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Transition Q & A: Daniel Munro

Posted on April 10, 2014 by

Daniel Munro earned his PhD in political science from MIT He is currently a principal research associate at the Conference Board of Canada, working in the Centre for Skills and Post-Secondary Education. Find him online and follow him @dk_munro.

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.

I was very fortunate to have a doctoral advisor, Joshua Cohen (now at Stanford) who is both a leading scholar in democratic theory and an engaged citizen in the richest sense of the term. Among his non-academic activities — and there are many — he serves as editor of the Boston Review. His office was always filled to capacity with essays, opinion pieces, books for review, film reviews, new poetry, and magazine proofs and we’d talk not only about my progress, but about all this stuff and the daily business of running a national magazine dedicated to elevating public discourse. He once asked me if I could donate $15,000 to support a particular BR initiative. I reminded him that I was on full scholarship and needs-based student aid. He bought me a coffee.

In my third year at MIT, my office was located inside the offices of the Boston Review (which was itself housed in the political science department). Being in that environment reinforced my habit of spending some time on non-academic writing, including pieces on politics, philosophy, and art for Canadian and American magazines and newspapers. And it gave my days a different feel and pace than a more conventional academic office might. Near the end of my PhD, I tried to launch a magazine on science, politics, and policy with a fellow MIT grad student. It failed. But I learned a lot in the process.

All of this is to say that, yes, I wanted to be an academic, but I had other things in mind too.

What was your first post-PhD job?

I had a few jobs in the last couple of years of my PhD which I completed after returning to Canada. In addition to teaching a few political theory courses, I volunteered at the Toronto offices of Oxfam Canada and founded its Education Working Group. That gave me my first real taste of NGO life and, had the right opportunity presented itself, I might have stayed.

Immediately after finishing my PhD, I held the democracy and diversity postdoctoral Fellowship at Queen’s University, based in the philosophy department and associated with Will Kymlicka’s Forum for Philosophy and Public Policy. I wrote and published a few academic papers, did some teaching and spent a little more time writing for audiences outside the academy. Will was another great mentor who cared about the bridge between academia and public policy. Before becoming a professional philosopher, he worked in a policy role in the federal civil service but left because, as he told me, he couldn’t bear to sit through another long and seemingly pointless meeting. That observation resonated with me and shaped some of my later decisions. Before and during the post-doc I applied to many academic jobs and there were some interviews and offers, but none really provided a good platform for pursuing my other non-academic interests, and geography was an issue.

After the postdoc I worked as a senior analyst with the Council of Canadian Academies — an arms-length, federally funded organization with a mandate to assess science relevant to various public issues. The range of work appealed to my intellectual restlessness. I researched and wrote on the health and environmental risks of nanotechnology; influenza transmission and the effectiveness of prevention measures; and the state of management, business, and finance research in Canada. I got to peer into the policy-making process without being inside the civil service itself and, because expert panels are at the centre of CCA work, I met and worked with some incredibly bright and prominent people in the Canadian scientific community.

I also had the benefit of working closely with Peter Nicholson — the inaugural President and CEO of the CCA, a well-known economist, and chief advisor to former Prime Minister Paul Martin. We disagreed about many things, but I learned as much about policy, writing, and negotiation as I did in all of my years as a student of political science. I knew in my first few weeks that the CCA might not be quite right for me and I spoke to Peter about this. He shared that, in his life, he gave every opportunity at least a year before moving on — whether because he had accomplished what he set out to do, or because the environment wasn’t conducive to accomplishing what he wanted to do. I stayed at the CCA for nearly a year, learned a great deal, and continue to believe that it is an important, albeit little known, institution in Canadian policy-making. But it wasn’t the right place for a political science PhD. Simply put, I wasn’t challenged.

What do you do now?

I am a principal research associate at the Conference Board of Canada – Canada’s largest, independent, not-for-profit think tank – where I play a lead research role in the Centre for Skills and Post-Secondary Education, among other things. For the past five years, I’ve also taught a course in ethics and moral reasoning in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa. I have no intention of returning full-time to academia, but I like the opportunity to debate big ideas with graduate students and seasoned scholars.

