Opening Doors to Varied Careers


Jen Teitle

Jennifer Teitle is Assistant Dean for Graduate Development and Postdoctoral Affairs, University of Iowa. Jen’s Twitter handle is: @jteitle.

Spring in Iowa City—flowers blooming on the Pentacrest, froyo for lunch, anxious final-semester graduate students reconsidering their career options.

For humanities students in particular, definite commitments to employment can be a struggle at the end of graduate school. Career stress is compounded in this last leg as tired dissertators face additional personal and financial strain. By March, some students have chalked up 50 or more failed academic job applications. This is decidedly not the easiest season in which to self-assess or brainstorm transferable skills.

So as newly-minted PhDs blink hard against the bright sun outside the academy, they are often thinking not about the next opportunities, but rather about the last ones, the ones they lost. They wonder what else they could have done, how anyone striving so hard to be good could fail to achieve that goal. They can’t see the big picture. We can, and we’ve known many brilliant candidates who couldn’t land tenure-track jobs. But myths persist, and I meet students every spring who feel like disappointments.

Knee-deep in a March snowstorm, it’s hard to believe spring is right around the corner.

This will be the fourth year for Open Doors, the University of Iowa Graduate College’s career education event. On April 22nd, we partner with the NEH-funded #NextGenPhD, The Carver College of Medicine, and grants from NIH and NSF. The day includes workshops on identifying transferable skills, polishing resumes, crafting elevator pitches, and leveraging graduate teaching experiences. A networking lunch connects students with mentors. Most importantly, over 35 PhDs and MFAs will host chat rooms and provide insights and advice for current graduate students and postdocs. These experts include:

  • Craig Eley, Assistant Director of Humanities Networks, UW-Madison; formerly ACLS Public Fellow, Wisconsin Public Radio
  • Stephanie Horton, Associate Professor of English, Harper College
  • Eliza Sanders, Writer for Corporate and Foundation Giving, Field Museum
  • Tom Keegan, Head, Digital Scholarship & Publishing Studio, U of Iowa
  • Jonathan Gajdos, Academic Advisor, Defense Language Institute, Washington Office
  • Lynn Nugent, Managing Editor, The Iowa Review
  • Lauren Haldeman, Web Designer and Poet
  • Matt Drabek, Content Developer, ACT
  • Elizabeth Lundberg, Undergraduate Student Advisor and Instructor, U of Iowa
  • Matt Gilchrist, Co-Founder and Director of IDEAL; Lecturer, Department of Rhetoric, U of Iowa
  • Megan Knight, Lecturer, Department of Rhetoric, U of Iowa
  • Lisa Kelly, Student Success Program Builder, U of Iowa

For graduate students of all stripes, spring offers the perfect moment to reframe the way they look at their hard-earned degrees, their careers, and themselves. A moment to pause and reflect. Then, when opportunity knocks, they’ll be ready to tell a new story when they open the door.

4 thoughts on “Opening Doors to Varied Careers”

  1. good to be thinking other options, are there any stats being kept on who manages (or not) to do what and how, and are there actually experts in transferable skills?

  2. Thanks for the comment! We do track PhD careers at Iowa, though it’s not a perfect system. For example, for many non-ac PhDs, the first job often isn’t such a great measure as the 2nd or 3rd, but that takes time/effort to track down. As for transferable skills, I’m not sure about experts, but there are some effective strategies for helping students reframe graduate school activities in ways that are accessible for non-academic employees.

    1. thanks, yes research is often hard without resources, what would be the qualities that make a measure “great” in these circumstances and how would one know what factors/actions made the difference?
      I wasn’t sure about experts (given the lack of research/understanding) either which is why I was puzzled by the advert above “These experts include”.

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