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.

Transition Q & A: Melissa Dalgleish

This is one you’re definitely going to want to read! Melissa Dalgleish is a regular contributor to Hook & Eye, an ABD in English from York University, and a research officer in the Faculty of Graduate Studies at same. Here’s an excerpt:

What do you do now?

I’m a research officer at York University, one of about a dozen (including Jamie Pratt, who did a Transition Q&A for you a couple of years ago). However, my job is a bit different from that of the dozen other research officers at York, because I support graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in research-related activities, rather than faculty members. I coordinate all of our scholarship and fellowship competitions, develop applications for major grants and awards, oversee graduate research that requires ethics approval or intellectual property agreements, and coordinate graduate research and professional skills events and programs, including the Three Minute Thesis competition and our Graduate Professional Skills (GPS) program.

Read the full Q & A over at University Affairs.

Transition Q & A: Carolyn Harris

I’m excited to present a Q & A with royal historian Carolyn Harris, a fellow history PhD. The full post is available on my University Affairs blog. Here’s a bit of what she told me:

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

The first thing I do each day is review current events, particularly royal news, looking for stories that would benefit from added historical context. I spend a lot of time reading, researching and writing. When there is a royal visit to Canada or another big event where I provide royal commentary, I spend time discussing interview content with TV and radio producers before going to the studio. I also spend time on social media. I tweet daily about articles I have read or written and post history facts of the day. I update my blog regularly with new content and updates about my work. There are also a lot of entrepreneurial tasks: writing article proposals, following up on article proposals, maintaining spreadsheets of freelance income targets and accruals, sending invoices and following up on them.

For more about her media commenting, cruiseship lecturing (!), and other work, see Carolyn’s full Q & A.

Transition Q & A: Daniel Munro

Daniel Munro is a political science PhD who’s now a principal research associate at the Conference Board of Canada, the country’s largest independent not-for-profit think tank. Read his wonderful Q & A on my University Affairs blog. Here’s a taste:

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

I wanted to be an academic — but not only an academic. As early as my undergraduate days, I had my eyes on career paths that would involve participating in public debate and policy-making. I thought that academia might provide a good platform from which to do those things — and my graduate education was essential to developing my most valuable skills — but I learned about and prepared for other options along the way.

Transition Q & A: Maureen McCarthy

I love these posts! Here’s another great Q & A, this time with Maureen McCarthy, a recent English PhD who parlayed her skills and interests into a good “alternative-academic” job in a city she wanted to be in. Here’s a bit of the interview:

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

One of the positive aspects of my job is that it changes every day. I write a lot, in many different genres: communications with CGS members, articles for our newsletter, grant applications, panel proposals, policies. Right now I am researching for a white paper, so my everyday tasks are similar to my dissertating days — compiling an annotated bibliography and adding sources to Zotero — but I also have meetings to attend, calls with current and potential members to complete, and other assorted tasks associated with building our new advancement program.

Read the full post over at University Affairs. Tweet Maureen @maureentmcc.

Transition Q & A: Joseph Fruscione

Earlier this week my Q & A with English PhD Joe Fruscione was posted to my University Affairs blog! He’s making the transition to post-academic employment, dropping full-time adjuncting in favour of a freelance career as a writer, editor, tutor, and teacher:

Now, I’m at peace with my decision to leave after this year: I’m set up to do some editing and writing-consultation work, for which I’ll draw on the skills and knowledge I’ve gained in the last 16 years in higher ed as a student and teacher-scholar. I’ve always been a great editor and proofreader, and I’m happy that I’ll employ these skills regularly in the near future.

For lots more from Joe, check out the original post!

Transition Q & A: Jared Wesley

Today’s post comes via “pracademic” Jared Wesley, a political science PhD, former tenure-track professor, and current director-level provincial public servant. Here’s a taste:

What was your first post-PhD job?

