• GradHacker

    A Blog from GradHacker and MATRIX: The Center for Humane Arts, Letters and Social Sciences Online


Have Your Cake And Research It, Too

Maintaining your connections to academia after grad school.

September 14, 2017

Patrick Bigsby is an alumnus, former employee, and lifelong wrestling fan of the University of Iowa. Sometimes, he tweets.




Several months ago, I wrote a sentimental GradHacker post about appreciating grad school while you can, lest you regret not doing so later, after graduating. One astute reader wrote in the comments about the aspects of graduate school she missed most. She described grad school as “a community that you don’t always get in “the real world” outside of academia.” Obviously this remark resonated with me - I’m bringing it up unprompted eight months later! While my grad school reflections haven’t yet crystallized into as fond a memory as that reader’s, I agree with her observation: graduate school is a unique “community” with particular benefits. Keeping a toe in academia if you’ve taken a full-time job outside of higher education, for example, sounds like a time-consuming balancing act. Is it possible, I wondered, to enjoy the benefits and community we miss most about graduate school in “the real world” and, like ESPNU says, never graduate? I think the answer is yes - you can have the best of both the real and academic worlds.


The good news is that if you’re reading this from ‘the real world,’ you’ve already begun to realize that the divide between worlds doesn’t have to be huge. Unlike your old lab, office, or library carrel, the digital landscape surrounding academia doesn’t require keycard access. Academia-centric publications (cough), unlike academic publications, are mostly freely accessible and make it easy for you to stay abreast of comings and goings in the ivory tower. Past GradHackers have even put together some handy reading lists.


Reading about grad school is, admittedly, a pretty passive means to engage with the community which is why you shouldn’t be shy about writing about it, too. Recent graduates have the ability to share their best practices, inspire and reassure current students, and start the conversations they wish had existed when they were still enrolled - bringing ‘real world’ perspective to ‘academic world’ subjects. Virtually every publication (including this one) accepts guest (i.e. freelance) submissions. Don’t be intimidated by pitching your ideas, either. As I tell beginning journalism students, if you can assemble three sentences describing you who are, what you’re going to write, and why it will be great, you’ve got 99% of a strong pitch. The last 1% is hitting ‘send’ on the email.


Attending academic conferences is a fairly typical way graduate students (and faculty, for that matter) engage with the academic community. Conferences are opportunities to meet others in your field, catch up on emerging research, and offer your own work for others to engage with. Who says this has to stop when you enter the ‘real world?’ I’ve actually enjoyed the two academic conferences I’ve presented at since leaving academia than any where I presented as a student; I’m less wrapped up in who will think I’m smart and whether I’m going to the ‘right’ sessions. If you currently work in the industry equivalent of your academic discipline, conference organizers might appreciate your ‘real world’ perspective as a way to broaden a schedule dominated on ‘academic world’ presenters.


This might seem obvious but, if you’re like me and you take the Hank Hill approach to interpersonal communication, it’s worth saying: keep in touch with your friends in the academic world. If the best part of graduate school really is the people you meet, then by all means hang on to them. Friends from your cohort - and beyond - who are still enrolled or who have risen into faculty ranks can be great conduits into the ‘academic world’ and catch you up on graduate school scuttlebutt.


Finally, think about which benefits of the academic world you most enjoy and how you can replicate those benefits in the ‘real world.’ If, for example, you liked being part of a graduate cohort because it was intellectually stimulating, seek out those same intellectually stimulating people in your ‘real world’ environment. There’s no Newtonian law whereby the smartest people are necessarily those in and around universities, so don’t be surprised to find more than a few Will Huntings in your ‘real world’ orbit. Or, if you miss feeling like you were contributing to a body of knowledge, volunteer in the cataloguing or restoration departments of an educational institution near you.


Graduates, how have you preserved your favorite parts of graduate school? Current students, does the divide between the ‘academic world’ and the ‘real world’ factor into your job search? Let us know in the comments!


[Image by Flickr user musicvet2003 and used under Creative Commons licensing.]


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