When I first applied to the Conference Board, it was for the position of speechwriter for the president. Speechwriting was something that I always wanted to try and this opportunity came up. In one of two interviews, I surprised myself by telling Anne Golden, the former president, that I would only work for her if she would give me space to “push back” when I thought she was wrong about something. She offered me the job. But I turned it down upon learning that it was only for three days a week, not full-time. With a young child at home, I needed a little more stability. In an unexpected move for which I am grateful, Anne said that she would find a place for me at the Board anyway. After I met with two of the Board’s VPs, I was offered full-time employment as a researcher.

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

My core activities are research, writing and sharing results. The research involves survey design and analysis, literature reviews, data analysis and interviews with people in business, labour, government, academia and civil society — all skills I first developed in my PhD program. Sharing the results involves everything from writing reports, policy papers and op-eds, to briefing decision-makers, presenting at conferences, doing interviews with print and broadcast media, and participating in social media. Again, the research and teaching experience I acquired as a doctoral student provided a solid foundation for doing all of these things, while extracurricular activities and training provided by my employer helped me to refine them. As most of our work is produced by teams, I also spend much of my time managing the efforts of other researchers and, when work is ready for publication, working with the Board’s communications team on the design and execution of media strategies.

What most surprises you about your job?

I’m frequently taken aback by the wide variety of people I get to talk to — while doing research or sharing results — and listening to their experiences and perspectives on issues. Had someone told me six or seven years ago that some of the smartest, most insightful, people in the country work outside the academy, I would have laughed. I did laugh. Was I ever wrong.

What are your favourite parts of your job?

The best part of my job is the fact that many people read and react to what I write — and often make decisions based on my analysis. It appeals to my desire to contribute something valuable to public discourse. And the ever-present possibility of publicity, as I call it, really drives me to work rigorously and self-critically.

What would you change about it if you could?

Sometimes the pace can get a bit overwhelming, and the various processes we have in place to ensure that work is done to the highest standards can be time-consuming. But these are nothing compared to the fact that I have to tuck-in my shirt every day and occasionally wear a tie or even a suit. I find office attire conventions ridiculous and unreasonably limiting. I’m a political philosopher, after all.

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

Keep your eyes open to opportunities where you least expect to find them and create a few of your own where you can (e.g., try to start a magazine and fail; organize or participate in a forum or book club that has no other academic in sight). Most importantly, talk to people. I’ve been amazed at how many people are willing to offer good advice, a job lead, or even make a call just because I’ve asked. And I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have had three very supportive mentors over the last seven or eight years who helped me, in different ways, with my transition from academia to policy.

What’s next?

I don’t expect to leave the Conference Board anytime soon. It has been such a great fit for me. But, if I had to speculate about the future, I imagine speechwriting might work its way back into my career trajectory one way or another. Anne Golden and I eventually did write a speech together — on end of life care and dying with dignity. We wrote it after she returned from a tough year of cancer treatment and soon after her friend, June Callwood, passed away. When the organizers of the event at which she was to deliver the speech suggested that the topic was inappropriate for the audience and asked her to write something else, Anne pushed back. In the end, she opted to drop out of the event rather than drop the speech. Though never delivered, I regard it as one of the most important and meaningful things I’ve ever written.

Beyond the Professoriate conference

Posted on April 4, 2014 by

The virtual conference I’m co-hosting in May is coming together wonderfully. Maren and I are thrilled with the line-up of panellists and presenters. We’ve got 23 PhDs lined up to speak about their career journeys and provide helpful advice. Although I share transition stories on this blog in the special Q & A posts, the conference is an opportunity for attendees to ask doctorates in non-faculty jobs questions about their journeys. We hope Beyond the Professoriate fills a need: connecting current students and PhDs curious about their employment options to people they tend not to come across in graduate school.

I reflected on this in a recent post — this one. In that post I told you about how, during the years I worked on my PhD, I forgot about my former undergraduate instructor, an adjunct professor who worked full-time for the government, and seemed to genuinely enjoy it. By the time I graduated, I had a difficult time imagining a meaningful life for myself that didn’t involve academia. In my experience working with clients and interacting with many others who spent years in graduate school, this is a common challenge. And it can lead to significant difficulties when it comes time to consider one’s options and identify one’s own place in the wider world.

