Do you believe that your research topic is of absolutely no use to the non-academic world? And that, consequently, your expertise has no value in the non-academic job market? If your answer to these questions is yes, please think again.

While there are certainly areas of research that are purely theoretical and whose value lies in its high level of abstraction, I am convinced that every subject, no matter how abstract, can be of use outside of academia.

Take theoretical quantum chemistry. It’s about calculating the predictions of quantum theory. To me, this sounds as theoretical as it can get.

I once had a coaching client with a background in theoretical quantum chemistry. He thought that leaving academia would equal doing less interesting work because it would be too far removed from what he so loved about his research. (Sound familiar?) After meeting the team of a highly specialised startup that develops quantum algorithms to predict molecular properties for performance materials, however, he decided to give it a go. He never looked back.

What about humanities subjects?

Here’s a story that I love to share because it sounds so improbable. And, yet, it is true.

Joel Lim du Bois has an MPhil in Literature, where he followed his interest in critical theory. It’s not exactly the kind of qualification that headhunters are gagging for, is it? Today, he is the director of Commonroot, a strategic research and communications agency. If you want to know more about his current work, read this interview with him.

So how did he get there?

Joel told me this when I interviewed him for my book in 2016, almost as a footnote:

I had no idea that this job that I do now existed. I was approached on LinkedIn. [This was in 2009.] I had literally just done my LinkedIn page to have something solid there. And I got a message out of the blue: ‘Have you ever heard of semiotics? We are looking for someone who has a background based in critical theory and in marketing to come and work with an agency which I have just started.’ – And I said, ‘Yeah, sure let’s meet up.’ That’s the moment when I entered this world. Purely by chance, because I was approached on LinkedIn. It had nothing to do with anything I had done. Then I started working with this guy who had started this agency. It was just me and him at the beginning. He started about a year previously. And for the next year, it was the two of us. And we kind of grew it together to become a small agency of about eight people by the time I left three and a half years later.

By putting “critical theory” and “marketing” in his profile, Joel got discovered by the founder of SignSalad, a branding semiotics agency, who was just then looking for one of his first employees. In Joel’s case, this was pure luck. There was nothing strategic about it, I think. At first glance, semiotics (the theory of signs) seems to be way too theoretical to be adaptable to industry needs. Hence it may seem like worthless advice when I suggest you put your academic expertise into your LinkedIn summary, especially if your expertise seems entirely non-applicable outside academia.

But the thing is – and Joel’s story shows that – you cannot know what emerging trends, technologies and companies are out there. Someone might be searching for a new employee or business partner with precisely your (potentially exotic) research expertise. So try to think of a crunchy way to display your expertise on LinkedIn or your personal website – and share it with the world!

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