Transition Q & A: Hillary Hutchinson

My newest blog post for University Affairs is an interview with career coach Hillary Hutchinson:

What do you do now?

I am a career coach specializing in helping people in academia either get their writing done in order to advance through the tenure process, or help them find an alternative career to academia if they decide to leave. I love helping career changers. Many people need help telling their new story in a positive way, showing that the current direction is built on past experiences.

Read the full post here.

Do you know what career path to take?

Happy new year! Here’s looking forward to a great 2015 for me and for all of you. Here’s my first post of the year, over at University Affairs. It begins:

“When did you decide to leave academia?” This question, or some version of it — “How did you know that you didn’t want to be a professor?” for example — is one I’m regularly asked. It comes up in conversation, on Twitter, or when I’m on a careers panel. It’s a fair inquiry, and the questioner tends to ask because she is wrestling with making a decision about her own future. But it’s a question that I can’t answer. There was no one moment when I knew the tenure-track wasn’t for me, and there wasn’t an easy process to come to that decision either.

To read the rest, head over to UA. Let me know what you think! What metaphor do you like to use?

Transition Q & A: Peter Larson

I’ve been remiss lately, not composing anything of my own for the blog… but I’m getting back on track and will let you know what I’ve been up to soon. The short version is: vacation! And continued coaching, learning, and fun.

In the meantime, I’m excited to share with you this wonderful Q & A contribution from Peter Larson, a former tenured professor who’s now a full-time blogger and running coach. Cool! Here’s a snippet:

What was the hardest part about giving up tenure?

The hardest part for me was that I didn’t hate my academic job, but there were parts of it that I didn’t enjoy. If I’d been miserable, the decision would have been a lot easier!

I love teaching. Working with students in the classroom and lab is what kept me going each day. While I published enough for tenure and promotion, I didn’t particularly enjoy writing scholarly journal articles — popular writing is more my style. I hated committee work. I despised being a department chair even though I had an exceptionally good department filled with colleagues who got along really well with one another. Dealing with academic and administrative politics drove me crazy. I think the latter combined with enduring several arduous years of curriculum change planning as a faculty senator did me in. I just wanted to teach my classes, but even there I saw it likely that I’d be teaching the same class every fall for the next 25 years if I stayed. I needed a change.

For the rest, head over to my University Affairs blog.

You’re invited! Post-PhD group

I’ve been pondering starting a post-PhD coaching/support/discussion group and I’m ready to set a time and give it a go. So… Tuesday, 6 August 2013, 9pm EDT let’s get together over the phone and talk about stuff. I like inclusiveness and think there’s a benefit to having a variety of people on the call, so anyone who’s an ABD or PhD in any discipline, anywhere is invited to participate. Keeping with the theme of From PhD to Life, I’d like participants to at least be open to seeking work beyond the tenure track.

Interested? Email me to sign up and I’ll send you the phone number and access code. If I get more than a dozen people interested, I’ll add another time. (So please do plan to make it if you sign up!)

What: Post-PhD career group
Who: ADBs and PhDs, any discipline, any country
Where: Your phone—email me for details (jennifer.polk@gmail.com)
When: Tuesday, 6 August 2013, 9pm EDT

Update! I’ve added a second time: 4pm EDT, same day.

Tina Seelig’s post-PhD transition

I came across this recently:

Soon after earning my PhD in neuroscience, my sights were set on working in a startup biotechnology company. The only problem? I wanted a job in marketing and strategy, not in the lab. This seemed nearly impossible without any relevant experience. The startup companies with whom I interviewed were looking for individuals who could hit the ground running. I interviewed for months and months and often got close to a job offer, but nothing came through.

Eventually, I got an introduction to the managing director of the San Francisco branch of Booz Allen Hamilton, an international consulting company. My goal was to impress him enough that he would introduce me to some of the company’s life science clients. I walked into the meeting and he asked me why someone with a PhD in neuroscience would be a good management consultant. I could have told him the truth—that I actually hadn’t considered that option. But on the spot, with nothing to lose, I outlined the similarities between brain research and management consulting. For example, in both cases you need to identify the burning questions, collect relevant data, analyze it, select the most interesting results, craft a compelling presentation, and determine the next set of burning questions. He arranged other interviews for later that day, and I walked out that evening with a job offer. Of course, I took it. In fact, it turned out to be an amazing way to learn about business in a wide range of industries, and I certainly did leverage my prior training as a scientist.