In this environment, I was extremely fortunate to earn a tenure-track position as an assistant professor of political studies at the University of Manitoba. At the time, I considered it my “dream job”; having grown up in Manitoba, I relished the opportunity to give something back to my home community. I was even luckier to have been given that opportunity while still ABD, even though it meant launching my teaching and research program while finishing my dissertation and living in a different province from my partner. Eventually, though, things came together. My partner joined me in Winnipeg, and we got married. I finished my PhD, and transformed my dissertation into my first monograph . . . . Life was great, but it was about to get even better.

For the whole Q & A, head over to my From PhD to Life blog on the University Affairs website.

Transition Q & A: Maria Irchenhauser

The newest Q & A is up over at my University Affairs blog site. It’s a good one, with German studies PhD Maria Irchenhauser. Here’s an excerpt:

What most surprises you about your job?

What most surprises me is how much I have learned about business administration “on the job” in the past 18 months — from day-to-day tasks related to sales, marketing, and account management to all the planning and processes involved in the launch of a new project. While I have no formal business-related qualifications, my academic training provided me with project management skills that are very much applicable in the private sector.

Read the full post here.

Transition Q & A: Dawn Nickel

Dawn Nickel earned her PhD in the history of health care policy from the University of Alberta. She’s currently working as an independent research consultant and also operates She Recovers, a business that organizes yoga retreats in Mexico for women in recovery from addictions, chronic disease, and other life challenges. Follow her @dawnsherecovers.

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

I hoped to get a tenure track position somewhere in North America. My plan was to finish the PhD and apply for a postdoc in the history of health care at Johns Hopkins. That plan was foiled when I landed in the hospital in June 2005 a week before my dissertation defence. I underwent emergency surgery where it was discovered that I had stage three colon cancer. I defended my dissertation a week post-surgery, in the Dean of Medicine’s private boardroom at the University of Alberta. Cancer changed everything for me. My husband and I moved to Victoria later that summer because I had been offered a sessional position. I started chemo and began rethinking my life’s plan and purpose at the same time that I began teaching.

What was your first post-PhD job?

Teaching history as a sessional instructor at the University of Victoria in September 2005. I only taught one course the first semester as I wasn’t sure how my cancer treatment would affect me but I was extremely fortunate and did well enough to be able to pick up another course in the second semester. During my first five years in Victoria, I always taught a minimum of one course per semester.

I also started an independent research consulting business as soon as I arrived in Victoria and was fortunate enough to land a few interesting and lucrative contracts over the first year. The research consulting brought me into contact with provincial government clients, one of whom eventually offered me a position as Director of Cross Government Research and Decision Support Services. It was a great job—for a while. I continued to teach part-time until 2011, when I found myself completely burned out from working a more-than-full time job as well as teaching. I gave up teaching in the summer of 2011. Late in 2011, the research unit I led was dissolved for budget and other organizational reasons and I found myself completely unemployed but with an extremely generous severance package.

What do you do now?

What don’t I do might be easier to answer! I have an independent research practice and work quite regularly with former female PhD colleagues who are also out on their own doing contract work. I do a lot of work with Alisa Harrison—another woman who has completed a Transition Q & A! Most of the work that I do is policy and program research in the health and social sector so I am definitely using my doctoral training. Creating and deploying surveys is a bit of a sideline for the practice and I quite enjoy that work, too.

In another area of my life, I am about to complete a life coach training program, something that I started two years ago. My life coach niche, should I decide to actually be a life coach, will be working with women who are in recovery from addictions (including alcoholism, co-addiction, workaholism, and the like) and other life challenges, including cancer and other chronic conditions. I’m not certain that I want to be a life coach . . . yet.

As part of my interest in the recovery field, I volunteer on a local committee as an advocate for recovery (we celebrate Recovery Day each September) and I was recently invited to be on an ad-hoc committee that is putting together a Faces and Voices of Recovery Canada organization, which is based on a national recovery advocacy organization in the United States. Finally, I operate a new company called She Recovers, which consists primarily of a Facebook page (with 20,000+ fans, to my extreme surprise), a web page with resources for recovering women, and a retreat business. My daughter, a dear friend and myself organize yoga and recovery retreats in Mexico for women in recovery from . . . just about anything. Don’t you think that we all deserve to recover from completing our PhDs? All are welcome!  Last year we spent a week in Tulum, this November we will be in Playa Secreto, Mexico and next April (2014) we will be in Akumal, Mexico. We are also looking to offer our retreats on and around Vancouver Island and elsewhere in North America. The great thing about having my own consulting practice is that I get to spend two months each winter in Mexico around one of our planned retreats. Have laptop—will travel.

