"In many disciplines, for the majority of graduates, the Ph.D. indicates the logical conclusion of an academic career." Marc Bousquet

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

A Day in the Life

In the last few weeks and months, a number of you post-ac bloggers have been posting about what it's like in the 9-5, nonacademic work-a-day world -- notably, reassuring would-be leavers that there is a pretty decent world out here and it's not nearly as bad as the cultish culture inside academe would have you believe. These posts illuminate how, yes, there's more free time and money but also plenty of interesting and likable coworkers with whom to interact and not-half-bad-at-all tasks and challenges with which to fill your days.

Along the same lines, very little about my "next NEXT job" these days resembles the boring, cubicled-in, quiet-life-of-desperation imagined by many inside academe, nor does it much resemble the alternative universe of the secretary job that first got me out of academe and which the first year and a half of this blog chronicles.

So, in the interest of sharing and motivating, I'd like to contribute to the growing body of stories from post-acs that tell a story about the very decent kind of work you can do once you grant yourself permission to leave and, time permitting for those difficult first steps (which might take a few years -- took me a year and a half to just get this far!!), you get on your feet and inside the nonacademic front door.

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Before I tell you what "a day in the life of recent Ph.D." looks like, I should first give you a little background so you can compare the different stories we are telling about rather different types of jobs and work environments.

So ... I work at this place I've been calling the Petting Zoo. Don't read too much into that -- it's just a name I figured I could riff on. The PZ is a well-established nonprofit with about 65 people in our DC office. Despite being located along the infamous K Street corridor, the PZ, like many other nonprofits also situated around here, is not filled with evil, money-driven lobbyists eager to sell off themselves and Congress to the highest bidder. While there are a few lobbyists who work for the PZ, most of the "policy" work done by staff, myself included, isn't lobbying and doesn't involve any sort of messing around on the Hill.

So, what do we do? Well, that depends on one's job title. My job falls within the category known as "analyst." There are research analysts, which is sort of an oxymoron given that what all analysts spend their time doing is researching and writing reports, and there are policy analysts, science analysts, and so on. I have an interesting and probably unique adjective preceding the "analyst" part of my job title, but you get the idea. A fair chunk of my time involves researching and putting together reports -- or, as we've been calling them lately because "report" is somewhat limiting in scope, audience, and content, "analytical products."

Does that sound too frighteningly like academe? Think again!!

While being an analyst is a good job for a recent Ph.D., the job itself doesn't require one. Most of the analysts at the PZ do have Ph.D.s, mostly in the sciences, but a lot of analysts around the nonprofit world, generally, gained their expertise in other ways, either through working their way up through other, related positions (e.g. research assistant or associate) or some type of professional master's degree.

The last thing to note, before I tell you about "a day in the life," is that Expanding Habitats, the PZ program I work on, is very new and very different from anything else here. There's a fair amount of creativity and flexibility, as well as a certain amount of instability -- I don't know if the program or my position will be funded after the first two years, which, coming from the precariousness of academe, is a little scary, but whatever ... It's not something I'm choosing to worry about right now. The salary is decent in the meatnime, and after two years, I'll have a better resume and more prospects ...

For right now, there's an energy to the way days go that I like. Expanding Habitats inherited a number of incomplete research projects from a program, Surviving in Captivity, it absorbed. We are just now finishing those up and, finally (after the 3 months I've been here!!), looking ahead to what's next.

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So, here goes today, "a day in the life of recent Ph.D.":

6:30 AM - 7:00 AM
Evil Fluffy Orange Cat wakes me up by jumping on my chest, head-butting my chin, and purring loudly in my ear. I shoo away Evil Fluffy Orange Cat and put a pillow over my head. Evil Stripeyy Orange Cat promptly also jumps on the bed and attacks Evil Fluffy Orange Cat. They battle for a while. The winner is the one that finally does something evil enough to get me out of bed. For some strange reason, they ignore Peaches.

7:00 AM - 7:30 AM
I feel a claw in my thigh and rouse myself to find EFOC has ESOC in a headlock. They both jump off the bed and race each other downstairs as I follow groggily behind. I feed them, make coffee, drink the coffee, listen to NPR, and make my way back upstairs to the shower.

7:30 AM - 8:00 AM
Shower, get dressed (nothing too special as we have a business causal office environment -- not a suit and not jeans but somewhere in between), wake up Peaches (who gets to leave a little later), and say good-bye.

8:00 AM - 9:00 AM
My usual route to work is to take the bus, which I catch 2 blocks from my house, ride about a mile and a half, and then walk another 6 blocks to my office. Sometimes I walk the whole way -- it doesn't require leaving that much earlier and I'd like to get in the habit of it -- but today I took the bus.

