Heidi Scott Giusto earned her PhD in History at Duke in 2012. She is now a writing consultant and entrepreneur. Her firm, Career Path Writing Solutions, provides editing for job and school applications. And she loves it.
How was your transition outside academia? What resources did you find useful?
While at Duke I liked my research, but over time I realized that my future was outside academia. About two years before graduation, I started looking for other options. That was a process because I spent so many years of my life preparing for a career in academia. I had to come to terms with the fact that I no longer wanted to pursue that goal.
The Duke Career Center turned out to be an empowering resource. With its events and a team dedicated to counseling graduate students, the Career Center not only helped me explore and frame my business idea, but also encouraged me to pursue that vision. Since I’ve graduated, The Graduate School’s Professional Development Series has also become a useful resource for PhD students interested in broad career options. The most important part is trying to get out there and explore.
How did you gain experience in working outside academia while you were still in graduate school?
The safe shelter of school provides the perfect setting to investigate new paths. I’d suggest that you start exploring when the stakes aren’t so high so that, when the time comes, you feel more prepared. When you are prepared, you are empowered, and when you are empowered all the other things tend to fall into place. If you need an additional skill, pursue it – but do not use it as a form of procrastination. You are at Duke: there are classes you can take and job opportunities that can help you refine your abilities. Duke job postings are a precious resource, because as a Duke student, you are an internal candidate. Temporary, part-time positions might be an ideal fit for your needs.
Such opportunities were invaluable to me. In my experience, the pivotal moment came when I was working at Duke’s Thompson Writing Studio. There I discovered what I really loved doing. I gained awareness and skills that I would have otherwise lacked. For instance, I learned how to work with writers and how to manage a website while working there. Taking a course through The Graduate School further enhanced my technological skills. I regret not having taken the chance to refine my business education while in school, so I encourage current students to explore their options fully.
Taking on a position or an internship can help you build professional networks and useful skills that can ease the transition into a new career. The experience is a useful exercise in self-discovery, and it doesn’t hurt that it can also help pay the bills.
How did you find your niche in an industry like writing consulting where there is a lot of competition?
There is a point where it comes down to understanding what your skills are, objectively. I found my niche searching for what I like doing and what I am qualified to do. For instance, I am quite passionate about baking, but I am not a good enough baker to set up a store. The writing consulting industry is flourishing with a plethora of small firms offering specialized services. A strong concept proves useful, and I found it where my passion aligned with my qualifications. At the beginning, I was just helping friends and family for free with their resumes. I realized I loved the task; it is like a puzzle. I learned I especially loved helping others when the stakes are high. Right there I found my niche.
What was the most difficult part of transferring out of academia? How did you transform your passion into a job?
It’s hard to believe that the most difficult part is finding the courage to do it. While still a graduate student, I developed a business theme, a logo, and a website. I had the logo tested in a small focus group. The website was free because I did it myself. What I needed was the confidence to tell other people and a little nudge from a Duke career counselor. I wrote to a few of my personal contacts and within the first couple of days I had my first client. After that, it was just about keeping the customer happy and things snowballed. My business operates by referral. Like all business owners, I do not need everyone to be a client – just the right clients that fit within my niche.
Do you have any advice for current graduate students who are interested in a career in writing?
The entrepreneurial route is not the only one to pursue for a career as a writing consultant. Companies need all types of writers and editors and there are also career outplacement firms that help people transitioning into different fields. A quick search on LinkedIn will overwhelm you with options. The only thing is having the courage to act and actually do it. Leaving academia is scary and PhDs sometimes suffer from, I would argue, analysis paralysis, meaning we just analyze things so much that we do not act. And we need to act.
Ph.D. candidate, Public Policy
Professional Development Tag
- Career Development
- Career Paths
- Professional Development Series