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

Plenty of research and writing as well as all of the administrative work that goes along with having a research practice. I recently completed a comprehensive literature review for the Ministry of Children and Family Development (BC Government) and am working on a related project for that ministry and the Ministry of Health developing a Community Toolkit and Practice Guide for a change in practice initiative. Earlier this year I completed a big survey project for the Public Health Agency of Canada, working with one of my mentors in aging policy was a great experience. Currently, I am also about to close a human resources capacity survey and start analysis, that contract is for the Victoria Division of Family Practice. I’m deep into planning the details for our November retreat (we hire a chef so I am doing menu planning, which is a blast), and taking queries and registrations for an April 2014 retreat.

What most surprises you about your job?

I am surprised at how much I love working in relative isolation. I thought that after grad school I really wanted to get out in the world and I did—for a while. At one point I directed a 28-person research team, and I loved it. But I am really learning that I prefer to work on my own at least 75% of the time, at home, with my tea kettle close by and my slippers on. I credit cancer with helping me get over the whole “must get a tenure track position” idea, although I think I would have realized soon into one that it wouldn’t have been for me. I am also constantly surprised by how much I get to use my graduate training—not just the skills but the content.

What are your favourite parts of your job?

The variety! I usually work on three or four projects at a time—some are longer term (12–18 months) and others last only a few weeks. Working in the fields of health and social policy—I always feel like I am doing important work that will in some measure make a difference in people’s lives. I’m always learning and that’s a highlight. I also really enjoy working with other women who like me, earned a PhD and are grateful to be doing something quite unlike what we thought we would be doing when we were studying.

What would you change about it if you could?

I am not the best with document formatting and I despise not being able to stay on top of my email. I wouldn’t mind taking a bit of training to help with both challenges.

What’s next for you, career-wise?

More of the same for the next twenty years? Well, maybe thirty years given my late start (I’m 53). I’m perfectly content with my present career(s). Retirement may be far off on the horizon, if at all, but the fact that I now get to spend several months down south each year makes me feel like I’m living part of my retirement now. And it’s all good.

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

I would echo what Alisa Harrison had to say when she answered this question:think big. I would add, think far outside of the box. Figure out who you are and how you want to be in the world, and find the career that supports you in that. Life’s too short not to live in our own truth; I know that sounds all hokey but it works for me. I used to live to work, and I’ve flipped that right over. Now I work so that I can live the life I want to live. The fact that the work is so meaningful and fulfilling is definitely a bonus.

You’re invited: New group!

After hosting a few group discussions and participating in lots of conversations with PhDs, I’m ready to take my next step: group coaching!

So… I’m launching my first From PhD to Life weekly coaching/support group for recent PhDs, soon-to-be PhDs, and ABDs leaving the academy. Together, we’ll support and encourage each other as we take steps toward achieving our goals. We’ll also talk about ways to build confidence, manage our time, expand our networks, and otherwise navigate life beyond the ivory tower. Participants will commit to moving forward each week in ways that are best suited to where they are and where they’re headed. (And I fully expect to be inspired and motivated to move forward, too!)

The group is open to 5 or 6 people, and will meet (over the phone) weekly on Tuesdays at 7pm ET, for an hour. The dates are 3, 10, 17, and 24 September 2013. I’ll provide participants with a phone number and access code.

Since this is the first time I’m doing this, let’s try it for a month (4 Tuesdays) and then reassess. The cost for the month is US$35, payable in advance via PayPal. You’re responsible for paying any long distance phone charges.

Want to participate? Want to know more? Have any questions? Email me:

This is so exciting! (It’s also a little nerve-wracking.) Thanks to everyone’s who’s contributed to my thinking on this so far 🙂