Jess Alley

Jess Alley continues to switch career paths as a second year Ph.D. student

The popular career path for a Ph.D. student is to become a professor. Jess once thought that was the path she would take, but now she’s not sure what she wants to do.

While completing her bachelor’s degree she expected to stop her education there and become either a personal trainer or physical therapist. However, she was convinced by her undergraduate adviser to work towards her Ph.D. This led Jess to come to Iowa State University to complete her Ph.D. in the fall of 2015 with the career goal of becoming a professor.

“That [career path] has since changed, and although I enjoy research, I no longer want to be involved in academia once I graduate,” she said. “Perhaps I will change my mind again in the next few years, but I see myself developing a non-traditional career rather than working at a university.”

Jess is currently looking at options involving research at a medical facility, pharmaceutical careers, and even starting her own business with something in the outdoors. There is also a possibility of attending veterinary school down the road.

She said most people go to vet school and then acquire their Ph.D., but for her sticking, to the stereotypical education route isn’t a priority. Countless times Jess has been asked, “So what do you want to do in the future?” and most people expect her to say she wants to use her Ph.D. to teach.

“I didn’t want to disappoint people,” she said. “But after talking to other professors [about] students who choose non-traditional career paths, I realized, in the end, it’s my life and my career, so I’m going to find something that I enjoy.”

Jess wants other students, whether undergraduates or graduates, to know they have time to find what they want to do even if they think they are running out of options or feel pressure from others to make a decision.

“Just keep in mind there are so many people who get a degree and end up doing something else,” she said. “Even if you get a degree in one thing, you can always change what you do or even go back to school for something entirely different.”

While Jess has felt stuck at points in her journey of finding an career, she has never felt like her education is a waste of time.

“When I realized I didn’t want to be a professor, I still wanted to continue my Ph.D.,” she said. “I didn’t want to just quit. I wanted to follow through. It’s not just the lab skills but also the connections and learning to interact with people better, it all benefits you no matter what.”