Academic Careers Off the Research Tenure Track

Beyond the PhD recently hosted Dr. Giulia Vigone and Dr. Pamela Monahan who talked about their involvement in academic careers off the tenure track. Both Giulia and Pamela work at Northwestern University in Chicago, IL. They started by talking about their career paths that led them to their current positions in Higher Ed administration. 

Giulia attainted her MS in Molecular Biology and Genetics as well as her PhD in Bioengineering and Bioinformatics with a focus in Reproduction/Fertility from Universitá Di Pavia in Italy. She then pursued a postdoc opportunity and came to the United States to study reproductive sciences in the lab of Dr. Laurinda Jaffe at UConn Health. While at UConn Health, Giulia co-founded Academia Industry Opportunities Group (AIOG) with Rob Pijewski; AIOG has since rebranded to Beyond the PhD. She also helped start the postdoc association at UConn Health. Giulia always had an interest in careers outside academia and wanted to show students and postdocs various options outside of tenure track positions. After completing her postdoc, she then transitioned into a career in professional development in higher education. She currently has a variety of roles within the Northwestern Center for Reproductive Sciences (CRS) including lecturer for professional development courses, Director of MS Student Affairs, Alumni Network Lead, Co-Leader of Community Engagement, and Co-Leader of DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion). Giulia’s role is a unique combination of educational development, community engagement, and admin work. When reflecting on her journey, she stressed the importance of networking, following your passions, and finding good mentors who will support your career development. 

Dr. Pamela Monahan followed Giulia by sharing her career journey. She, too, stressed the importance of networking and finding a career that fits your interests. Pamela mentioned that it’s important to play to your strengths and figure out your likes and dislikes. Her career path began as an undergrad at the University of Tennessee where she earned a BS in Biological Sciences and became involved in undergraduate research. Pamela then went on to complete a MS and PhD in Molecular and Integrative Physiology at the University of Illinois. During this time, she worked as a graduate teaching assistant and focused on research training and career path exploration. She explained how there was very little information on careers outside academia shared with her during her time as a graduate student which left her feeling a little lost as to her next steps. After earning her doctoral degree, Pamela decided to pursue a postdoc at Northwestern University in the lab of Dr. Kelly Mayo. Networking not only helped her find this opportunity but was important at every step of her career journey. Her postdoc facilitated her abilities as more of an independent researcher, solidified that she did not want a career that involved grant writing, bettered her management skills, and further developed her love for teaching and mentoring. Dr. Monahan then got involved in more teaching opportunities during her postdoc and began teaching labs and other classes at Northwestern to gain further experience. After her postdoc, she interviewed for and attained a lecturer position at the CRS at Northwestern. Here she focused on curriculum development, student mentoring, learning Higher Ed administration, and further networking to expand her knowledge and reach. She was later promoted to the CRS Director of Grad & Postdoc Affairs. She is also the co-lead for the Community Engagement Committee and serves on the CRS diversity committee and SSR Diversity Committee. 

Giulia and Pamela then discussed admin positions within Higher Ed. These include career and professional development, student affairs, postdoctoral affairs, recruitment and admissions, faculty development, academic advising, program management, institutional research, DEI offices, and grant writing. There are also teaching positions within Higher Ed in both the academic setting and at the level of curriculum. In the academic setting this could be at community colleges, smaller liberal arts colleges, research focused institutions, or institutes and research centers. There are a variety of opportunities at the curriculum level including for undergrad, graduate, medical school, clinical, professional development, or for online education. They followed up with some tips on how to get involved and network if you are interested in Higher Ed Admin. This included becoming a member of the NPA (National Postdoc Association), becoming a member of the GCC (Graduate Career Consortium), looking for internships or observerships in your institution, getting leadership experience, and networking and connecting with individuals who work in Higher Ed Admin. The presenters then gave some advice on what to do if you are interested in teaching positions. First, it is important to refine and tailor your CV/resume for education and make sure you have a teaching philosophy and diversity statement. Another great thing to help your career in this field is to find opportunities to teach. It is also important to network and get leadership experience. 

Giulia and Pamela then answered some questions from the audience. Someone first asked if you need a postdoc to attain admin positions in Higher Ed. A postdoc is required at some institutions, but is not necessary for all positions. However, it is helpful to have experience and independence beyond your graduate degree. Teaching experience and familiarity with the field is important for these positions. Next, someone from the audience asked if the presenters had any recommendations for finding non-traditional postdocs that focus more on education and curriculum development. Indeed, there are teaching postdoc positions that pair research with teaching opportunities and curriculum development. While these aren’t the most common postdoctoral positions, they do exist and there are specific programs for this at UNC Chapel Hill and the University of Pennsylvania. LinkedIn is also a great resource to find positions like this. Finally, an audience member asked what growth and career advancement look like in Higher Ed admin. The presenters stated that this is somewhat dependent on the position, but there is lots of opportunity to expand both vertically and laterally. This could mean being promoted, professional development, incorporating more of your interests, taking on different leadership roles, or finding new and fulfilling opportunities. There are lots of career possibilities in Higher Ed to explore!

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