Much of the work I had to do to overcome my limited career imagination involved personal reflection. But knowing where other people who shared my educational experiences found fulfillment was incredibly important. Knowing that they had struggled with what I was struggling with, and emerged happy, engaged, and fulfilled gave me hope and energy to take with me on my own journey.

So: the conference! Maren and I want to help those curious or committed to non-academic employment interact with people who know from whence they’ve come. That’s the focus of the first day of Beyond the Professoriate, Career Day on May 3. There will be four panel discussions, each lasting 80 minutes to make sure there’s plenty of time for questions. On Professional Development Day the next Saturday, May 10, we’ve got six special presentations that will give you practical advice, tools, and inspiration for non-academic job searching or career exploration. Anyone who’s awake and online is welcome to join us.

For all the details, to register, and to download the conference flyer (ready soon!), head over to my website. We’ve got a mailing list, too, so if you’re not sure you can make it but want to stay informed, add yourself to the list. And please spread the word: we’re extremely excited and think it will be a wonderful experience for all!

How a career sponsor can help your job search

Posted on March 31, 2014 by

Find-a-Sponsor-280A couple days ago I picked up a “Business Self-Help” book (so says the back cover) that my dad recommended to me. He suggested (Forget a Mentor) Find a Sponsor because it explains why women and people of colour should seek out sponsors in addition to mentors. Doing so, research shows, will significantly increase their chances of career success. My dad was looking out for me, and in picking up the book from the public library, my aim was to learn more about the world of jobs and careers.

I tell you this story because it explains why I wasn’t expecting what I discovered in the book’s first few pages. I started wondering about the author’s credentials when she — Sylvia Ann Hewlett — mentioned visiting Cambridge University as a young child (on page 2). Here’s what I discovered: Hewlett is a PhD! She earned her first degree from Cambridge, then went on to study at Harvard and finally London University, where she earned her doctorate in economics. “Hidden PhDs” are everywhere! (Thanks to Aimée Morrison for this wonderful term.)

After graduating, Hewlett “landed a sought-after first job: as assistant professor of economics at Barnard College, Columbia University, and began to forge what should have been a promising career in academe.” Uh oh. Turn the page and… she’s denied tenure. Ouch.

How did I deal with this massive setback? Not well. I had plowed twelve years of my life into this career of mine and I felt bewildered, betrayed, and brutally cast out. I mourned the waste of time and energy, but more importantly I mourned the loss of a beloved profession — one that I deeply valued and was exceptionally good at. Tenure decisions are ‘up’ or ‘out’ — you’re either promoted to associate professor (and given lifetime job security) or you’re fired. The decision came down in April, and by mid-May, I was packing up my office.

(Hewlett was shocked and felt ambushed because her department has unanimously supported her, her recent book received “stellar reviews,” and her teaching ratings were “off the charts.”)

But here’s the moral of the story, for Hewlett: she learned an invaluable lesson. “I now understood that climbing the ladder in any competitive field required heavy-duty support from a senior person with heft and influence.” That was something she hadn’t had, and she wasn’t sure how to find one now. “But after some soul searching, I realized that I did have such a person in my back pocket.” That person, a Columbia dean and former CEO, “wasn’t particularly influential at Columbia . . . but he did have power in the wider world, and most importantly, he was a great fan of mine.” (All from pg 9.) He advocated for her, and helped secure her a job heading up a New York-based non-profit. Hewlett is now founder and CEO of the Center for Talent Innovation.

I’m still making my way through the book, and I’ve got some serious thinking to do about whether there’s a place for sponsorship in my own career as a just-starting-out business owner. What about you? Have sponsors played an important role in your professional journey?

Changing the dominant narrative of success after the PhD

Posted on March 21, 2014 by

At last night’s Versatile PhD meetup in Toronto, a fellow PhD told me about her experiences talking to professors about her current (non-academic) work. In some cases, they were positive, encouraging, and interested; in others, they were confused and dismissive.

