Ask Michelle

M wrote back with an important follow-up set of questions for what to do with a PhD (and JD). He writes “Since finding jobs in higher education is becoming more scarce, what careers can I pursue with a PhD, or at least a master’s degree? Some of the disciplines I’m considering going to grad school include, history, anthropology, public policy, and global studies.

I would also like to ask, if I may, is the difficulty in finding full-time positions in higher education, the same situation in the field of law? I have considered going to law school as well, but I have been told recent graduates are finding difficulty in landing jobs as well.”

Of course, you may M! 

Let’s start with the social science/humanities degrees. If you contact Jennifer Polk or Maren Woods at Beyond the Professoriate, they would likely tell you that it isn’t the actual degree, but the skills you acquire when you get the degree (and I would argue that this also applies to anyone looking for legal employment). 

What do you learn when you earn a Doctorate or Masters Degree in the Humanities? You have deep knowledge in a subject area, but that’s not all. You will have acquired much sharper writing skills. Your ability to analyze and strategize about situations with context is greatly improved. Hopefully, you have a clear picture of how to use your time well and work independently. 

The ability to teach has so many facets that you can break on into transferable skills for other positions. More and more, people are learning how to put a team together for themselves as they pursue these degrees to achieve their own success, and THAT skill is invaluable.

These are skills that are useful in many different types of positions. And you have SO MANY MORE! It just depends on what particular content area you want to work in.

And what about a JD?

Again, you will want to think about what are the skills you take away after earning a JD and what kind of work can that be applied to. You’ll notice, in this post, that I have not listed particular positions to apply for. The question is do you have a particular skill set for positions that you see? What are you actually interested in doing? Sort out the skills necessary and apply emphasizing these skills.

I’m happy to speak with you if you want to sort out what skills you’ve developed as a JD.

One other thing I will say is that it doesn’t mean that, regardless of the degree you earn, you won’t keep learning and increasing the skill set arrows you have in your quiver. So many of us take advantage of further degree and/or training programs as we move beyond the professoriate (I took, and still take training on being an effective coach). You hopefully acquired the skill to always want to learn.

And for me, that’s one of the most valuable things I took away from both the JD and PhD.

I do want to say one more thing about looking for work as a lawyer, in particular.

There are so many people who seek to work in established law firms doing BIG LAW work, or in government in many different capacities. Not-for-profits have been an option for some.

Yet there are so many people who do not have access to affordable, quality legal services.

Why is this?

Because there aren’t enough lawyers providing legal services to the regular folk. We need wills, business documents, taxes, and other regular nuts and bolts kind of work done.

Mother Earth could use a team of lawyers right now as well, but you will have to find the impact she has on regular people.

But we can’t pay a retainer of $10,000 to get that done.

See what I’m saying?

As a licensed JD, it may be most effective for you to actually build your own practice. Yep, become an entrepreneur. As you do this, you may want to build in mentors to help you navigate your field and supervise you, if you will.

With both the PhD and JD, after you are clear with what you want to do, you will need to network to find the people who have the jobs you seek and get clear on if you need to augment your skillset. This way you can find mentors and start to clarify and find your ideal clients if you choose the entrepreneurial route.

Do this while earning the degrees because sometimes you can take additional courses outside of your field while you are in school and need not spend more money to do this later.

There is SO MUCH MORE that could be said about this, but let’s start there. Don’t worry about limiting your options. Just know that there is so much more than BIG LAW or the PROFESSORIATE.