Name and email address:
Trevor Erlacher, firstname.lastname@example.org
Year you earned your Ph.D.:
Field of study/brief dissertation description:
Modern Russia and Eastern Europe. Cultural and intellectual history of Ukrainian nationalism.
What were your career goals when you entered graduate school?
Like most, I wanted to become a professor.
What were your career goals as you completed your Ph.D.?
I still wanted to find a tenure-track faculty position, but I widened my job search to include other opportunities, mostly in higher education, but also in non-profits, think tanks, and a few government positions. I sought positions that would allow me to use the skills and foreign language and area studies knowledge that I had acquired while a graduate student.
What was your first job post-Ph.D. and how did you get it?
Teaching Assistant Professor at UNC. My connections to the History Department made this possible. After that I did a one-semester teaching and research postdoc at the University of Basel.
What is your current job (if different from your first post-Ph.D. job)?
I am the academic advisor of the Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies (CREEES) at the University of Pittsburgh, and the program coordinator and newsletter editor of the Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES, also based on Pitt’s campus).
What does your current job entail, and which Ph.D.-related skills do you use on a daily and weekly basis?
The job entails advising undergraduate and graduate students on foreign language study, study abroad programs, academic planning, and scholarships; coordinating said programs; serving on and managing various grant committees; managing student records; event planning (career networking trips, film festivals, student conferences, etc.); hiring and supervising language tutors and student ambassadors; promoting our Center at various events; giving guest lectures (and eventually teaching courses) in my field; building and maintaining new partnerships across campus and with external institutions; participating in assessments of teaching and learning; managing various databases; administering scholarships and tuition remission funds; and editing NewsNet (ASEEES). I use many Ph.D.-related skills in this position, including teaching, grant writing, public speaking, regional expertise, overseas experiences, foreign languages, research, communication, editing, and project and time management skills.
What are the favorite parts of your job? Is there anything you would change about it?
I love working with students who are excited about learning and working in my field. The position affords me a lot of autonomy to decide how best to serve the missions of CREEES, ASEEES, and Pitt. It is a stimulating yet low-stress work environment with a great mix of talented coworkers representing students, staff, and faculty. It is interesting to see the other side of how a major university functions (e.g. now I’m the one dispensing the cash rather than applying for it). There are a plenty of opportunities for professional development here. The stability and benefits of a full-time permanent position are a welcome change from the typical short-term, low-pay contracts that many early- (and not-so-early-) career academics are forced to negotiate.
What did you do during graduate school (if anything) to prepare for a job outside of traditional academia?
I was a Program Assistant for UNC’s Center for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies, where I worked on event planning and a major Title VI grant. This made a huge difference when I was asked to demonstrate administrative, collaborative, and communications skills by potential employers.
Did you have any relevant skills outside of your Ph.D. training that helped you secure your current job?
The sort of general office, interpersonal, and technical skills that I developed as a program assistant were, again, enormously helpful.
What advice or thoughts do you have for graduate students still in coursework?
Internships, volunteering, and part-time work in fields that interest you can make a world of difference. Though it may feel like you don’t have time for this kind of thing when you are facing the pressure of research and writing deadlines, this is an investment of time and energy that can really pay off down the road, even if you do manage to land a tenure-track professorship at an R1.
What advice or thoughts do you have for graduate students or recent Ph.D.’s considering transitioning to a career outside of academia now?
Make a list of your skills and areas of expertise, then focus on their transferability to whatever the position is. Don’t be shy or modest; talk to people, ask for their advice, and promote yourself as shamelessly as you can bear. Be prepared to have your personality (“fit”) be at least as closely scrutinized as your academic record or work history. Use all of your high-level research skills to identify and learn about new opportunities. Practice with a friend before any interview that you care about. You will probably face times of stress and despair (I certainly did!) but everything will work out if you just keep at it. Remember: no matter what people might say, your Ph.D. represents an incredible achievement and proof of your exceptional abilities and drive. All you have to do is present what you have accomplished in graduate school in a way that is compelling to people who followed a different path in life.