Name and email address:
John Robertson, firstname.lastname@example.org
Year you earned your Ph.D.:
Field of study/brief dissertation description:
East-Central Europe; I did a case study centered on the Austro-Hungarian industrial district of Ostravsko as a way of understanding the experience of the First World War and its impacts on personal and political identity formation before, during, and after the war.
What were your career goals when you entered graduate school?
I imagined I would become a history professor in a fuzzy sort of way. When I started grad school, I didn’t have a clear sense of what that entailed, really.
What were your career goals as you completed your Ph.D.?
Find a job that offered health insurance and paid enough to eventually cover my student loans.
What was your first job post-Ph.D. and how did you get it?
Immediately after I defended, I was adjuncting several courses and working as an assistant at the Digital Humanities Center. The courses I ended up with since my advisor was going on research leave, and I applied for the assistantship through their regular application process. Around the middle of that semester I saw an advertisement for GRE instructors and applied for that, which brought me eventually to my current position. I was also doing some editing and writing work on the side at the time, which I kept up for several years.
What is your current job (if different from your first post-Ph.D. job)?
I currently have one major and one minor job. My day job is Business Development Manager for The Princeton Review, which is a marketing and outreach position to support our high school and graduate offerings in North Carolina, South Carolina, and southern Virginia. The minor position is as a premier tutor, working one on one with selected students working to succeed on the ACT, SAT, MCAT, GRE, or GMAT.
What does your current job entail, and which Ph.D.-related skills do you use on a daily and weekly basis?
The below list is a general overview of my major responsibilities as Business Development manager – my main deliverable is to increase enrollments in our courses.
- Build and maintain relationships with advisors, college counselors, career services, and other relevant decision-makers
- Build and maintain relationships with student groups and organizations focused on college and graduate education
- Plan, organize, advertise, and hold marketing events to drive revenue, including strategy sessions and practice tests as appropriate
- Provide information and follow-up to students participating in free events
- Respond to and resolve outside inquiries and complaints
- Recruit, hire, and manage campus representatives as appropriate
- Organize and manage a TPR presence at relevant and education fairs and events as appropriate
- Support other departments as needed; coordinate with operations and course planning
- Manage, track, and order marketing collateral and flyers as needed
- Locate, organize, and present relevant internal data as needed
- Maintain up-to-date knowledge of company offerings and services
- Hire and supervise Marketing Coordinators
Ph.D. skills are not irrelevant, but what I use are the background skills – being able to process complex information, write effectively and concisely, and present well to large groups.
What are the favorite parts of your job? Is there anything you would change about it?
For me the least pleasant aspects are the sales-adjacent tasks I am occasionally called on to do, which I think is mostly a personality thing. The parts I like the most are speaking to and teaching students, which I still do on a fairly regular basis. Given free reign, I would do more of the teaching-adjacent tasks and fewer sales-adjacent tasks.
What did you do during graduate school (if anything) to prepare for a job outside of traditional academia?
I really didn’t do much, which definitely made it harder. One key thing I would have done differently would have been to get a part-time job outside of academia early on. Hiring managers by and large neither understand nor value academic achievements. The best way to demonstrate that you can add value as an employee is pointing to a track record of success in similar environments/undertakings, and unless you’re going for a position as an academic or a grant-writer fellowships and publications aren’t relevant.
Did you have any relevant skills outside of your Ph.D. training that helped you secure your current job?
I did, but largely developed after graduate school. After I started working as a GRE instructor I continued to volunteer for everything that came my way and ended up building a reputation as a reliable, high-quality instructor. After taking on some supplemental office work, I was hired on as a part-time office manager in addition to my teaching. Doing an excellent job at that and becoming the go-to person for understanding the systems positioned me very well for when the graduate outreach manager position opened up two years ago. It’s been very much a process of climbing the ladder by demonstrating value in increasingly-responsible positions which led to hiring managers being invested in my success.
What advice or thoughts do you have for graduate students still in coursework?
I would strongly recommend looking for part-time internships or jobs doing something non-academic. Operations, marketing, administration, or customer service are broadly-relevant skills across a range of careers. Somewhat less than half of our department’s doctorates get TT positions, and it’s entirely possible that you won’t be one of them. It’s also possible that, by that point, you won’t even want to be one of them. Take that possibility seriously and start preparing now so you’re not stuck in adjunct hell.
What advice or thoughts do you have for graduate students or recent Ph.D.’s considering transitioning to a career outside of academia now?
Alt-Ac evangelists are very fond of saying that doctoral training gives us lots of transferable skills. They aren’t wrong, but you have to remember that there are also applicants for the positions you’re looking at spent their twenties building a track record of succeeding directly at the tasks you’re claiming to be able to learn. It’s not so much that you’re wrong, but as a person who’s made hiring decisions it is far more persuasive to hear ‘I have a proven track record of success doing what you need done’ than it is to hear ‘I’m good at learning how to do things.’ Think about ways to get your foot in the door – you’re unlikely to be competitive for non-entry-level positions outside of very specific contexts just because of a lack of relevant experience. Once you have that foot in the door, that’s when your skill base can really help you.