Alumni Profiles Series: Laura Schlosberg
Laura Schlosberg completed her B.A. in History at Wellesley College before graduating from Duke University with her M.A. and Ph.D. in History in 1995 and 2000, respectively. She has worked in a diverse array of roles in higher education, including as a financial analyst focusing interdisciplinary initiatives in Duke’s Provost’s Office; serving as a faculty member in History as well as in Slavic Languages and Literatures at two different institutions; serving as a Resident Dean at Harvard University; and serving as assistant director of the Transdisciplinary Studies Program at Claremont Graduate University before moving to her current role at Stanford University. Dr. Schlosberg is also working on a book project titled “The Queen of Muses and Beauty”: A Creative Life of Zinaida Aleksandrova Volkonskaia, under contract with Academic Studies Press.
Tell me about your current position.
I’m currently the Assistant Dean of Academic and Curricular Support in the School of Humanities and Sciences, one of seven schools at Stanford University. This role is ever-changing, but primarily I work with faculty developing new degree programs, reviewing degree programs, and addressing student concerns. I also assist with new degree implementation and assessment of curricular learning outcomes. During the pandemic, I served on the working group leading the university’s academic continuity efforts.
What skills or experiences from your time at Duke do you draw on today?
Oh my goodness, there are so many! I remember the first graduate seminar we were all required to take. Tom Robisheaux challenged us to be able to answer “So what?” about your projects, which was a really good, simplifying technique to teach us how to make a case for our research. And that’s stuck with me. When I’m looking at a project or an idea for a project, or writing web content, I often catch myself pausing to ask, “So what?” There’s a habit of learning to step back, evaluate, and appreciate.
In terms of other skills, I learned to be a good listener. I was fortunate to have so many excellent colleagues; sometimes I now read about a classmate’s research and think, “Wow, I sat in a Wednesday night seminar with this person!” The experience encouraged me to learn about different fields outside my specialization and to feel more comfortable with the give-and-take of intellectual exchange.
Could you describe your pathway to working in higher education administration from your Ph.D. at Duke?
I stumbled to get where I am today! This was not part of a grand plan.
Part of the reason I went to graduate school was that, as an undergraduate, I had a class dean who also had a Ph.D. She was a thoughtful and caring, but tough-love kind of advisor. In addition to advising, she also taught in the English department. I thought, “How cool is that!” You get to talk to students, and you get to share your love of your field of study with students and balance different ways of engaging with students. That was one of the reasons I went to graduate school. Studying Russian and European history just after the fall of the Berlin Wall and collapse of the Soviet Union, at a time of change, was also a motivation.
In the middle of my graduate career, the department ran out of funding for teaching assistants, so I scrambled to find a temporary job and ended up finding a part-time position in the Duke Provost’s Office. That was one of the most serendipitous moments of my career. I learned a lot about myself in that job: I was good with numbers and policy, and I was interested in the kinds of questions that the office asked. The notion that a budget is an expression of a university’s values was intriguing. I was excited to see their presentations to the Board of Trustees on different aspects of Duke, and that those stories could be told with data. As I got closer to finishing my dissertation, an opportunity emerged to apply for a full-time position to support twelve new interdisciplinary programs in the university’s strategic plan. I was offered the position and started working full-time during my last six months of graduate school.
What advice do you have for graduate students interested in a career path in higher education administration?
First, think about your strengths and what you want to do in a role. Consider what kind of institution you want to work at. I also suggest looking at job descriptions on higheredjobs.com; start looking at the skill sets listed in the position and ways you already have or could develop them. Utilize your LinkedIn or alumni network. Do informational interviews. Ask people about how they got their roles and what they like about them. Everyone’s journey is different. Everyone’s story is different. Think about your own story as a human being, as someone who is passionate about higher education. What are your values and what do you want to contribute to this environment?
What are your thoughts on how Ph.D. students in the humanities and social sciences can best pitch their skills beyond the context of their research?
The skills you develop in graduate school transfer to a job search and career development. One of the things you learn as a scholar is to evaluate issues from multiple perspectives. As you look at a job description, use your analytical training. If the posting is for an academic advisor to focus on the sophomore class, for example, do research on what’s happening in the second year at the institution and nationally, then connect it to your experience. You can also show you are a student of higher education and research the landscape. Read The Chronicle of Higher Ed and Inside Higher Education. Seek out organizations that address your interests, such as the Association of American Colleges & Universities, the Association for the Study of Higher Education or the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment. Look at the studies that discuss the biggest stressors on students today. Apply the intellectual curiosity that drew you to graduate school and remain ever curious.
Ph.D. Student, History
Helen Shears is a sixth-year graduate student in the Department of History at Duke University. Her dissertation, ‘In All Parts of the World’: The Peace of Utrecht and the Legal Architecture of the British Empire, 1680-1730, examines how the process of peacemaking in early modern Europe intersected with British colonialism. She currently serves as a Dean’s Administrative Intern in the Duke Graduate School, learning more about higher education administration.