From Tina Seelig, What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20: A Crash Course on Making Your Place in the World (New York: HarperOne, 2009), 60-61.

Transition Q & A: Peter Konieczny

Peter Konieczny earned his MA in history and MLS from the University of Toronto. He is now the librarian at Oxford College and the editor of Medievalists.net and four other history websites. Follow him@medievalicious.

When you finished your MA, did you have a plan for what you’d do next?

I finished my MA in 1999 and at the time I was looking to go into a PhD program. Unfortunately, there were few scholars who could take PhD students interested in medieval military history at the time, and none at the University of Toronto. That summer I got a job working at the University of Toronto library system, which I really enjoyed. I continued to work there as I kind of halfheartedly looked for a graduate school to go to in the United States.

After talking with a lot of friends in medieval academia, I came to the conclusion that even if I did get into a PhD program, getting a job afterward would be very difficult. Therefore, in 2001 I decided to do a new masters’ degree in library science.

What do you do now?

For most of the last ten years I have worked as a librarian, including stints at the University of Toronto, a public library, and my current job at Oxford College, a small private career college that runs programs in health care. Being the librarian for a small college (about 200 students) also means that I do several other jobs for them—I manage their website and social media, edit a monthly newsletter and write most of their marketing material.

My other job, which is slowly becoming my full-time position, is co-owning and running (with my business partner Sandra Alvarez) five different history websites—we post news, articles and videos. The most popular is Medievalists.net, which has been online since 2008. Originally, we saw this as something we could do on the side, but once we saw how many people were interested in it, we began to take it more seriously and our hope is that we can both make a good living from it.

What kind of tasks do you do on a daily and weekly basis?

I do a mix of my own writing for the website, and curating other content that exists online, such as news from a university or a video of a lecture that took place. The websites try to appeal to a broad audience, so one day I’ll be writing about ecclesiastical history in thirteenth-century Cyprus, and the next I’ll be reviewing the latest episode of Game of Thrones.

What are your favourite parts of your job(s)?

I think it is all the great people I get to meet, both online and in person. We regularly go to conferences, where we get to hear people talking about their research and passion in history.

What advice or thoughts do you have for post-MAs or -PhDs in transition now?

Keep in mind that you will come out of your education having expertise in one subject, but that you probably need a few more skills that you will need to learn elsewhere. My training as a librarian was really vital in helping me create Medievalists.net, and I continue to explore new ways I can learn—I just recently completed a university course in magazine editing.

Transition Q & A: Sarah Kendzior

Sarah Kendzior earned her PhD in anthropology from Washington University in St. Louis. She is
now a columnist for Al Jazeera English, a public speaker, a researcher and a consultant. Find her online at SarahKendzior.com and follow her on Twitter @sarahkendzior.

What did you hope for in terms of employment as you completed your PhD?

I started my PhD in 2006. In 2008 the economy collapsed, and the academic job market collapsed with it. I used to be a journalist—my first job out of college was for the New York Daily News—so I had been through this before when the media industry collapsed in the early 2000s.

When you continually board sinking ships, you stop having hope. In a collapsed economy, this is an advantage. The most unnerving thing I see in the job market nowadays—academic or otherwise—is people working in terrible conditions in the hope of a future that never comes. Hope is something you should have for other people, not for yourself. Hope holds you down and blinds you to possibilities.

As a PhD student, I had one goal—to do the best work I could on topics that I felt were important. In my case this was how the internet is used in authoritarian states—a subject that anthropologists thought was bizarre when I started my degree in 2006, but was of great interest to the public by the time I graduated in 2012. While in graduate school, I published widely. I wrote six peer-reviewed articles, including in two flagship journals in two disciplines (anthropology and communication). I became well-known as an expert in my field.

This made no difference when I went on the anthropology job market, which contrary to popular belief does not value prestigious or prodigious publication. But my publications, as well as interest in my research from people in a variety of fields—media and policy as well as academia—left me in a relatively good position when I graduated.

What was your first post-PhD job?

Toward the end of graduate school, I started to do some blogging for a Central Asian news and analysis website called Registan. This was a fantastic experience—I only wrote a few articles, but I got an engaged response from a broad audience.

