Author Susan Basalla provides insights into job search, changing careers

Author Susan Basalla speaks during her lecture in the Thomas J. Dodd Center's Konover Auditorium in Storrs, Connecticut on Monday, March 28, 2016. (Jackson Haigis/The Daily Campus)

Many students dread going home for break and hearing the question, “what are you doing with your degree?” Author Susan Basalla heard that question herself and turned it into a book. She made the challenges of searching for a job outside academia the subject of her lecture Monday afternoon.

First, Basalla spoke about how the size and composition of the audiences she speaks to has changed in the past 15 years, going from mostly students interested in arts and humanities to students studying science. Regardless of the subject area, all students must overcome similar obstacles, she said.

“Over the last 15 years of giving talks like this, it used to be mostly humanists, but ever since 2007 scientists have been a big part of talks like this. We’ve gone out and done some research tailored toward scientists,” Basalla said. “We really are all in the same boat.”

Basalla spoke about the origins of her journey to create a book, and how her inspiration began with her experiences as a student.

“How did that person go from being in a seat like me to having a career…I didn’t know that there was a messy middle part. What I’ve learned from talking to people is that, in my experience, there are a million smaller steps that people take between the ‘here’ and the ‘there,’” Basalla said. “I started cold calling these alumni, and asking these questions like ‘what’s it like out there? Is it safe? Are you using your brain?’ They weren’t the horrible, deformed monsters that I had been lead to expect. Every person I talked to would give me three more people to contact, and that ultimately lead to many a conversation with my co-author Maggie Debelius.”

The first piece of advice that Basalla offered was for students to prepare themselves for all the challenges and difficulties that come with a job search, including the emotional pain, which Basalla said is often not discussed as much as it should be.

“My first tip is get your head ready and your heart ready before you start your job search…Change is hard. Making yourself vulnerable and putting yourself out and saying ‘how about me’ is a painful exercise. You may feel that you’ve worked so hard and done everything right and the job market has exploded, and there are not enough tenured positions,” Basalla said. “If you’re mad about that, I share your anger, so I encourage you to find ways to get that disappointment and frustration out in ways other than your job search.”

From there, Basalla emphasized the importance of doing research and personalizing your job applications, networking with people in the desired field and making sure that your resume is strong. Basalla’s last piece of advice was that students should not underestimate the value of their hobbies and what they do when they procrastinate.

“Finally, don’t underestimate the value of your non-academic pursuits. Anything you do in grad school, anything you don’t want your advisor to know about. If you feel ashamed of it, I feel good about it, because it rounds you out,” Basalla said. “If you read the book, you’ll see that that’s the thing that not only called to them, but it’s also the hook that gets them a position after graduate school.”

Students said the presentation was useful and provided perspectives that they hadn’t considered before. 

“I enjoyed the presentation. I think it’s great that we’re talking about different careers, because the job market can be so tough,” post-doctoral researcher Sridevi Krishnam said. 

Basalla concluded her presentation by reassuring the audience that they do not have to live as an academic or a non-academic, and that living on the border is okay.

“Some of you are here in your first year, and some of you are worrying about what you’re going to do in three months,” Basalla said. “Academia tells you that you’re either one of us or one of them. I live on the border, and there’s lots of us.”


Edward Pankowski is life editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at edward.pankowski@uconn.edu.