This is part 3 of my posts on STEM careers. I'm not sure how long it will go on. Probably until I'm out of thoughts on the matter. But I think, as I've left academia, I've learned some things that can benefit the people who are still there. Parts 1 and 2 are available here and here.
Last week, I talked about how much advisors could benefit their students by just keeping in touch with some of the people they used to work with who went into careers outside of academia. And I thought, you know, people might want some tips on HOW, exactly, to keep in touch.
First, for the advisors: It's not as hard as you think to keep in touch. I know when many people first think about "keeping in touch," you think of careful emailing once or twice a year, which, once you add colleagues and former colleagues and people you used to know...well that's a lot of time spent networking.
But networking doesn't have to be that way. I know many academics think LinkedIn is useless. I also used to joke about it, and not understand it.
Then I left academia.
LinkedIn is a GOLD MINE. And I'm encouraging academics to get on LinkedIn ASAP and use it. Not for themselves, but for their trainees.
Because this is how you keep in touch with all the people who you don't want to friend on Facebook, but who you just want to keep a tiny thread of connection to. A small rolodex, of people that you've known professionally...that updates itself.
Say you know someone you went to grad school with. You're pretty sure they went into industry. But you're not totally sure. Your student wants to look at industry.
- Go to LinkedIn
- Search for the name
- Find the person
- Connect with them
Most professionals on LinkedIn keep it pretty well updated. They know that employers go there, and it's also a nice place to look professional while networking. So many will have recent information on the site. Then, when you need them, you can look at their profile, see where they went, what they do, and message them "Hi Don, great to see that you've done so well in industry! It sure has been a long time since grad school! I'm now a prof at Big U, and my student is interested in industry in your field. I see you've been working at J&J for a while, I'm sure they'd like to hear your story. Do you think you might have time to chat with hir about it? Hope things are going well. - You"
You can even find contacts without remembering their names. Search your contacts on LinkedIn for "industry". Seriously. A set of connections who have that in their profile will come up. It's that easy.
This doesn't involve emailing or actively keeping up with people. That's the great thing about LinkedIn. And other people outside of academia KNOW this. They won't be upset that you haven't contacted them in years, instead, they'll probably be happy you want them to mentor.
Now, for the people who have left/are considering leaving academia: Please. Reach back. I'm trying to do this, to friend and connect with people who I've left behind. I connect with everyone who I know, and willingly accept most connections.
It can be hard. Sometimes, we leave academia and we're bitter. It's hard to leave that culture, to feel like you are unprepared for everything outside it, and to feel like, sometimes, it kicked you out. Often you feel like your choice to leave was not...respected like it could have been, or like things went badly on the way out.
And yes, sometimes they do. I've heard grad student stories of the kind of callous lack of support that make me want to cry. And I've seen a lot of people who have decided they want to leave...and have no idea where to look.
But that is WHY you need to reach back. Because all of us who have left academia have BEEN in that position, unsure, worried, stressed, and having a lot of difficulty figuring out what to do. By reaching back, you place yourself where people can find you, remember you, and get your help. By reaching back, you help ensure that fewer people will struggle. You can show them what success outside the pipeline looks like. And you get to continue mentoring and helping other people succeed. Wins all around.
So reach out. Reach back. And get on LinkedIn. Staying in touch doesn't having to be hard. And the little things can make a big difference.