In October 2011, I defended my dissertation, but I had a national fellowship that provided a stipend through May 2012, so I ended up with more time on my hands than usual. I started writing for Registan regularly, working out a lot of ideas that I had had during my dissertation research. Other media outlets read my articles and began recruiting me. One of those places was Al Jazeera English, who asked me to contribute pieces on digital media and politics in Central Asia.

By the summer of 2012, I was in an unusual position in terms of employment. I had become well-known enough that I was frequently being asked to give guest talks at universities. I had interest from corporations and think tanks—I spoke at Google’s “Internet at Liberty” conference, at the New America Foundation, and other venues. I was starting to get interview requests from the media. I was publishing constantly and winning awards and recognition, but none of this made any difference in terms of finding an academic job. Because the only thing that really matters in academia is whether you have money.

No amount of achievement could compensate for my lack of financial resources. If I wanted to stay in academia, I had one option—to adjunct, living on poverty wages, until someone would hire me for a tenure-track position. I would have to quit my writing and consulting jobs, which paid me, in order to devote my time to poorly paid teaching and unpaid academic writing. I knew I would have to shell out for the AAA conference to even be able to interview for jobs, and I could not afford to go. It amazed me how much academia relied on personal wealth as a means to entry.

In August 2012, I reflected on this in an article called “The Closing of American Academia.” The article went viral and while it was controversial, the response was largely positive. I received hundreds of emails from people thanking me for speaking out. Al Jazeera English asked me to write for them on a regular basis, and I’m still doing that a year later.

What do you do now?

I am a writer, researcher and public speaker. I write regularly for Al Jazeera and, in the last year, have also written for Foreign Policy, the Atlantic, Slate, Radio Free Europe, and other publications. I’ve started writing more about social injustice in America—particularly in higher education, and particularly regarding the exploitation of America’s youth. I also write a lot about politics in authoritarian states, and about the politics of the internet.

There is not really a commonality to the topics I cover, but there is in the response I get—I get a lot of emails from people saying, “Thank you for speaking for me when I don’t have a voice.” I am fortunate to have a platform with Al Jazeera so I am trying to use it to draw attention to issues of injustice that are often ignored. These are the kinds of topics that I find interesting anyway.

In addition to writing, I do consulting, mostly for organizations that cover Central Asia or groups concerned with human rights. I continue to do independent academic research, and I am working on projects about digital media in Central Asia and Azerbaijan.

I also serve as an expert witness in Central Asian political asylum cases. I don’t get paid for it, but I’m pointing it out because it is by far the most valuable thing I have done with my PhD. Sometimes I think my degree was meaningless—of all the things I’ve done, it’s the thing that means the least to me—but then I’m reminded that it has value, just not in the way I anticipated.

What kind of tasks do you do on a daily and weekly basis?

My schedule is unorthodox because I have two young children. I’m almost reluctant to mention this because it tends to change how people see me. I kept my parental status out of the public eye until December 2012, when it arose in conjunction with an article I wrote, and then I was called a “mommy blogger” by USA Today and others. This was a really degrading experience, because I write about foreign policy and social issues in established media outlets—I do not blog about kids. No man in my position would ever be called a “daddy blogger.”

However, I think the first step in erasing the stigma of motherhood is to be open about being a mother, and not act like it’s something about which we should be ashamed. I want other academic parents—or graduate students thinking about having kids—to know that it is possible to balance work and parenthood, and not reject one or the other purely out of social expectation or self-doubt.

In terms of my schedule, my days are a mix of parenting and work responsibilities—occasionally at the same time. I have been interviewed on the BBC from a Gymboree, I have researched the plight of Uzbek political prisoners during naptime, I have pushed mounds of toys to the side so my apartment looks clean(ish) when I’m on TV. I work most on weekends and nights, when my husband is home with the kids. I have little “time to myself,” but that’s OK because I love what I do—both writing and taking care of my children.

What most surprises you about your job?

I was surprised by how easy it was to transition from academia into professional life—albeit unnerved that the path to doing it was so unpredictable. I am pleasantly surprised that I write so many critical things about powerful institutions but still have positive relationships with individuals within those institutions. There is a culture of fear in academia that makes people reluctant to speak their mind. But I have found that a lot of people share my views, and while there is always a risk in being outspoken, the reward in meeting others who share common cause outweighs it.

What are your favourite parts of your job?

