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Beyond Ac and Alt-Ac

If you’re like me, and even if you aren’t, you may have believed that someone who earned a PhD worked really hard to attain a high level of knowledge and that they would be rewarded for this with a tenure-track job. Yes, that’s the way the world used to work, when the professoriate was all-male and mostly of European descent. Some 40 years ago, one could even get an academic position without the degree as long as you had the other two qualifications.

Good tenure-track jobs continue to be hard to come by. The last time my local chapter of the Versatile PhD met, the anguish I heard from recent grads echoed my own from nearly two decades ago. “I did everything right. Where do I go now?” That’s when people start considering alternatives to academic careers, or “Alt-Ac” for short.

For those who’ve considered 9-to-5 when Academia got rough, let me provide a note of caution. PhDs like to read, write, explore concepts in depth, opine and maybe teach, and if you want work that’s creative, with a flexible schedule, that lets you control what you work on and how, the regular 9-to-5 world could prove too restrictive. However, a concept has emerging that is slowly catching on, and that’s ROWE: The Results-Only Work Environment.

I found out about ROWE through this webinar from ASERL (Association of Southeastern Research Libraries). Then I went to Jody Thompson’s site, and I was stunned. Here’s the way I always imagined the world of work could be: doing what one is good at, giving each task the time it needs and when it’s done, going home rather than sitting around waiting for the clock to strike 5.

One could imagine that a job is like a suit. You try it on, it doesn’t quite fit, so you want to give it some alterations in order for it to fit you perfectly. The traditional approach to a job is for the employer to say, “Nope! You have to wear this ill-fitting suit the way it is as long as you’re here.” The ROWE employer would more likely say, “Let’s see how together we can alter this suit so that suits you and we can all be happy.” I think PhDs and ROWE-minded companies may be a natural fit. It’s an approach to work that treats adults like adults.

But maybe you’re beyond both Academia and Alt-Academia. Then what? Consider entrepreneurship. Internet-based businesses are here to stay, and for Subject Matter Experts (that is, PhDs), it could be a way to get your knowledge out there, far beyond the reach of a classroom or campus. To paraphrase Rumi:

Out beyond ideas of Ac

and Alt-Ac there is a field.

I'll meet you there.

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