"After graduating from Yale with a degree in English, I thought about going to GRADschool, but wasn’t sure whether I wanted to. I went to work in Washington DC, first for a foundation and then doing fundraising for community organisations. Three years out of university I found myself being offered jobs in non-profit fundraising, and realised I was on a career path I wasn’t happy with. At that point, I decided to go to GRADschool, to read nineteenth century British literature at UC Berkley.
"I always loved books in college and I knew I wanted to teach, but my ambivalence about academia remained – and, having lectured for eight years, I eventually decided to leave my tenured position. However, after I left, I couldn’t seem to find any full-time jobs that interested me. I tried a couple of jobs, including one at a research institute, and another as an administrator setting up an academic programme, but I found I didn’t really like the idea of a traditional ‘job’. At the same time many people were asking me to do short-term and part-time projects, so I decided to try consulting.
"I describe myself as a writer-editor-consultant, although 75% of my time is spent working for one organisation as a consultant in local public high schools. The four main things I do are: freelance writing for newspapers and magazines; grant writing for non profits, businesses, and government agencies; freelance editing; and coaching (of teachers) and curriculum development with schools and youth organisations. I have had constant work since 2007 and am now making more money than I have ever made. Most of the work comes from word of mouth, from existing friends and customers. Don’t underestimate the importance of networking! It is the most important factor for being successful in this field. Knowing a lot of people helps, but so does being skilled in reaching out to them.
"One of the challenges about consulting is that you always have to be on the look out for more work – so there is always the risk of instability. While things are good at the moment, we are in a recession and it could all dry up at any moment. If my work disappears, I won’t get unemployment benefit, and I am not paying into a pension. