Alumni Profiles Series: Jenny Woodruff

 April 1, 2015

Jenny Woodruff

Jenny Woodruff, Ph.D., received her degree in Musicology from Duke in 2009. She is currently Education Director at the Savannah Music Festival. Dr. Woodruff also has a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance from Converse College.

What professional or career plans did you have in mind as you were completing your graduate degree?

I received my Ph.D. here in 2009. I thought that I had a path, as most people do when they enter a Ph.D. program, particularly when I started in 2002. I thought you do your Ph.D., you do your research, and you publish.

What has your career path looked like since you graduated?

I was very lucky my first year on the job market. I got a couple bites the first go-around, and then I got this really wonderful visiting position at Bates, a small liberal arts college in Maine, with awesome students and supportive faculty. It was idyllic and wonderful, and I was able to stay there for a couple years.

But as happens for a lot of people, the opportunities trickled out. At the time, I was in Portland, Maine. I was teaching a couple classes at Bates, and I was teaching voice lessons. I started teaching part-time at a school for children with learning differences. The lack of opportunities in academics forced me to think about what I was passionate about and what I really wanted to do. It made me think about what my values are. I realized that what I loved most about grad school, research, writing, and teaching was the work I was doing in the community.

After looking for a full-time job in the small market of Portland for a while, I expanded nationally and I found this job I have now. It turned out to be a perfect fit. I really love it!

When I was applying, I didn’t think I was qualified because it was asking for experience: production experience, progressive administrative and leadership experience, and experience with a budget. I had no experience with a departmental budget, but I did have experience with budgets for attending conferences. It took a little bit of boosting myself up – okay, I don’t have that specific experience, but could I do it? The Ph.D. goes far. I was qualified to do my job. I hadn’t done anything like it before, but I absolutely was qualified.

Tell us more about your current job. What is your favorite thing about what you do? Do you have any interesting projects or professional plans in the works?

I’m the Education Director at the Savannah Music Festival. I run three programs. Two of them are national programs that take place during the festival, which takes place this year from March 19 through April 4 — a high-school jazz band competition (Swing Central Jazz) and a Young Artist development program (Acoustic Music Seminar).

I think that my Ph.D. work prepared me tremendously for this job because it’s a different way of getting at the same issues. What I cared about in my fieldwork was a group of marginalized individuals, African American girls, who had tremendous potential and artistry and creativity that they were expressing through music. I wanted to lift them up or understand more about their lives and their relationship with music. What I’m doing now and what I’m most passionate about in my job is a local music program in partnership with Carnegie Hall. It’s called Musical Explorers. We have a year-round curriculum that we’ve created using all sorts of genres of music, and we’re bringing it into schools across Savannah. This is the first year, and already 9,500 kids in grades K-2 are learning this curriculum and going to shows and doing all this stuff in the classroom. I’m coming at that question [of my dissertation research] from a different angle now, from a passion for arts-integrated education, and advocacy, and talking to people one-on-one about why this is important. It’s not a small group of girls, it’s whole schools, it’s almost a whole school system.

I do a lot of things out in the community: giving talks, presenting to the school board, pitching programs. Also, being a musician helps me with this job tremendously because I work a lot with artists. I’m able to talk to them—little things like looking at a score and recognizing mistakes, being able to talk their language, and proofreading the program book. In this job, I’m doing what I’m really good at, and I’m making it work.

What advice would you offer to current graduate students at Duke? How can people be proactive?

Take any kind of leadership position you can, whether it’s a position in your department or within your national organization, or leading a colloquium, or organizing a grad student conference. It’s all about who you know—networking, networking, networking.

If you think that you might be interested in something outside of academics, or even just teaching at a less competitive level, do informational interviews. Look for people who are doing things that you think you could do or might want to do. Call them up and ask, “Can I come to your office for ten minutes for an informational interview?” You can start with people at Duke, or hook into the Alumni Network, which is available to you as a current student. Pick up the phone and call people. For example, I started the partnership with Carnegie Hall with an informational interview with their director of school programs. I asked questions about their programs, trying to find out more, and they were looking for a partner to expand nationally. This was a year and a half ago, and now the program is underway.

One of the most useful things for me when I was expanding my search beyond part-time jobs was that I started looking at job postings. Of course, I was looking for things that I thought I could get, but also things I thought I might want to do someday. I think that’s a great exercise: look at the descriptions and see what they’re asking for, and then work backwards. I thought, I could do that job, even though I don’t have the exact experience required. How did I know I could I do that? Because I’ve done this and this and this. Or, I would think, this is something I would want to do in five to ten years; what kind of skills do I need to build up? Then I knew what experiences to seek out. For example, if you’re interested in nonprofit organizations, at some point you usually need to have experience in fundraising, which I didn’t know anything about going into this.

If there’s something that you’re passionate about that you can be involved in outside of your program, whether it’s GPSC, a political movement, a community organization, or volunteering, it’s important to be in touch with the world outside of grad school as much as possible. That opens up other opportunities to you that you’re not going to hear about in school.

What are some tips for making the shift from a CV to a resume?

I think the key is figuring out what skills you’re building and what experiences you have and then putting that package together to show the employer. Think about the skills you have gained: writing, public presentation, helping organize a conference (that’s huge!), logistics, managing different constituencies, leveraging relationships, and mentoring. You are capable of independent research and you can manage your time. If any of you have fieldwork experience, it teaches you to listen, and that is an incredibly valuable skill. If you led a team or chaired something, show it. You have tackled a huge project (your dissertation) and gotten through to the other side. That’s very important.

When I transitioned from a CV to a resume, I listed every single job that I’d had, anything that sounded important. I broke it down into different categories because a hard thing about coming out of a Ph.D. is that you don’t have those three years in a job. You might have summer jobs or part-time jobs or things that you held for just a few months, and so I broke it up into categories of different types of experience: administrative experience, teaching experience, performances, fellowships, community service, etc. Also, through my experience in GSA (Office of Graduate Student Affairs), I worked with different people higher up at Duke. I was a student rep for the Alumni Association and the Board of Trustees for a couple years. I wanted to show this whole spectrum of experience that I had because I did do all these things and I learned a lot from each of them.

I think that you can leverage a Ph.D. to take the place of different steps that somebody who started at 22 or 23 with an internship takes while working their way up. There aren’t necessarily a lot of people who go through those different steps. It’s been said that it’s a jungle gym, not a ladder. You don’t have to take things step by step by step; you can do this and then this!

Do you have any fond memories of Duke to share?

I would not have survived without the support of GSA. I have fond memories of walking across campus and of spending days in Lilly Library. I spent so much time in Perkins and Bostock, in those rooms, staking out a spot and writing and writing and writing and writing.


Kirsten Santos Rutschman

Current Ph.D. candidate

Kirsten Santos Rutschman is a Ph.D. candidate in Musicology; she is writing her dissertation on concepts of "folk" in 19th-century Swedish art music.