I love to write, I’m happiest when I’m writing. I appreciate the international audience that Al Jazeera and other publications provide. I enjoy having the freedom to research and discuss topics that are important to me. (That was my favorite thing about graduate school too.) I love that occasionally I’m in a position to make a concrete difference in someone’s life for the better.

What would you change about it if you could?

I am a writer so of course I would change how writers are paid. There are a lot of publications that believe people should publish purely for “exposure,” but exposure does not pay the bills. (This is akin to the adjunct situation in academia.) So I tend to avoid those publications, even when they recruit me, and I’m sad that I have to do this because I always like engaging with a new audience.

What’s next for you, career-wise?

To my great surprise, last fall I was recruited for a couple of tenure-track jobs, even though I wrote that notorious Al Jazeera article. That was the moment when I realized I was happier doing what I’m doing now than I would be in academia. I didn’t apply for the jobs, and that felt strange, because as I’m sure readers know, most people would love to be in that position—including me a year before.

What I realized during my year on the job market is that having a traditional academic career is not as important to me as participating meaningfully in public life—and that the former actually precludes the latter. If I had an academic job, all my work would be behind a paywall. I would lose my audience and my integrity—because I would be working only for myself, only to meet tenure requirements, and I like to engage with the world. I speak to the public.

We live in precarious times. I have no idea what is coming next. What that means is that I can’t waste my life living for the future. I only know what opportunities I have now, so I work as hard as I can.

What advice or thoughts do you have for post-PhDs in transition now?

Realize that nowadays, everyone is in transition—even if they think they are secure. Ignore people who say that things will “work out eventually,” especially baby boomers who have no idea of the grim prospects for people in their 20s and 30s. Things often do not work out and there is no reason for you to suffer on false promises.

I see so many graduate students and recent PhDs sacrificing things they want—having a family, pursuing outside interests, expressing their beliefs—in order to meet other people’s expectations. They base personal decisions on others’ empty assurances. This is a terrible way to live.

In more practical terms, I recommend all graduate students and recent PhDs maintain a public online profile. Show the world who you are, what you know and what you can do. Academic culture encourages a level of insularity that is harmful if you are to ever leave the fold. There is a great article, “Advice to Future PhDs from 2 Unusual Graduating PhDs,” that gives tips on how to maximize your time in graduate school. I especially recommend blogging and using Twitter to make contacts with people outside academia.

Realize that people in academia have a warped and limited view of what constitutes “success.” Academia has been described as a cult, and when you leave a cult, you have to shake off its values and judgments. Only in academia is working four adjunct jobs for less than 10K a year “success” while working a non-academic job that provides personal satisfaction or a living wage “failure.” A profession that exploits people’s fear to staff its positions is not one to which you owe loyalty.

Above all, stand up for yourself and stand up for others. When someone else is hurt, be their ally. Never accept exploitation as normal. You are worth more than they tell you.

Transition Q & A: Chris Humphrey

Chris Humphrey earned his PhD in medieval studies from the University of York. He’s currently a project manager at Triodos Bank. Find him online at Jobs on Toast, his website of “positive & practical support for PhD careers outside academia,” and follow him on Twitter @ChrisHumphrey.

What did you hope for in terms of employment as you completed your PhD?

I had a text-book path through academia, studying English as an undergraduate, cultural studies as a masters, and interdisciplinary medieval studies for my PhD. After that I held a 3 year postdoc position at the University of York. During those 3 years I applied for many academic lecturing posts in the UK and had many interviews, without receiving a job offer. My postdoc was due to end in September 2000 and after a paid postdoc I was unwilling to take a salary cut and just do hourly-paid teaching whilst continuing an academic job search. I had a young daughter at that point too. Basically I was unwilling to become underemployed just to stay in the academic job game.

So I put together a Plan B, which involved searching for work in what was then the emerging field of e-learning and web-based training. I’d been interested in technology for a long time and the internet was really beginning to open up. I thought that some experience of e-learning could help me to keep my academic options open too. When I got my 5th academic interview rejection phone call I knew there would be no more posts that year, so I put my plan B into action! Within a matter of months I was offered a post at a startup e-learning company, on a good salary and with lots of opportunities to develop my skills. As soon as I started working in business I knew that there was no way back.

What was your first post-PhD job?

