Interdisciplinary Futures, Creative Career Options

 May 26, 2016


This spring I organized the event “Interdisciplinary Futures: Applying PhD Skills Throughout the University.” Sponsored by Women’s Studies and funded by The Graduate School, this event is part of a larger effort to help graduate students in Women’s Studies and other interdisciplinary fields think about the variety of career options available to them and the concrete steps they can take to prepare themselves for the job market.

The event featured Heather Settle (Director of Academic Engagement, Global and Civic Opportunities), Christina Chia (Associate Director, John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute), and Francisco Ramos (Manager of Program Evaluation and Assessment at The Graduate School). Although our panelists represented a variety of programs and academic fields—from Cultural Anthropology to English to History, Philosophy, and Policy Studies in Education—they agreed on the importance of staying open to different career possibilities and thinking creatively about the value of graduate training in the wider work of the university.

Our moderator, Edward Balleisen (Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies), highlighted effective communication skills, the ability to translate data for different audiences, and project management skills as essential qualities for anyone pursuing a career in university administration. To develop these skills, the panelists suggested that audience members look for leadership opportunities to learn more about how university administration works. Other recommendations included organizing conferences and participating in internships both on and off campus. Ramos also highlighted the value of reaching outside the graduate department bubble and organizing collaborative projects with grad student colleagues at other universities.

When it comes to job applications, the panelists advised the audience not to assume that they will be seen as overqualified for certain jobs, regardless of any degree requirement in the job description. All panelists encouraged the audience to search for jobs that they believe will be fulfilling for them, with the advice that if you are passionate about a job, you should always apply. As Settle pointed out, the process of writing a dissertation trains you how to quickly develop the skills that you need to complete a large project, thereby making on-the-job learning less daunting.

Finally, Chia encouraged students to reflect on their experiences as a graduate student saying that being able to take a “meta-view” of one’s experiences is an important part of applying for any job. In an effort to follow her advice, I have to say that organizing this event taught me a lot about how university administration works. Listening to the panelists talk about their experiences helped me to broaden the way that I think about my graduate education and the types of skills I am developing while getting my PhD. After this event I feel more prepared and motivated than ever to take on larger professional tasks, like organizing a conference or a lecture series, no matter what form my career might take. 


Claire Scott

Ph.D. Candidate, German Studies

Claire E. Scott is a Ph.D. candidate in the Carolina-Duke Graduate Program in German Studies. She is also enrolled in the Certificate in Feminist Studies at Duke. Her dissertation project examines representations of violent mothers in late 20th century German literature and film.