During my doctorate I worked occasionally as a freelance researcher and administrative assistant for a few small consultancies. After I defended, my plan was to continue doing this but on a more consistent basis, in the hopes of growing my client base or workload, and thus make more money. Well, that didn’t work out and over time I figured out a few things about myself and what kind of environment I thrive in. When I first talked to Hillary, my career coach, in October, she gave me a little homework assignment: fill out a short quiz about entrepreneurialism. If I answered “yes” to most of the questions, it meant entrepreneurship suited me. You’re probably not surprised to know that, yes, there were lots of yesses.
That quiz helped me clarify my goals, and over time I realized that running my own business really was what I wanted. No wonder I’d never applied for any jobs, in any formal way: I intuitively knew what I wanted long before my intellect caught up. Since then I’ve worked to narrow my focus to determine what kind of work I’d like to do.
My grad school experiences scream “future business owner,” even though I didn’t realize it at the time. And I think the entrepreneurial bent is common among PhDs, certainly in the humanities and social sciences. Like running a business, doing a PhD isn’t the norm. Working solo on a project for years at a time isn’t the norm. Organizing and carrying out all aspects of that project, from brainstorming to research to final editing, isn’t normal. And doing it without, in many cases, strong supervision, oversight, or financial success, is certainly out of the ordinary. Doctoral students are incredibly self-motivated and driven: to plan, research, write, present, teach, apply, report, submit, budget, edit, navigate bureaucracy, and manage their own time and their supervisors’ expectations. The ability to do all this is a pretty strong indicator to me that they’d be successful later in life as entrepreneurs. I loved setting my own schedule (mostly) and doing my project my own way (also mostly).
It’s not just fierce independence, determination, all-round competence, and high level organization skills that tell me many of us could be successful entrepreneurs. It’s also that we’re smart, creative, and excellent communicators. Sure, there’s much to learn about the world beyond the academy—but hey: learning’s what we do best!
Have you thought about running your own business, setting up as a freelancer, or joining a small start-up firm? Or maybe you already have! I’d love to know more about what you’re doing or what you’re thinking about.