My first post-PhD job was working as a content analyst for an e-learning startup. With hindsight it was a good role for making the transition out of academia. At my interview I presented myself as a professional educator with an interest in technology, and as someone who was entrepreneurial, having funded my own research by winning several research grants. I gave examples of how I thought e-learning could be used in the future, for instance to show people how to do common household tasks such as changing the spark plugs on your car (this was back in 2000—this has actually come true with YouTube!). My interviewers saw the continuities in my CV and my story, were interested in someone who was looking for a new challenge, and gave me the job.

The main part of the job involved developing content for e-learning programmes for corporate customers like Vodafone and Hewlett Packard. I had to quickly learn about telecoms billing systems and the capabilities of LaserJet printers! At the company we always tried to make our e-learning programmes fun, for instance, by creating an interactive online town which learners could explore, rather than just dry multi-choice questions. Unfortunately in 2002 the company went into liquidation and I was made redundant. But I had acquired a lot of new skills and experience in technology and training, and found that I enjoyed working as part of a creative team to develop new products and services for customers.

What do you do now?

Today I work for a fantastic ethical and sustainable bank called Triodos Bank. I was made redundant in July 2011 and about a fortnight later I saw that Triodos was advertising for a temporary project manager. So I applied for the role and got the job, and within a few months I was taken on permanently. Working for an ethical and sustainable bank really fits with my personal values of doing whatever I can to make the world a better place—the bank only lends the savers’ money to companies and charities which have a positive environmental, social and cultural impact on the world. Triodos doesn’t offer accounts or loans to any companies involved in fossil fuel extraction, gambling, tobacco, or pornography. Especially in the light of the 2008 banking crisis and the continuing problems in the financial sector in the UK, it’s really great to feel that I’m helping to push forward an alternative and more sustainable model of banking.

What kind of tasks do you do on a daily and weekly basis?

As a project manager I’m responsible for planning and delivering projects for the bank, making sure everything goes smoothly and within time and budget. These projects can range from online web-forms to enable customers to apply for new accounts online, through to running a share offer or managing the installation of new equipment and software. I have 3-6 projects on the go at any one time.

I use a project management methodology called PRINCE2, which helps you to divide a big set of tasks into separate stages, so that you can focus on completing each stage, whether that is start-up, delivery or closedown. I use Microsoft Project too, but at the end of the day a lot of my work involves talking face-to-face with my project teams and the Heads of Departments who I work for. Good written and oral communication, and good people skills, are at the heart of good project management!

So in a typical day I’ll chair several project meetings to make sure that the work is on track for live projects. I will also be working on business cases for new projects that haven’t yet started, as well as writing closedown reports for projects that have finished!

What most surprises you about your job?

As a good project manager there are absolutely no surprises! No seriously it is such a great feeling to hear about all the good work the bank is doing, whether that is raising funds to help 700 homeless people get off the streets in London, or to help unemployed people and ex-offenders to learn new skills in Bristol. The work I do as a project manager indirectly supports all that, and it’s so thrilling to hear testimonies from customers or people who have benefitted from interventions supported by the bank. In these difficult financial times it can be easy to overlook the really positive things that are happening in the world, and so it’s a nice surprise to be reminded of them.

What are your favourite parts of your job?

It’s always fun starting up a project—you can’t beat the excitement and energy of getting started with something new that will fix a problem or create a new opportunity! That is really exciting. I also like working one-to-one with people, giving them support and encouragement and then seeing them go on to excel at something—that is really rewarding.

What would you change about it if you could?

I can’t really think of anything to change about my job. If I could change one thing it would be to raise public awareness of the power of their money and its role in shaping a greener future. I’ve come to appreciate that as consumers we all have the power to make a positive difference—for instance by consciously choosing to buy local, sustainable goods and services, such as organic food and green energy. This purchasing power also applies to financial services such as savings and pensions—does that higher rate of interest you’re enjoying on your savings come at the expense of people or the planet? I would encourage everyone to think carefully about where their money is invested, as it’s just as important as other ways of greening one’s lifestyle. To find out more about sustainable financial institutions in the country where you live, you can check out Global Alliance.

What’s next for you, career-wise?

As the bank grows it will take more effort to coordinate all the work that’s going on, and I’m looking forward to working with my colleagues in branches in other countries to deliver group-wide projects.

What advice or thoughts do you have for post-PhDs in transition now?

