what it is you want to do though. I wish you lots of luck with it, and thanks for sharing your experience here 🙂


      August 12, 2012 at 19:47

  2. p.s. also, I’ll be going back to option #2 part time this fall. It’s either that or join channing tatum’s crew. And Matthew McConaughey terrifies me so that’s not really an option.


    August 12, 2012 at 19:49

  3. There are lots of books out there on doing freelance writing for businesses – I read/started reading a few, before deciding that all the self-marketing sounded exhausting and that I’d rather find a job with more structure, at least at first. But Peter Bowerman’s The Well-Fed Writer is about just the kind of writing you are describing, I think (at least from what I could tell by reading the intro) and Michelle Goodman’s My So-Called Freelance Life is good on freelancing in general, whether you are doing more creative stuff or businessy stuff to pay the bills so you can do other stuff that you actually like. Both have helpful guidelines on what kind of rates you can charge, how to network with other freelancers, etc.

    I’m glad to hear that you’ve found that Sell Out Your Soul e-book useful – I might have to look into it. Though, like you, what I’m struggling with the most right now is deciding what exactly I would like to do with my life, now that Plan A turned out to be a very bad idea. The careers I find myself naturally gravitating towards seem to have some of the same problems as academia – crappy pay, long hours, uncertain career prospects – so I am trying to summon up some more self-interest and figure out what the jobs are that actually pay money and won’t require me to sell 100% of my soul. It’s kind of overwhelming – but it is good to hear that others are finding some clarity!


    August 12, 2012 at 20:46

    • My experience freelancing — which is minimal — is that it does require buttloads of selfpromo and that most leads don’t work out. But, it’s worth pursuing.

      If you still are interested in teaching or working in a sort of alt-ac way, a lot of business schools have writing centers or programming to develop their graduates’ writing skills. I know several grad students who have ended up working in this kind of situation.

      Your blog is SO funny. FOR REALZ.

      Mama Nervosa (@MamaNervosa)

      August 31, 2012 at 16:35

      • I also had MUCH better getting freelance editing clients than freelance writing gigs.

        Mama Nervosa (@MamaNervosa)

        August 31, 2012 at 16:54

      • thanks for the advice, mama nervosa..I did apply for a few writing center type jobs but no luck.. the self promotion stuff is what makes me nervous. I am dog shit at networking. for serious. I just stay in one spot and start to smell bad. It’s interesting that you got more editing work than writing work.. I remember you writing about taking on academic editing stuff and I think I would probs hate that! I love working with students one on one, but I’d hate the pressure of making sure someone else’s work was perfect. I can’t even do that with my own shit.


        September 5, 2012 at 00:24

  4. Good idea about freelance writing for business and perhaps you could say “writing and editing for business. This way you’d not only get the contracts for new writing but you’d also have the opportunity to rewrite the large quantity of badly written text that already exists and be paid for it. I think that technical writing is a good area to develop since you’ve had a ton of experience in this area and you can include the work that you did for free as ‘previous experience’ when you’re asked by someone as to whether you’ve had experience of this type of work before. In my mind, there’s no reason not to include it as from the sounds of it you’ve been doing it for a long period of time. .

    On a light hearted note I must say that I liked the job option ‘Lord High Chancellor Czar of the Northern Hemisphere’…and when you mentioned stripper I immediately thought of the film “The Full Monty” directed by Peter Cattaneo.


    August 12, 2012 at 22:32

  5. @anotherpostacademic, thanks so much for the book recommendations. I will check them out. And I will be posting a review of the selloutyoursoul ebook once I’ve had a few weeks to apply more of the ideas he talks about. You should have some ideas in mind though when you sit down to read it..

    @anthea, great idea about including editing existing documents. ‘the full monty’ was a good movie and seems to remind me of a simpler time when you compare it to more recent raunch fests. I am tempted to write a review of ‘magic mike’ (as I was dragged to see it) because the ‘plot’ was so hilarious.


    August 13, 2012 at 19:19

  6. I highly recommend the Funds for Writers site/newsletter — great info on writing contests/grants/jobs plus useful information on freelancing and so forth.
    I’ve tried (am still trying) the freelance route. Managed to scrape by for five years without an office job. Currently have one in an attempt to pay off a few debts (useless MA in creative writing, chiefly) but plan to be back to footlooseness and fancyfreedom in a few months time!


    August 14, 2012 at 08:19

    • hey zooeyibz, thanks for commenting and for sharing your experience.. it sounds like you are really making the freelance thing work. congrats on all of your hard work paying off, and thanks for the hope it offers people like me! thank also for sharing the resources 🙂


      August 15, 2012 at 03:37

  7. Meant to include the Funds for Writers link:


    August 14, 2012 at 08:20

  8. I’m getting ready to write a similar blog post, actually. Great minds, etc! I have recently worked out a Plan A, B, and C, in descending order of ambitiousness, with A resulting in a NEH grant and C resulting in a community college job, and in the middle, the black sheep: a job as an advertising copywriter. Like you, I am finishing a PhD program, have recently had the epiphany to change tracks in my life, and have been researching what else I could do with my life. Personally, I’ve found that advertising offers lots of potential for creativity, fun, meaningful work, and (eventually?) livable pay. That’s the downside to the field–you don’t make much at first, but hey, it’s more than I make as a grad fellow in public uni.

    Here’s the kicker though, dude. Option 4, Stripper is actually part of my Plan A – C. If only I can convince reticent husband to agree to me returning to old job to make quick cash to pay off ridiculous student loan debt. I learned long ago that, when in financial need, a few nights in a club could turn into thousands in cash, and ever since, the knowledge has dogged me. Now that I’m all like, “fuck the prestige,” and I’m all like, “practicality and pragmatism,” I just want to pay off these debts and save for a house. Crazy thoughts. Gonna write about ’em soon.

    Your whole blog is awesome, btw.

    Dr. OH

    September 4, 2012 at 00:31

    • hey thanks for stopping by, dr oh! I am really enjoying your blog too! I would be fascinated to read more about your experiences… and humor aside, my nearest experiences to stripping involve watching ‘showgirls’ and a few lifetime original movies, so I have no idea what the reality is. (unless it is just jessi spano doing minimally choreographed dance moves and mispronouncing the names of fancy designers?) Does it not feel really depressing and seedy? Although teaching can feel that way at times.. does it feel dangerous or extra horrible though because it involves moreso your body than your brain? inquiring minds want to know..


      September 4, 2012 at 01:27

  9. […] obviously too late for me to get another teaching job for this year.  And I still want to get my non academic business idea going, but I need money while I try to make that happen.  I guess these are my options right […]

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