Alternative Careers in Education & Academia

train your brain

There are certain expectations many of us have when it comes to careers in academia. The path is pitched to us as quite linear in fashion — earning a PhD, pushing for a tenure-track teaching position, and publishing papers to remain updated on the industry. The reality of academic professional development, however, is not quite so simple, and is filled with alternative possibilities.

It’s no secret that the traditional path is a competitive one. There simply aren’t enough tenure positions for every candidate who possesses the skills to work in education. This certainly doesn’t mean you shouldn’t shoot for the moon if that’s your ultimate goal, but it’s also worth bearing in mind that you don’t need to limit your career search, either.

Professionals who have knowledge and skills in education are valuable across a broad range of industries — some of which you may not have previously considered as a possible match for your interests. These options may not fit the stereotypical life of an academic, but they offer opportunities for fulfilling alternative careers in which you get to share your passion for learning.

The Corporate Environment

While a university might be considered the traditional environment for an educator, there are other landscapes, too. In fact, corporations are starting to recognize how valuable professional educators can be — not just to their training departments, but holistically.

Specifically, there has been a rise in the inclusion of Chief Learning Officers as part of a corporation’s overall strategy. CLOs work closely with every department of a company in order to design tailored ongoing curriculum. They work toward company goals, alongside helping each employee reach their full potential. Don’t be mistaken in thinking this is a simple training position, though — these are high-ranking roles, valued by executives for the potential to affect the successful trajectory of the company.

While the position of the CLO is relatively new, corporations are keen to connect with experts in teaching fields, and often actively seek those with advanced degrees in education. Corporations have also been quick to embrace professionals who can develop blended curriculum; utilizing EdTech alongside theoretical knowledge. These careers harness your leadership, adaptability, and intuition alongside your educational prowess. The corporate environment can come loaded with pressures, but there are opportunities to build your own creative learning programs and have a positive effect on your students.

career choice

Science and Healthcare

Chances are your ambitions in education are also coupled with a desire to explore specific subject matter. While there are opportunities in universities for those who wish to both teach and conduct research, it’s worth remembering that skilled educators with scientific knowledge are valuable outside of the campus, too.

In healthcare, for example, there has been increasing adoption of Health Educators. This career path involves helping patients better understand and adopt lifestyle changes essential for continued health and wellbeing. Educators work with individual clients and the public, and operate from private businesses, hospitals, and public health departments. In many cases, a PhD is not strictly necessary, but the National Commission for Health Education Credentialing does offer certification that demonstrates competency.

The role goes beyond the responsibility of providing knowledge that helps patients live long, healthy lives. There is also an opportunity to provide vital community outreach, advocate for changes in healthcare policies, and create literature with which to educate the wider public. An academic career that also has the possibility of changing people’s lives for the better is an attractive alternative prospect.

Educational Support

Those who have a passion for education know that the subject goes beyond simply passing on information — it has the potential to open students up to fresh worlds of knowledge and discover new passions. But your degree in education can help you find more profound experiences outside of teaching at the front of a classroom. For those who want to go even deeper, there is also the responsibility and honor of helping to guide those who may have difficulties in traditional learning environments.

A significant proportion of undergraduate learners in the US experience physical, mental, or neurological conditions that may be invisible, but nonetheless affect their learning experiences. As a result, there has been a push for the development of a wide variety of special education programs — from kindergarten to post-high school. This has also brought to the forefront an urgent need for professionals who are committed to creating effective education solutions.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics has estimated that opportunities for special education teachers will grow 3% in the next decade. A further need is also expected in inner-city communities, as well as in southern and western states. These are careers that allow candidates to specialize in supporting those with specific disabilities; from Deaf-Blindness to Autism Spectrum Disorder. Academics also design Individualized Education Programs, using their expertise to tailor solutions that can truly enrich students’ educational experiences.


An academic career is a life goal for many people; it can be prestigious and can help you follow your passion. It’s important to remember, however, that some incredible opportunities can be found if you explore outside of the traditional environments. From leadership roles in the corporate hierarchy to making education accessible to those with disabilities, you have the potential to discover a career that can make a difference in ways you may not have considered.

This guest post was authored by Brooke Faulkner

Brooke Faulkner is a writer, mom and adventurer in the Pacific Northwest. She spends her days pondering what makes a good leader. And then dreaming up ways to teach these virtues to her sons, without getting groans and eye rolls in response.

Ms. Career Girl

Ms. Career Girl was started in 2008 to help ambitious young professional women figure out who they are, what they want and how to get it.