I recommend you read this little post by Adam Kotsko, an assistant professor at Shimer College (which sounds like an awesome place, by the way). The following paragraph sums up Kotsko’s point, and it’s something Ryan and I have been saying to each other for years: most grad students have some skills that could be useful in the private sector, but few actually figure out a way to make use of them there. Kotsko writes:
In terms of making this work, you first need to think about the skills you have as a grad student. You have research skills. You have writing skills. You are basically an information processing machine. You hopefully have some language skills. Depending on your discipline, you might also have some advanced math or stats skills — in any case, you probably know how to use standard office software better than the average office worker does. You’re almost certainly anal-retentive when it comes to grammar and usage. These are things that don’t take any pre-existing special skills, and there are plenty of companies that need help with all of that. (And if you do have pre-existing special skills like programming or web design, then that’s just another advantage.)
Kotsko goes on to suggest that grad students make two resumes, one of their private sector work, and one of their academic work, as both spheres are irrationally hostile to what they think happens in the other, thus somehow tainting the mind of the person who has strayed beyond the borders of either. A lot of grad students I knew did something like this, but most still touted their academic credentials and work on their non-academic CV. They shouldn’t have, at least not in the language of academia.
One of the changes that needs to occur in humanities and social science graduate programs (the sciences are better at this for pretty obvious reasons) is advisors coming to grips with the fact that most of their students won’t become tenure-track professors. This has always been the case, but people still act like all of their young (and old) charges are going to work as “academics.” This fantasy leads advisors to almost never mention that grad students pursue work other than adjunct teaching, save maybe for volunteering at politically correct non-profits. Folks who work in the digital humanities are better about this, but even they don’t often tell their students how important it is to cultivate non-academic professional relationships, build marketable skills, and MAKE MONEY. This has to change soon, or else many grad programs and the people they churn out will insulate themselves out of existence.