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Post PhD: Teach at a Private School or go back to Museums?


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For a long time my background was in a VERY specialized field in the museum sector (conservation). There are VERY few jobs. After my husband and I moved to upstate New York I was extremely lucky to find a good job in my field, but it was an hour and a half drive one way from our house, which we were/are not willing to move from for various reasons. The drive eventually became physically, emotionally, and financially draining, and when the opportunity came up to leave to do a funded PhD I took it. Now, halfway through my program, I need to start thinking about what might be next, and suddenly find myself with several options where I have been used to having literally zero or none for my entire working life. I've been thinking/ talking with my husband about these options and thought that I would look here for some advice as well. 


  • I don't need to make a ton of money. My husband has a good job, but I do still need to pay off my student loans and have a fallback in case anything ever happens with his job. 
  • Moving IS NOT an option. The following options are being considered because there is potential for me to be able to do them in my current city. Please do not recommend that I join a nationwide TTP search or move to L.A. or something. 
  • I am under absolutely zero delusions that a tenure track position is going to be an option. Sure, if one comes up in my area that would be great, but my work is very specialized and tenure was never a hard goal for me. 
  • Similarly, I don't care about losing the "prestige" of academia, or about people potentially looking down on my for choosing "alt-ac." I have different priorities. 
  • We want something that will be flexible and allow me to spend time with/ be available for our (future) children. We have no hard and fast rules for this; we're not anti-daycare or anything like that, but we do want some options that will allow time off for vacations, some afternoons at home, family activities, etc. My husband travels for work and often has chunks of free time when we would be able to spend time together. 
  • I have contacts in both sectors, who have suggested that I consider these options. 

Basically the two main options are:

  1. A combination of part-time museum work and teaching adjunct courses. This will allow me to keep my feet in both worlds that I love: teaching and museums. When the kids are older this could potentially transition back into full-time museum work if I choose. One of the biggest motivations for doing the PhD was to get teaching experience and find out if I really loved it as much as I thought I would. I do, so continuing to teach would be great. 
  2. Teaching at a private high school. This is appealing because there are MANY schools in my city. Several of them pride themselves on having an interdisciplinary curriculum which is exactly my wheelhouse. One of my contacts at a local school seemed very excited about my background, which combines art, chemistry/science, and history. I have always been attracted to the community atmosphere of K-12 schools (my mom was a teacher), so this option really appeals to me for that reason. Of course, the idea of long holiday and summer breaks is also quite appealing. Unfortunately, because of New York's rules, private schools would be my only option since I don't have a teaching certificate. 

I know what museums are like, so I think I am mostly looking for a conversation about the K-12 option. Has anyone gone from PhD to teaching high school? Do you know anyone who has done this? I understand that I am largely uninformed about how this might play out in the "real world." Feel free to inform me (that's why I am here), but please be kind about it. 

Thanks in advance for your thoughts! 




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The best place to find people who have gone from PhD to teaching high school would be to go to VersatilePhD.com and look through the posts and profiles there. If you're lucky, your PhD institution might be a subscribing member, which will give you a chance to read profiles of PhDs working outside academia in various fields, including K-12 ed. 

(As an aside, I'll note that if you're only halfway through your PhD, you probably have time/opportunity to do what you'd need to do in order to be eligible for a teaching certificate, which would greatly expand your options. It's worth looking into, as are various provisional certification programs where you'd be able to teach while completing the work for full certification.)

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Yeah, I don't have any experience in this area but there are tons and tons of PhDs who have gone to teach at private/independent high schools. I have heard, anecdotally, that depending on the private school this can feel almost like teaching underclassmen at a college. Private school students at very selective ones can be very bright.

Take a look at Carney Sandoe & Associates, a firm that specializes in placing faculty at private and independent schools.

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