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At a one-day conference on "Nonacademic Careers in Behavioral, Psychological and Cognitive Sciences," professionals from psychology, immunology, history and sociology highlighted their own nontraditional career paths-in such jobs as a legislative policy analyst or senior scientist for a research institute-and how graduate students can find similar opportunities.

In fact, the diversity of employment opportunities for psychology PhDs in nonhealth jobs has never been greater, said William C. Howell, PhD, a former executive director of APA's Science Directorate. The Dec. 3 conference in Washington, D.C., was sponsored by the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students and the Federation of Behavioral, Psychological and Cognitive Sciences.

To carve out your own nonacademic career, presenters gave the following advice:

  • Identify your skills, interests and needs. Evaluate your career goals and write a list of what you want to experience in a job and use it to pinpoint agencies, organizations and companies to target.

  • Tap career resources. Consult your university's career services, graduate or postdoc office, graduate student or postdoc associations and your professional network. Also, check http://research.apa.org, which includes psychology salary data, as well as APA science careers  for profiles of psychologists in nonacademic careers.

  • Conduct informational interviews. Talk to people who have a job that you want about what their job entails. Use these interviews as an opportunity to network and build contacts rather than to ask for a job.

  • Develop a professional network. Network with professionals in your field, such as by finding names through your university's alumni database. Also, seek out others with doctorates in nonacademic careers. For example, the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation has a listserv devoted to those exploring nonacademic careers.

  • Target places to apply for jobs. Psychologist Kathie L. Olsen, PhD-the associate director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy-suggested that students who want a nonacademic career explore jobs and fellowships within private foundations and scientific societies; law and medicine; journalism and media; policy; and research in nonprofit societies and zoos.

  • Create training opportunities. For example, conference presenter and APA CEO Norman B. Anderson, PhD, had an interest in health psychology during his doctoral training, but his program at the University of North Carolina did not offer health psychology courses at the time. So, he created a practicum experience at nearby Duke University to focus on chronic pain and behavioral treatment.

"What you start out doing is not likely what you will eventually do," said Anderson, who started his career in academia but then shifted to working in the federal government, consulting and writing before becoming APA's CEO in 2003. "Change is a part of the working world. This means that a key purpose of graduate school is to give you the ability to pursue an array of career options."

For handouts and additional information from the conference, visit the Federation website.

-M. DITTMANN