Rachel Mueller-Lust earned her PhD in psychology from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She began her career as assistant professor of psychology at Oberlin College, and is currently owner of Wondrance Weddings & Ceremonies. In between, she held executive positions in media including executive vice president, The Nielsen Company, where she was global business partner to News Corporation. Prior to that she was executive vice president at IAG Research, where she oversaw the Television Network division and helped develop advertising impact measures. Before joining IAG, Rachel served as vice president of sales research at ABC Television Network. Earlier positions included vice president, methodology research at Nielsen Media Research for nine years and also vice president, research at Jupiter Media Metrix, where she was responsible for Internet and digital media measurement in the Americas. She received her training and certification as a professional coach (CPCC) from The Coaches Training Institute. She is also trained and certified as a Life-Cycle Celebrant® from the Celebrant Foundation and Institute. Find her online at Wondrance Weddings and on her Facebook fan page, and follow her @rmuellerlust.
What did you hope for in terms of employment as you completed your PhD?
As I was finishing my PhD, my plans were to get a tenure-track position at a college where they valued teaching, not just publishing, so I applied to positions at smaller schools with strong undergraduate programs. I was also in love with research (I still am)—psychology research that is—because I am curious about people, communication, and relationship.
What was your first post-PhD job?
I took a tenure-track position as assistant professor at Oberlin College. It was a wonderful school where the students were bright and ambitious and the faculty devoted to giving them a good education as well as pursuing their research. My field was psycholinguistics—in particular how people communicate in social context where they may or may not have shared knowledge.
What do you do now?
I have come a long way since my first position at Oberlin. I would categorize my career into three main areas: Media & Market Research, Coaching, and Celebrant. I have had many different positions along the way but there has always been a string connecting all the areas. The string is my love of psychology. As a media researcher my primary focus was on the psychology (behavior) of people consuming media. About 10 years ago, I left media research to get training and certification as an executive and life coach. Last year I got training as a celebrant. (Yes, I am a life-long learner.) As a coach and a celebrant, the focus is on the psychology of relationship. Now, I write a lot! I am a celebrant and also a coach. As a celebrant, I write and perform creative wedding and other ceremonies for couples and families. I also coach couples on creating solid foundations for their marriages. As a coach, I mostly listen and counsel though I also do some writing. Writing and presenting is a wonderful skill that I have honed because of my training as an academic and my years teaching and presenting either in academia or the business world. So much of my career has been writing and presenting and that is because I enjoy it.
What kind of tasks do you do on a daily and weekly basis?
I write, I meet with people, I speak to people on the phone, I email, I connect online. I am building my own business so I am always marketing and in truth most of what we do in life is marketing ourselves. But as I see it, it is about revealing your true self and being authentic to who you are that makes you compelling and interesting so people buy you and your products and services.
What most surprises you about your job?
I am not sure that surprise is the right word, but I guess I am a bit surprised by how much I love to write. I wrote and published so many academic articles and book chapter and didn’t completely realize how much I enjoy writing. I actually like writing non-academic things like ceremonies, poems, lyrics, and self-exploration blog pieces the most!
What are your favorite parts of your job?
I love meeting and connecting with couples in love! I am a romantic and I absolutely devour their stories of falling in love.
What would you change about it if you could?
I wouldn’t change a thing! I have always been very self-directed and always searching for something new to learn and to grow and challenge myself. There is always something new ahead for me.
What’s next for you, career-wise?
I have no idea! I am really early in building my celebrant and couples coaching business so I want to give that plenty of time to see where it goes.
What advice or thoughts do you have for post-PhDs in transition now?
Do what you love. That sounds so simple, but here’s the truth: you were probably drawn to your academic study for a good reason—you are curious about whatever your field of study is. I am a psychologist through and through and love learning about people and their behavior and their relationships. I am also naturally strong as a leader so I have looked for roles that make use of that talent in academia and in business. Writing and presenting is something that most academics are heavily trained in so if you like that, which I do very much, you should also use that. So, you see, even though I have done a lot in my career, I have always really done what I love! And that is the key to fulfillment and success.
To read more about Rachel, her career, and what she’s learned over the years, check out her video and blog entries at EmmeNation.