I share this anecdote because it reminds me of my own attitude during my doctorate: tenure-track or bust. The narrative of career success in the humanities and social sciences, and at higher ranked schools in particular, often excludes non-faculty positions. This was the air I breathed, and the outlook I had for several years. When I think back on my negative views about PhDs who “failed” on the job market, I’m struck by my own failure of imagination.

Fast-forward several years, and I now encourage taking a broader view of success after graduate school.

What changed my views? Knowing that others were happy and fulfilled and engaged in meaningful work outside academia helped. Knowing that they were smart, creative, and critical of world around them was useful.

Here’s a second anecdote. I took several courses during my undergrad with a sessional (adjunct) instructor who had a full-time job in the civil service. He enjoyed his work, found it challenging, and believed it was valuable. Although his former PhD supervisor once commented to me that it was “a shame” he didn’t get an academic post, that’s not the story he told me.

I think my instructor saw himself as a success. By most measures, he certainly was. It may be a shame for academia that he wasn’t a full-time professor, but it didn’t seem to be for him. I don’t know if his former supervisor realized what the judgment implied.

What if during graduate school I’d interacted with other people like him? What if I’d heard their answers to thoughtful questions about identity, meaning, well-being, and work PhDs actually do after earning their degrees? What if there had been an ongoing conversation between alumni, students, and faculty members about the value of higher education, the humanities, and who we were in the world? What if I’d retained the curiosity I had as an undergrad about my professor’s day-job into the latter years of my PhD? What if I’d been exposed, perhaps in spite of myself, to the many fascinating, surprising, and wonderfully diverse careers people like me go on to have?

I can’t know the answers to these questions, but I wonder if some of the challenges newly-minted PhDs experience could be avoided by open dialogue and regular interaction with those who’ve been there, done that, and gone on to all sorts of jobs and careers.

What do you think?

Your own priorities, values, and strengths matter most of all

Posted on March 14, 2014 by

Being part of a supportive community of people is extremely important to my wellbeing. Not having that during the latter years of my PhD is one reason it proved nearly impossible for me to imagine myself as a professor. And although I’m now in business for myself, I feel connected to a larger group of people, including clients, competitors, and like-minded others both in and outside academia and higher education in general. It’s wonderful to know that we are out to change the world for the better, together.

I write this as a reminder to myself to focus on the positive, and in particular on positives that are important to me. My core values include community and connection; honesty and genuineness; fairness and inclusivity; empathy and kindness; curiosity and open-mindedness. Independence, bravery, strategic risk-taking, and creativity are important, too. If I look at my life and work through the lens of my own values, I find much to celebrate. When I expend energy ruminating on those things that matter less to me, I feel drained and stressed. It’s true that my income doesn’t cover my living expenses, that I’m still single at 34 years old, that I live with a roommate in a rented apartment. But those truths don’t mean much to me. I earn an enormous emotional payoff from living a life that’s largely in alignment with my own values.

This reminder comes at a time when I’ve been feeling stressed about divisions in the post-academic community. But here’s my pep talk to myself: There’s nothing I can do about what people think about me and my colleagues. Nothing. What I can control — the only thing any one of us can control — is how we act in the world. There is no point in me worrying about anything else. The best thing I can do is refocus on my values, and get clear about my priorities, and go forward using my strengths.

So! Here’s to who I am and what I’m doing, and here’s the same to you. Good luck to us all!

Why you should continue your professional development

Posted on March 6, 2014 by

On Monday I finish a coaching class. This will be the second professional development course I’ve done since getting my PhD in 2012. Back then, I’d never thought I’d see another classroom ever again! And, it’s true, I haven’t: My coaching courses are all over the phone! But still; you understand.

I enrolled in the MentorCoach Foundations program, a 31-week introduction to the art, science, and business of coaching, in May 2013. I didn’t know if I wanted to be a coach per se, but felt confident that coaching skills would help me in my work and life no matter the details. It didn’t take long for me to start thinking very seriously about making a career as a coach, though. When Ann-Marie McKelvey told us students to “get coaching!” I did. On Twitter and Facebook I put out a call for volunteers to help me practice my new skills. And by July I had my first paying client. Getting that first $10 (minus PayPal fees) was cool. Knowing that I was actually helping someone, at least a bit, was even cooler.