9:00 AM - 10:00 AM
I get to my building right around 9, take the elevator up to the 8th floor, drop my bag off in my office, turn my computer on, and go down the hall to the kitchen to grab a cup of coffee. Back at my desk, appropriately caffeinated, I read through my email, finding a message from Enviro Shark, another analyst (with a Ph.D. in environmental engineering, as I think I mentioned before), with a link to a 45-minute documentary ze recommends because of the way it frames a particular issue. Expanding Habitats is considering similar ways of framing issues in our analysis. I decide the documentary is work-related enough to justify watching it, and I spend the rest of the hour doing so.

10:00 AM - 12:30 PM
At 12:30, Enviro Shark, Skeletor (a research assistant with an M.S. in neuroscience), and I have a phone conference with the Expanding Habitats program manager, who has a Ph.D. in microbiology (though no more works as a micorbiologist than I do as a literary scholar) and works from the Petting Zoo's Office in Other City. The three of us - Enviro Shark, Skeletor, and myself -- are the core of the Expanding Habitats analysis team, and we are talking with Program Manager today to flesh out some ideas for one of our upcoming, more time sensitive projects. Before that call happens, I need to spiffy up a template I created the other day (the larger project involves a series of smaller ones that would all have to conform to a set structure and framewrok for analysis), read through an archive of possible topics, and comment on some comments Enviro Shark and Skeletor made on an earlier draft of the template. Also during this time, Enviro Shark, Skeletor, and I exchange some emails regarding possible topics. We haggle and argue a bit, each pushing for the topics we think would be best. At 12:25, I send around a list of the things I think we need to talk about during the conference call.

12:30 PM - 1:30 PM
The conference call with Program Manager takes place in my office. My office is decent sized and has two windows, albeit ones looking out on other buildings. Everybody has their own office here, mostly with windows, except interns and assistants, who have cubicles nicer than most of the office space I had use of as an adjunct. The main reaosn we're in here today is that I'm taking the lead on this particular project and we had a similar conference call in Enviro Shark's office yesterday regarding the project ze is taking the lead on. The call goes well. All of us get along with each other and with Program Manager, and we share with hir what our ideas are and ze fills us in on what ze has been thinking. We talk about the template and possible topics. We're all more or less on the same page, having clarified a few things, and we end the call with a to-do list for the next two weeks or so.

1:30 PM - 2:30 PM
Lunchtime! I head downstairs, past the K Street construction, to an Indian place I like. I eat and then take a walk, mulling over project ideas, because I'm not ready to sit back down at my desk yet.

2:30 - 5:00 PM
The rest of today is spent at my desk. I have more email to read and respond to. I get distracted for a bit eavesdropping on Senior Pink Elephant, who occupies the office next door, and is on an annoyingly loud call but regarding a topic of interest. Then I review some data I had collected for one of the Surviving in Captivity carryover projects we'll be finishing up in the next few weeks (data about a particular type of policy government agencies subject their employees to that we're analyzing). I look over a scorecard I've been keeping in Excel and double-check my scoring on the agency I did a little over-hastily at the end of the day yesterday and make sure I didn't miss anything. After that, it's getting on towards 4:00, and I search for a hotel room in Other City, where I'll be traveling next week. PZ has a travel service that's great for air but sucks for hotels. I have my plane tickets but still have to book a hotel. When I traveled last week, I used Hotwire, which worked out great. Nothing good today, but I suspect I'll find something before I leave town Tuesday morning. By the time I get done scoping travel, it's after 4:30. Since there's nothing pressing I need to finish this afternoon ... well, why not write a blog post about what I did today?

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And, well, here it is 5:30, and I am itching to go home! I think I will walk, at least part way, pick up a bottle of wine and maybe dinner. Not sure I feel like cooking, but we'll see. The nice thing about walking is that I pass TWO grocery stores and multiple wine shops. Then again, sometimes I just want to get home ...

So, there you have it. A day in the life of a post-ac. I will go home, reconnect with Peaches, Evil Fluffy Orange Cat, and Evil Stripey Orange Cat, probably watch Survivor or some other bullshit TV, relax, maybe do a little yoga, and go to bed somewhere around 10 or 11.

Not bad, eh? No anything like what the cultists in academe would have you believe. My evenings vary a little. Sometimes Peaches and I go out to dinner. Yesterday I went to a yoga class before heading home. Sometimes I might read for a bit instead of watching TV. But you get the idea: no pressure to do more work like grading papers or revising some stupid chapter that just can't wait until tomorrow, no anxiety about planning what to do in class the next day, no worries about whether I'll get assigned that extra class next semester and have more than $50 in my checking account, no nightmares about meeting with advisors or committees ...

Just a normal, work-a-day life.


  1. The 2 Year Life of the MindOctober 25, 2012 at 6:51 AM

    Thanks for posting. Every "day in the life" post is different and they reach different people in different ways. It all counts and makes a difference. I appreciate your breakdown of your day and to this I say, "Yay! Hamster World really CAN be great!"

  2. FWIW, I don't really feel like a hamster. There are good days and bad days, days when I'm energized and when I'm tired, days when I feel a sense of purpose and satisfaction and days when I don't. Not all that different from academe, right?