“Stories From the Field” Offer Many Paths to PhD Success

What can you do with a PhD, anyway? An alumni panel on Tuesday, February 3, was the most recent event in the Humanities Institute’s PhD Unlimited series that offers answers to that question. The panel featured three alumni of PhD programs here at UC Davis who have gone on to exciting careers outside of academia.

Tuesday’s panel consisted of Pam Spycher, Senior Research Associate at WestEd, Shelly Gilbride, Arts Program Specialist for the California Arts Council, and Tom Adams, Director of Curriculum Frameworks and Instructional Resources Division at the California Department of Education.

All three panelists emphasized the winding and often random paths traveled before they ended up where they are today. Following their passions has meant clearing a path to the job they wanted rather than following one already set out.

“If you zoom out on my career, it looks like a really linear path,” explained Gilbride. “I graduate undergrad with a degree in performing arts and literature, and then I went and worked in a nonprofit performing arts agency, and I got to do all these cool things… and then I wanted to understand the arts ecology more broadly and I went to grad school and now I’m working on policy. So it looks really pretty, right? But that’s because that’s the story that I’m telling you. But along the way, it looks crazy.”

For each of the panelists, the PhD allowed them the access and the skills to work with the big issues in their respective fields at a policy and programming level. None of them would trade the time spent on the degree or the degree itself; even though an advanced degree wasn’t required in any of their positions, the skills it afforded them made them attractive candidates for the kind of work they were seeking.

So what’s some advice to take away from these alumni panelists?

  • Network: Talk to people in the field you’re interested in. They can let you know about the kinds of jobs that really exist and what they’re like.
  • Get Skills: Be proficient in the Microsoft suite. Gilbride suggested checking out www.lynda.com in particular as a resource for learning basic sets of computer and programming skills.
  • Write, Write, Write: As Spycher said, “pay attention to the craft of writing.” It is one of the transferrable skills that makes PhDs appealing in the broader job market.
  • Research Careers: When on the non-academic job market, do a lot of research on the job you’re applying for. Make sure that your skills are a good fit and you are shaping your resume or CV to best showcase those skills.
  • Love What You Do: As Gilbride summarized, “Go into your PhD because it’s what you want to learn,” not because you think it will land you in a career you want.

To watch the video of the panel for yourself, click here.

The next installment in the PhD Unlimited series comes Saturday, March 14, as part of the Internship and Career Center Graduate Career Symposium. Consider taking in the entire day of sessions as well as a 1 p.m. panel devoted to PhDs in humanities and social sciences. That panel will, feature alumni of PhD programs in the humanities who have gone on to pursue careers outside of the academy. Roberto Delgadillo is a Research Support Services Librarian at the Shields Library here at UC Davis. He earned his PhD in Modern Latin American History from UCLA. Scott Miltenberger is a senior historian with JRP Historical Consulting, LLC, based in Davis. He received his PhD in U.S. History from UC Davis in 2006 and joined JRP that same year. Deirdre Snyder received her PhD in Spanish from UC Davis and now teaches Spanish at Oakland Technical High School. To learn more about the panel and to register, click here.

– Katja Jylkka, DHI Graduate Student Researcher and doctoral student in English