That first course ended in January, and the one I’m just finishing now is called Intensive Individual Coaching Skills Master Class. Next month I’ll sign up for one or two more courses, in hopes of eventually getting certified by the International Coach Federation. (This isn’t a regulated industry, so I don’t need any credentials to work as a coach. But part of me likes the idea of getting the A-Ok from a recognized institution. I do have a PhD, after all!)

But, just as it’s the work itself and not the money that I find fulfilling, it’s the learning itself and not the future (even more) letters after my name that will keep me taking professional development courses. From Ann-Marie and from Skills trainer (and MentorCoach CEO) Anne Durand I’ve learned a great deal. And I use what I’ve learned nearly every day on my own clients. Continued training, I know, will make me an even better coach.

As I write this, I’m reflecting on how excited I am to keep learning: about coaching, positive psychology and applied psychology in general, adult education, and related fields. One text I was reading the other day implored me to subscribe to a couple academic journals! How many times have I said that one of the best things about being done my PhD and not seeking academic employment means I never have to read journals ever again? And yet, here I am, reading academic articles. But this time around, they’re in psychology, not history. Fascinating. (Isn’t it?)

When I was in my first year at Carleton as an undergraduate student, I took something called—hold on while I find it in my filing cabinet; here it is — the Jackson Vocational Interest Survey. My “Basic Interest” profile most closely aligned with people who were “Counsellors/Student Personnel Workers” (+0.70). I’m looking at the report now: I never realized how similar this is to what I do these days! “People in this area assist others in understanding and overcoming individual and social problems,” page 8 of my report tells me about this occupational classification.

Well, there you have it. Why I didn’t listen to Jackson, I can’t tell you. (Teenagers never listen?) But one thing is clear: More coaching classes for me!

Transition Q & A: Maureen McCarthy

Posted on February 25, 2014 by

Maureen McCarthy earned her PhD in English in 2013 from Emory University in Atlanta, GA. She is now the assistant director of advancement and best practices at the Council of Graduate Schools. Find her on Twitter @maureentmcc.

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

I was looking for a position in Washington, D.C. for personal reasons. One of the main reasons I ultimately decided not to pursue the tenure track was because of a desire to be free to choose my geographic location. Specifically, I chose to live close(r) to the people I most love, most of whom are concentrated on the East Coast of the U.S.

I was open to many different types of career paths, but I was sure I wanted a position that:

  1. Contributed good to the world, not evil;
  2. Provided a decent salary and benefits, with opportunity for advancement;
  3. Offered challenging intellectual work and a stimulating, diverse environment. By that I meant somewhere I would be exposed to many different kinds of problems, and people who approached those problems differently than I would.

I knew that my skills as a humanist could transfer to a multiplicity of positions, so I cast a wide net and met as many people as I could for coffee or happy hour and learned about what they did.

What was your first post-PhD job?

I was very fortunate to be hired immediately upon graduation by the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) in my current position as the assistant director of advancement and best practices. This job hit every item on my checklist and offers even more in terms of professional development (not to mention an office with a window!). CGS has given me the opportunity to shape some of the experience and training I have received during this first year of employment, so I’ve been able to gain experience writing grants, managing projects, writing for different audiences, and with the world of higher education more generally.

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. I also reserve some time each day to read the latest news stories in higher education and any reports out from governmental agencies or nonprofits that shed new light on graduate education issues.

What most surprises you about your job?

I was most surprised by just how much my PhD is valued by my employers. I suppose it should come as no great shock that the Council of Graduate Schools values a terminal graduate degree, but they truly understand the transferable nature of the skills I learned as a scholar of the humanities into my current work. It helps that many of my work colleagues also hold PhDs in a variety of fields.

What are your favourite parts of your job?

