A Matter of Degree

15 Sep

Letterbalm Life After PhDDear LetterBalm: I’m 29 years old, and my life hasn’t happened. I got a Ph.D. two years ago, after many struggles, including paying for my whole education myself without student loans. Since I got my degree, I’ve networked like crazy with few job interviews and no success. To survive, I’ve had to cobble together part-time jobs, consulting, tutoring and barista work. No benefits, obviously, and no recognition. I’m trying to stay upbeat, but it’s hard when I see all my friends working at decent jobs, getting married, making down payments on houses and having kids. To make it worse, some friends and relatives think it’s hilarious to snicker and ask when I’ll grow up and get a real job, “now that you’re a doctor.” The rejection is wearing me down already – I have to deal with their mocking on top of it. Help!


Ms. L.B. says congratulations on earning your Ph.D. – and, having no student debt. Clearly, you are a resourceful, resilient person with the ability to take care of yourself. Presumably you’ve mounted a wide-ranging job search. Employers across many sectors recognize a Ph.D. as an asset because of the diligence, organizational skills and intelligence involved. You don’t have to limit yourself to job postings in academia and research. Consider non-profits, civil service, industry R&D, think tanks, healthcare, science and finance, and sectors that call for your expertise (statistics, anyone?). As for your doofus friends and relatives, work up several cheerful, disarming responses:

  • I figure that every job interview or informational chat I have adds to my arsenal and makes me a better job candidate down the road.
  • Rather than mock me, how about passing along one or two names I might sit down with over coffee? After all, you have a fulltime job and know your field. Maybe there’s someone who can steer me in a good direction.
  • [Smile when you say this.] I’m regarding my job search as a challenge. Whatever doesn’t kill me only makes me stronger – and, maybe, very rich eventually.
  • If you promise not to mention my being a doctor, I promise not to mention your last best man speech/quarterly review/dinner party/evening out/kid’s play date/boyfriend/girlfriend/whatever.
  • Yep, I’m a doctor. Only 2% of us in America have a Ph.D. It took a lot of hard work, and I’m pretty proud of what I did.

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