My top piece of advice is to treat the non-academic job search as if you are a professional who is simply changing sectors and looking for a new job and a new challenge. Many PhDs or others who quit grad school feel that they have hit a wall, and the discontinuity between higher education and business seems stark and daunting. While I appreciate that people feel this way, it’s absolutely not the way to start off with a job search outside academia! Rather, you should be looking for as much continuity as you can to drive forward your job search. I don’t mean academic subject continuities, but rather continuities in terms of skills, your personal story, commonality of purpose with your target employers, and your wider interests.

So my advice is: market yourself as a professional X—fill in the X yourself—whether it be a writer, educator, project manager, people manager, analyst, technologist—and you will find that there are lots of opportunities out there for these roles. You want to be talking to employers and interviewers about how you can help them in the future, and not dwelling on your own past.

Transition Q & As from around the web

Here are a couple interesting Q & As from Life After the PhD and Inside Higher Ed.

Here’s an excerpt from an interview with Jessa Chupik, who transitioned from history PhD student to executive recruiter:

Many students might be loath to leave the academy because they enjoy certain aspects of the job. How have you managed to integrate your favourite parts of the academic experience into your current job?

Gathering stories is what I loved about being a historian. Trying to piece together someone’s life from documents is what I did on a daily basis during my PhD. Now, I spend a lot of time doing the same thing, but I actually get to meet the individuals that I’m interacting with. I also get to do research and write a lot.

You know that rush you get when you find a document or uncover a pattern when you are doing research? I get that rush/excitement every day as an executive recruiter in the public and not-for-profit sectors.

Jessa is now a senior executive recruiter at the University of Waterloo. Follow her on Twitter @humanehr.

And over at IHE, there’s a Q & A with Ann Daly, a former women’s studies professor who left her tenured job and became a life coach. She writes, in part:

Q. After 17 successful years as a women’s studies professor, why did you decide to leave your tenured position in the academy?

A: I was dissatisfied and bored for a long, long time before I made my escape. My reasons were several. First, academia wasn’t a good fit for me. I’m a high-autonomy person, and my university had become increasingly bureaucratic and committee-obsessed over the years. Second, my foundational intellectual questions about women and culture were leading me outside into the “real world.” Third, I got bored in such a static environment. Seventeen years is a long time to be teaching the same thing in the same classroom and discussing the same problems in the same faculty meeting room. Fourth, I wanted to develop new capacities. The supreme irony is that my core desire, to constantly learn and grow, was thwarted within the very cultural institution that is supposed to advance learning.

Q. Now you run your own life/career coaching business, focusing specifically on helping women achieve their ambitions. What’s involved in that?

A: I work with smart, successful women who want to take it to the next level. I help them get clear about what they want, and how to get it. My clients are professionals and executives. I also coach several professors, as well! I bring a special level of insight to their career challenges.

Ann’s coaching website is here. Follow her on Twitter @anndaly.

I should have another interview of my own to post in a few days! Have you seen others on the ‘net I should know about?

Transition Q & A: Kimberley Yates

Kimberley Yates received her PhD in English from the University of Toronto in 1997 and completed a Masters of Information Studies in 2009.  She is currently associate director of the Jackman Humanities Institute at the University of Toronto.

What did you hope for in terms of employment as you completed your PhD?

I was a bit of a mess when I finished my doctorate: my marriage had ended and my mother had died in the previous year. I buckled down and wrote like mad, but I did not have any clear sense of what would happen next. My last year was unfunded, so I got by with a combination of post-separation support, editing gigs, and a research assistantship.  I assumed that there would be a tenure-track position for me in my field of medieval drama, and that I would probably be living somewhere far away and much smaller than Toronto, but I had not actually done the research to figure out where scholarship in my field was strong, or what was happening to my field.  It turned out that there were very few places where a tenure-track job in medieval drama was in any way likely to have materialized, and that the field was in a state of steep decline.

What was your first post-PhD job?

There was a gap after I defended and graduated, and before I got a contract at the University of Toronto as a sessional instructor.  My first post-PhD job was a temp assignment that I landed through an agency.  I spent six months at a land management company photocopying and cerlox-binding due diligence reports all day, every day.  I was roundly mocked for my useless doctorate in the humanities.  I was also freelance editing for a Russian translator.