I enjoy the feeling that my work is having an impact on thousands of graduate students across the US and Canada. It is gratifying to be able to work on a project, particularly a best practice project and to really feel that my effort has the potential to measurably improve graduate education. The other best part of my job is the collaborative thinking and writing that happens at CGS. I enjoy being in a room full of intelligent people discussing ideas that we will communicate to a larger public — it is much more enjoyable to me than sitting in my library carrel writing my dissertation. A large percentage of the staff at CGS hold (post)graduate degrees, so many times we find ourselves “speaking PhD,” even though we come from a range of fields.

What’s next for you, career-wise?

I believe I still have plenty to learn from and contribute to CGS, so hopefully I will have the opportunity to stay there a bit longer. I would like to continue to increase my responsibilities as I cultivate my career.

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

My best advice is to meet as many people as you can and listen to what they have to say about their careers, the organizations they work for, the lessons they’ve learned. Take the time to prepare for these meetings, even when they’re informal, so that you can be an ambassador for the concept that PhDs have more to offer the world than an hyper-specialized anti-social outlook. Be ready with the spiel: make the case for why a marketing firm or nonprofit or corporation could use the skills that you have. Gain experience in a wide range of areas, preferably in situations where you are managing other employees or working on teams (e.g., volunteering for the board of a nonprofit organization, managing an on-campus lab or writing center, organizing a conference). These types of experiences are easy to translate to the business/government/nonprofit world — they make the case for you.

Be vulnerable, be brave

Posted on February 13, 2014 by

Earlier this week I spoke on the phone with Ysette Guevara, a fellow PhD and post-academic who runs her own business helping young people transition to adulthood. Our business values line up well, and so do our stories of career transition after our doctorates. You know how much I love meeting new people (aka networking), and this conversation was both fun and inspiring.

I asked Ysette about her biggest learning from her years since earning a PhD. “Be vulnerable,” she told me, citing Brene Brown. “Have no shame. Be fearless about sharing ideas.”

I couldn’t agree more. Be brave and bold, I say.

This is easier said than done.

When I created my blog and website, From PhD to Life, in December 2012, I had to pause to think about whether I should attach my real name to the site. I wasn’t intending to bash an employer or complain endlessly about my lot in life, so anonymity wasn’t absolutely required. But those of us in the academic world understand why this would even be an issue. We’ve all been cautioned about our online identities, and the damage they can do us on the job market.

After a few moments consideration, I chose to go public, including not just my name and the city I lived in, but soon my email address and phone number, too. Heck, I figured, if this blog will cause me problems in academic circles, so be it. I was here for myself and all the other PhDs out there creating lives for themselves beyond the tenure track.

That decision, and the choices I made thereafter with each new blog post, set the tone for my post-academic career. I was finally in charge of my own life, and taking charge of my working life came next. I didn’t think of it like this until a friend and professor pointed it out to me after she read my article for Academic Matters. She said was she was struck by how in control I sounded.

You know what? I am in control. Yes, as a business owner I have to make sure my services meet market demand and all that. But I own my failures and my successes, and I am at the mercy of no one person, institution, or company. While I enjoy many privileges, and understand that we all operate within systems (of oppression, market capitalism, etc.), I take responsibility for what comes, and what doesn’t. A friend I had lunch with on Tuesday who’s looking for work says it like this: “We make our own luck.” Right or wrong, I’d rather feel this way than be convinced of the opposite.

So here’s the take-away: be vulnerable, be brave, and put yourself in charge. Whatever comes of it, at least you’ll know you gave it your all, and that you honoured who you really are. You owe yourself that much. I’m rooting for you.

Transition Q & A: Sarah-Louise Quinnell

Posted on February 6, 2014 by

Sarah-Louise Quinnell earned her PhD in geography from King’s College London. She’s now the learning and development manager for the online tutoring service Mactrac, which is part of Macmillan Digital Education. Find Sarah online at her website,, and follow her @sarahthesheepu.

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

I had expected, like I am sure a number of PhDs do, to go into an academic teaching and research position. However, I realized very quickly that this would be hard going to achieve. At the same time I realized that when I looked at my PhD as a whole I had a number of transferable skills around using digital media in research and for my own development. These skills were in high demand so I looked at what I could do with those.

