Destination: Technical Writer - Mindset

I never meant to become an English PhD. I love both reading and writing, and would never subject these loves to the succubus that is doing what you love for a living (unless became a novelist, in which case, I would happily bang on).

The truth is (which I have told no one until now) is that I had one plan, and one plan only: To get my PhD.

What I did after that: I had no vision for whatsoever.

Many of my colleagues and friends are surprised (shocked even) at my decision to go corporate and collect a paycheck with a comma in it. And while my first instinct is to address this surprise, I think the more practical use of time here would be to answer the question I receive from many of my colleagues on the verge of graduating:

How did you do it?

I changed my mindset. It took a lot of thought and discussion with people I respect to decide to become a corporate technical writer. It also doesn’t hurt to add that, without giving actual numbers, I make a higher salary in my entry level position, than I would as a professor of Rhetoric and Composition at most institutions (those salaries are public, for anyone who is interested). Having a paycheck when you’ve only ever been amassing student debt is a big factor is changing a girl’s mindset.

Now that I was considering something I had never before considered, it was time to do what I always tell my students: Know Your Resources.

Knowing your resources also takes a mindset change. I have only ever been trained to be a college professor. During the course of my studies, it never occurred to me to pursue anything else. Much of this has to do with how the system is set up, but a lot of it has to do with asking questions. To be honest, I lived by this joke I made up: “What can you do with a Master’s in English? … Get a PhD!” I believed every A Prairie Home Companion joke about English majors too, which didn’t help. Googling “Jobs for English Majors” reveals lists of jobs, by bloggers with names like “Sell Out Your Soul,” which aren’t that obtainable by any old English major. I did not just get a PhD so I could rat race trying to be a news reporter when I’m not that good looking to begin with.

Once I had Googled my way through lists and lists of nonsense, I decided to put aside my fears of what people would think, and use my research skills to start asking the right question.

The wrong question: What jobs can an English major get?

The better question: What jobs can I get with the skillset that I have built in my English PhD?

So I made a list of everything that I can do. Absolutely everything.

It turns out I have some unique skills that situate me as a leader, a planning manager, an idea generator, and someone with basic technical skills that can get me into a lot of doors (like HTML, and CSS). I began to search again, but this time I ditched Google and went for LinkedIn, signed up for jobs databases and searched there, and looked for blogs about leaving PhD land and searching out jobs in tech.

While everyone’s approach might unfold differently, in the next entry, I explain mine. And if you are a PhD student, or someone that works with PhD students, I invite you to think through your resources and change your mindset.

Please comment below with questions, or thoughts on this mindset entry.