Change is pretty common in today’s career world. People seem to be moving around the career paths all of the time. As a social scientist, I am always curious about our various courses of action in our lives. All of us experience change on a day-to-day basis. Some of these changes are small, such as taking a detour on the way to work due to road construction. And some of these are a bit larger, such as changing directions in a career path.
Two years ago I was a professor at Michigan State University in the American Studies program. I taught courses such as American Popular Culture and Evolution of American Thought, and worked toward publications in academic journals. I went to meetings to discuss department matters, worked with students on a regular basis, and consistently applied for grants, many times begging for funding for my research. I was an academic. And it was not like I imagined.
When I started graduate school, I wanted to be a professor. I saw myself at a large research university where they would let me teach one class while I got to start any project I wanted (for reasons unknown to me; hey, it was MY fantasy). I would travel to various places throughout the world and discover and uncover new knowledge and new people, then return to my office, slugging back coffee after coffee while pounding out publication after publication. I knew nothing about grant writing, limited department funding, almost impossible teaching course loads. But, I did know that I liked conducting research. That was what drove me to grad school in the first place. Unsatisfied, I began looking for what else is out there for a professor interested in making a change.
I had heard of market research firms bringing in social scientists to provide a different perspective, so I started to look into it more. I saw this as the detour in my career path that I had never planned for, but it has always been there. Teaching was interesting, but I went to graduate school originally because I enjoyed research, discovering and uncovering the unknown. And, now I felt like this was the path for me. I would step into the business world.
Today, I work for a private research company called Ethnographic Research, Inc. We are a group of sociologists and anthropologists who examine people and culture, trying to discover more about them, their lives, and their surroundings, in order to improve a connected organization, product, and/or service. We are professional researchers with strong academic backgrounds; some of us, including our C.E.O., are ex-professors. This transition has been a good fit for me. My detour took me to the right place. I left academia to join the business world, and it has been a joyous move.
John Kille is an Ethnographer for Ethnographic Research, Inc. He holds a B.A. from Rockhurst University in Psychology and English, M.A. from the University of Minnesota, Duluth in English, and Ph.D. in American Studies from St. Louis University. John spends a lot of time talking to strangers in sometimes strange places, as well as playing wiffle ball in his front yard with his daughter.
The Opt-Out Revolt: Why People Are Leaving Companies to Create Kaleidoscope Careers  by Lisa A. Mainiero & Sherry E. Sullivan
12 Steps to a New Career: What to Do When You Want to Make a Change Now!  by Carl J. Wellenstein