After that, I taught for the Department of English, mostly effective writing and first-year survey courses. This was before the sessional instructors unionized, so after three years the department informed me that they had a “three years and you’re out” policy, and I got no more contracts.  There was another period of temp agency work:  this time I landed in the marketing department of an insurance company, where I had the opportunity to do some copy-editing and a bit of minor event management, but mostly I answered a 1-800 telephone line to provide product information to insurance agents.

By now, it was looking pretty clear that academia was not interested in any research that I might have to offer.  I was getting ready to settle in to the insurance field when a staff administrator position came up at the Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies.  I worked with a job coach to sort out my various experiences in grad school and out, and landed the position of assistant director.  I think of this as my first *real* job post-PhD.  The CRRS is a small non-circulating research library dedicated to the 16th-17th century in Europe.  It hosts lots of events, and it publishes an astonishing number of books and several journals, and it provides fellowships and student jobs to quite a lot of grad students and recent PhDs. My job was to administer all of this, either by making it happen myself, or by supervising student assistants.  It was a tremendously busy job, and it grew larger and larger during the six years that I held it. I also went back to grad student life part-time for a library degree.  Initially, I thought I was going to become a rare books librarian, but the experience widened my interests, and I started to think a lot about digital humanities and how universities work.

What do you do now?

I have been associate director of the Jackman Humanities Institute since July 2008.

What kind of tasks do you do on a daily and weekly basis?

Much of my job is about communications:  I write and post all the content for the website, I design event flyers and promote events, I keep minutes and manage records for the institute, and (this is the part I like best) I research and write short reports on a wide range of topics to assist the director in making decisions.  I am also the primary point of contact for our twenty residential fellows, and I assist them with figuring out all sorts of questions (I think of my role there as the fellow-whisperer).  I often do very mundane tasks like unloading the dishwasher, but I also get to have a hand in designing policy and long term planning.

What most surprises you about your job?

That it exists at all.  It seems highly improbable,  but it happens that our patron took a deep interest in sustaining humanities research at Toronto, and rather generously funded my place of employment.  It’s a really lovely environment to work in—a famous architect designed it, there is a new art exhibit every year, and luxurious touches abound. I am totally lucky to be here and I try to live up to that good fortune by making the place useful, happy, humane, and productive for everyone it touches.

What are your favourite parts of your job?

The perspective; literally, intellectually, administratively.  I am on the tenth floor looking east at the ROM. Intellectually, I get the chance to learn about an incredibly wide range humanities research, across disciplines and historical periods and global cultures.  It has been an amazing education.  And I have the chance to see how the university works from the back side, to hear chairs griping about their faculty and deans griping about the chairs, to watch the big politics play out, and to see how the place makes its decisions and plans its future. I find this completely fascinating.

What would you change about it if you could?

I am still a part-time worker, at 80% most of the time, and 90% when it is busy.  I’d love to be full-time.

What’s next for you, career-wise?

I don’t know.  I am enjoying my current position enormously, and I can imagine being here for another 15 years.  The years do pass quickly.  But I can also imagine going further into the university’s administrative structure, perhaps in Advancement or Governing Council.  I do plan to stay at the University of Toronto.

What advice or thoughts do you have for post-PhDs in transition now?

  1. Depression is a real possibility.  It’s a very fragile transition to move from the intense close focus of a dissertation into the wide and undefined world.  Pay attention to your physical and mental health. Get as much support as you can, both medical and emotional. Get interested in the details around you; try as many possibilities as you can.  If you land in something unpleasant for a while, know that it is not forever and be ready to move on when the next opportunity comes.  Learn to bounce.  Learn to adapt.  You are strong and smart and you have the ability to learn.  If you survived grad school, you can survive anything.
  2. Think through your experiences in terms of the skills you developed: I got the CRRS job (in large part, I think) because I had done a lot of theatre as a grad student, and making a play happen is not very different from making a lecture or conference happen.  Theatre experience became event management skills.  Teaching became both management and communication.  Researching and writing a dissertation became both project management and communication.
  3. It’s easy to think in very polarized, hierarchical terms in a university context:  higher/lower, winner/loser, up/down.  But working relationships are complex, more like webs and networks. I would have thought of my work as an administrator as a “loser-secretarial” job when I was a grad student.  It took me a while to shake the sense that a staff job is a poor consolation prize for failed academics. But I want to say for the record that university hierarchies are structural arrangements, rather than Platonic realities. The reality is richer, more challenging, more complicated, and much more satisfying.