What was your first post-PhD job?

I was an e-learning development advisor in the graduate school at King’s supporting PhD students and postdoctoral staff wanting to engage with digital technology for their research and their professional development.

What do you do now?

I am now a learning and development manager for the Mactrac group which is part of Macmillan Publishers Ltd Digital Education Portfolio. I am based on the campus of Sussex University (where I did my undergrad and two Masters programs) as well as in London where I get to work with the Institute of Education as well.

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

I am responsible for the training and development of all our online tutors. So, teaching undergraduates how to teach and enabling retired tutors to make the most out of their engagement with technology. I am working on ensuring we have the correct accreditation and am developing our quality assessment processes. I design training materials — at the moment I am working on materials relating to child protection. I am also looking at establishing a community of practice for our tutors using social media.

What most surprises you about your job?

How much I can draw from my PhD in geography, and how applying spatial and behavioural geographic techniques can give you an, interesting skill set and perspective from which to view learning. Also the sheer variety of things I get involved with. Every day really is different.

What are your favourite parts of your job?

Getting people engaged with how technology can enhance and enable learning. Seeing a tutor who was scared or reticent to engage with technology and see what can be achieved. Also seeing students get successful results through our intervention, especially in the STEM area.

What would you change about it if you could?

Erm, possibly how L&D (learning and development) is perceived as just another facet of human resources, and this really isn’t . . . well, it isn’t for me!

What’s next for you, career-wise?

I am now working for an academic publishing company so what’s next is ensuring the connection between industry and academia. Enabling PhDs to feel better about the transition. And I’m working on my own publications.

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

Grab any opportunities by both hands. Just because you have left academia doesn’t mean you have to stop being an academic. You can work outside and still publish and engage in debate.

In service of PhDs (and a post-academic CFP)

Posted on January 31, 2014 by

Over the past few months I’ve been in conversation with other post-academic business owners and freelancers, many of whom work with graduate students and PhDs. I had no idea such people existed during my doctorate, and it was only thanks to Versatile PhD that I got connected to Hillary Hutchinson, who was my coach for six months in 2012-13. Working with Hillary lead to me take coach training and start my own business.

I felt sheepish telling Hillary a year ago that I was exploring coaching as a career for myself. I was embarrassed, worried that my enthusiasm for her line of work was premature, and maybe I didn’t want her to judge me, like, “Ha! You could never do what I do.” I’m not sure. I know that I actively didn’t tell her for a while. When I did, her reaction was encouraging, and I was relieved. (Why did I ever doubt this? Sorry, Hillary!)

Anyways, that’s the past. The present is this: I am coaching (and my training is ongoing) and now my old coach is a mentor, friend, and colleague! Even though we’re all independent, I count my fellow academic and post-academic service providers as colleagues. We’re coaches, editors, writers, consultants, bloggers, and website owners. We freely offer a huge amount of advice, information, inspiration, and support. Many websites and blogs were born sans ulterior money-making motives, and then grew into the online homes of small businesses. This is true of From PhD to Life.

Being part of this community of and for PhDs is enormously gratifying. I’m continually struck by the generosity and warmth of my peers . . . many of whom are my competitors! And that’s not to mention their intelligence and creativity, their wide range of experience and depth of knowledge, and their commitment to helping out. They provide me with what I never managed to have in grad school: a friendly, welcoming intellectual and social community of fellow travellers. Here’s a partial list of websites who’s owners I’ve spoken to or otherwise interacted with in recent weeks: PhDs at Work, Jobs on Toast, PhDeviate, Beyond the Tenure Track. Plus there’s Pascal Venier, Catherine Maybrey, Liana Silva-Ford, and Liz Covart. And so many more! *Gush*

Now for some exciting news: Maren Wood (from Lilli Research Group) and I are co-hosting a virtual conference in May! It’s called Beyond the Professoriate, and it will feature panel discussions about alternative- and post-academic careers on May 3 and keynote presentations from experts on May 10. We’re thrilled to announce this and hope you’ll consider joining us either as a presenter or virtual audience member. For complete details, including the call for papers, head over to my website.

And, welcome to my world :)