Toolkit for Alt-Ac Survival

If you’ve earned a doctoral degree, you know how to survive. You learned how to live with uncertainty and overcome your fears. What’s next?  What’s your next career move? Work in academia? Be an independent researcher? Start a business? Explore a series of new directions? Or maybe you’re thinking about life as an alt-ac.

Alt-ac jobs cover a variety of full-time non-teaching and non-research jobs.  In academia, these are jobs in administration, counseling, student affairs or R&D. Outside of  higher education, alt-acs are librarians, independent scholars or freelance writers.

Planning Big and Small

You may already be working as an alt-ac: doing independent research, writing articles, academic coaching or mentoring. But how to you survive as an alt-ac? These tips can help you create a successful alt-ac journey.

Create a steady cash flow:  Get paid for your work. Even when clients don’t pay on time, you should still get paid.

One idea is to pay yourself with a paycheck each month. Keep the amount steady and fair. Set up two accounts – one for business (savings) and a personal account (checking). Write yourself a paycheck each month, no matter how small. You deserve to get paid.

Design your work flow: This tip may be a hard one to follow. If you’re thinking big and small, try to leverage your projects with every client. Pitch a series of ideas from a single column or article.

For example, one article on urban food systems or policies can explore local, regional, national and international food policies.

Write a series of articles on each type of food system, compare and contrast, analyze and explore the challenges of each system. Wrap up your series with an article on the future of food and how each type of food system or policy contributes to a solution.

Design your work flow for the long term. Take advantage from every project and leverage your skills whenever you can.

Create your community: Working as an alt-ac can be a lonely journey. Find an alt-ac community group or meet up to ease the challenge of working alone. Skype, call, chat, text, find a way to connect with others.

I created a community to help me get through my dissertation journey.  It took a long time to evolve – many students didn’t think they needed a peer support group. But a community offers moral support, a sounding board, something intangible that you can count on.

You can meet lifelong friends in a peer community. It will be worth your time to find one that fills the void of working solo.

Final Thoughts

A final alt-ac tip is to keep an eye on the bigger picture. Try to standardize your editing skills, writing, research, or coaching talents. Think bigger than piecemeal jobs. Create value for your clients and turn that first job into a steady income source.

I hope these tips are useful for your alt-ac toolkit.

Best of luck!


Dr. Bessie

Source: The Search for Stability as a Freelance Academic


Many great ideas have been lost because the people who had them could not stand being laughed at.


Author: Dr. Bessie DiDomenica

Food Policy Researcher • Resilient Agriculture Advocate • Public Speaker • Public Policy Wonk • Writer • Teacher • Social Entrepreneur • Associate Editor

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s