On transitioning into a job outside academia

We often talk about academia as being an ivory tower, but when thinking about transitioning into a job outside academia, academia may feel more like the cave that Plato talks about. Plato described a group of people living in a dark cave, and the only thing they see is shadows from puppets that other people move for them. For the people in the cave, the puppets are the reality because they are unaware of any other reality out there. In academia, we are often led to think that there is one career path, and that there are certain values that are important, for example publishing papers, getting grants and acquiring experimental skills and expert-knowledge. How are you supposed to get a job outside of academia and convince other people that your are good at this new job, when you don't even know what this job would look like? And more importantly: what the values are that are appreciated outside academia?

In Plato's story, he has Socrates say: "suppose...that someone should drag him...by force, up the rough ascent, the steep way up, and never stop until he could drag him out into the light of the sun." The person from the cave would be blinded by the light, he would need time to adjust, and only then he would be able to appreciate the new truth and knowledge.

I only recently dragged myself into the light and am still learning what the values are that are appreciated where I am now. It's not papers in high-impact factor journals (well, maybe it is, but not as much as before), it is not (only) expert-knowledge. It is mostly how to interact with other people, and how to share my expert-knowledge. And now that I am in the light, I see all these other opportunities that are out there and I know much better how I would be able to contribute in other places as well. I understand much better what things I would need to learn to get other jobs, and when I read people's job titles on LinkedIn I can envision better what type of job they have.

And just like in Plato's story, it's almost as if you need somebody else to drag you from the cave into the light. That person can be you, or someone else, or the lack of funding to be able to stay in academia.

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