In 2011, I completed my doctorate in Cultural Anthropology with a focus on black political mobilization and black identity formation in Colombia, South America. I’d had a great run in my graduate program, and by most accounts, I was a model graduate student. University and national fellowships. Authorship and co-authorship of publications in leading scholarly journals. Presentations at national and international conferences. A research fellow at the Center for Race and Ethnicity at my university. And, an amazing offer for a postdoctoral fellowship that came with all the bells and whistles – a 1:1 teaching load, faculty development training, mentorship, and a competitive salary. (Did I mention that the university was located near my family, which would make visiting my mom and aging grandparents so much easier?) Still, something about moving forward in academia didn’t feel right. I felt like I wouldn’t be able to exercise the best parts of me and my talents in an academic position, until I got to tenure – if I could wait that long. So I started looking for positions outside of the academy that would fulfill the need in me to fully utilize all of my talents and pay well.
Woohoo! I found the perfect job.
I accepted a nonacademic/alt-ac/post-ac position working on a new initiative the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. I had dual roles as a program manager and partnership coordinator. My salary was great: $65k plus benefits and investing options, which was pretty good for a social scientist working at a small nonprofit.
As I got settled into my new role, friends and colleagues from graduate school and conferences contacted me with questions about how I transitioned to a job outside of the academy. They marveled at how I still participated in academic conferences and published while working a 9-5 that was completely unrelated to my research. They wanted to know how I achieved flexibility and exercised my options. I started blogging about it at beyondthetenuretrack.com so I could help more academics have a model of how to make choices that work for who they are, not just the degree they have.
By the two-year mark in that position, I got a little restless.
Time to leap…again.
If you can tell, crossroads and choices are a big theme for me. By the second year in my job, my organization’s Executive Director approached me about moving up to Director of Operations; meanwhile, I interviewed for a Program Officer position at a leading national philanthropy where my salary would have started at $94k plus all the usual perks. The options before me were all excellent. It should have been a very easy decision. But I had spent time talking to the consultants my company hired to assist on work projects, and there was something very alluring about their flexible schedules, in depth meeting and process facilitation, and strategic advising. I was also starting to get an attachment to the stories I heard and told on the Beyond the Tenure Track blog. I thought, “I can do this!”
Like any researcher worth her salt, I asked a lot of questions and read a lot of books. Then eventually, I made the leap – again! This time, I was hanging out my shingle as a consultant with a focus on strategic planning, facilitation, program development, and evaluation. Meanwhile, I shifted from simply blogging about nonacademic career options to being paid to speak at conferences and campuses about the topic and to coach academics to new careers.
While a dream “career” for some, I was truly hesitant to become an entrepreneur. I say it all the time; I started as an accidental entrepreneur. Accidental because I just followed what I felt was right, where my interests and skills were calling me. The flashy, well-paying jobs were attractive, but my commitment and heart was in the phone calls and emails that former academic colleagues sent me during my first post-academic years. They shared their stories of needing to leave academia to make more money to support their families, the challenges they faced sharing this information with dissertation advisors and colleagues, or the isolation and lack of role models they saw when contemplating taking on entrepreneurial endeavors in addition to their academic work. I heard academics’ stories of frustration from limited thinking about who they could be and what they could do as academics. It made me so angry. Angry with the culture and structure of academe and graduate training that creates an environment where smart, talented people feel trapped and without the necessary tools to explore and thrive in endeavors of their choosing.
That makes it all worth it. Entrepreneurship is not without its challenges. It’s a hustle. The paychecks can be inconsistent. You have to find customers for your business, fund your own business, and make all of the decisions about your business. Full-time entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart, which is why I love part-time entrepreneurship for academics. You can use your existing skills to exercise your creative ideas that do not neatly fit within your current position and to make additional income outside of your academic teaching and research. Part-time entrepreneurship also allows you to gain exposure to new colleagues and fields and to expand your impact.
Next week, I’ll help you to see, to explore, and to take advantage of opportunities to earn additional income by leveraging your skills and creativity. I’ll also share information about an upcoming course that I’ll be teaching on entrepreneurship for academics.
To get you started, I’ve created a special, FREE guide complete with tips and tools for small-business owners.
Download your free copy below, and register for my course, The Academic Entrepreneur, today. Space is limited; I only have 20 spots available.
Have you ever considered starting a business? What questions or thoughts do you have about starting a side business?