Name and email address:

Jon Powell or

Year you earned your Ph.D.:


Field of study/brief dissertation description:

Medieval European History — I studied the use of History and Memory in the intra-organizational fighting with the Franciscan Order from the time of Francis of Assissi’s death to the publication of Jordan of Giano’s Chronica.

What were your career goals when you entered graduate school?

While I liked teaching, what I really enjoyed about history was the research and the writing. As a result, I planned to land a position at a university so that I could teach, do historical research, and publish.

What were your career goals as you completed your Ph.D.?

As I completed the PhD, my plans hadn’t changed much. However, I confronted an extremely tight job market in which there were only 2–3 openings each year, and most of those were at community colleges, which meant having such a large class load that research would be either minimal or nonexistent. Also, we discovered that my wife had cancer, and so the family needed to stay close to an urban center with a cancer hospital. Based on these two factors, my family and I recalibrated future goals, and we decided to stay in the Chapel Hill area, where I would have to find something other than teach.

What was your first job post-Ph.D. and how did you get it?

Another UNC Medievalist student, Mike Bazemore, was teaching as an Adjunct Instructor at Peace University, but he landed a full-time position at another institution. He recommended me to fill his shoes at Peace. I greatly enjoyed it, but it soon became apparent that it would be years before a full-time position opened up there, and I needed something soon, so I took an online adjunct teaching position at Campbell University to cut out the commute and to be able to devote more time to a full-time job search.

What is your current job (if different from your first post-Ph.D. job)?

I am the Continuing Education Specialist at the UNC Cancer Network with UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center.

What does your current job entail, and which Ph.D.-related skills do you use on a daily and weekly basis?

Primarily, I schedule oncology professionals to do bi-monthly lectures so that they can teach each other the latest in oncology and earn continuing education credits. As part of these lectures, I use web conferencing software to permit people throughout the state to participate in the lectures without the need to travel. I then take the recording of these lectures, create an assessment, and put it in a learning portal where oncologists can earn continuing education credits at any time that is convenient for them.

Much of what I do utilizes skill sets that I acquired before pursuing the PhD: skills in computers, web design, and advertising/marketing. What PhD skills I use are in researching information about the program and creating reports in which I analyze that information. I also listen to each lecture and create assessments based on the oncologist’s delivery.

What are the favorite parts of your job? Is there anything you would change about it?

The best part is that I work with great people, and I have pretty much full autonomy over what I do and when. The actual work is not taxing, there are opportunities for job growth, I only work a 40-hour week, and I can schedule my time as I see fit. My evenings and weekends are free to spend with the family. Because it is so far afield from my PhD work, there isn’t anything that I could change to make it more intellectually satisfying.

What did you do during graduate school (if anything) to prepare for a job outside of traditional academia?

While in graduate school, everything that I did was geared toward a career in teaching and research on the university level.

Did you have any relevant skills outside of your Ph.D. training that helped you secure your current job?

Between undergraduate and graduate studies, I worked in the computer prepress and then the advertising/marketing fields. It is these skills—in computers, web design, and advertising/marketing—that are the non-PhD skill sets that helped me land this position.

What advice or thoughts do you have for graduate students still in coursework?

Enjoy what you’re doing and try to acquire a diverse range of skill sets. One never knows what the future will bring, and being able to handle a variety of tasks greatly improves one’s chances of landing a position, whether in academia or outside of it. Sometimes, it’s the odd skill that one picks up that puts one ahead of other applicants who otherwise have very similar skill sets.

What advice or thoughts do you have for graduate students or recent Ph.D.’s considering transitioning to a career outside of academia now?

It’s all about acquiring skill sets. While there were a few people who wouldn’t consider me either because of my advanced degree or because of my knowledge base (History), these people are short-sighted, and it wouldn’t have worked with them anyway. Where I received traction was with people who looked past the degree and the knowledge base and instead were attracted by the skills—what I can do as opposed to what I know—and thought about how my skills would benefit them. Look for these people and network among them.

I had the hardest time networking to get into the university itself. If anyone wants to work within a university in the Research Triangle in a non-faculty position, the best way of getting into the system is by applying with University Temporary Services, a joint enterprise between UNC and NCSU. The reason for this is that it is very hard for the university to terminate anyone’s employment. As a result, offices prefer to hire a temporary employee and see whether or not she/he can do the work and gets along with the rest of the people in the office. If it works out, they will hire the person full-time. Once in the system, as a temporary or permanent employee, it’s easier to network and find a position that works.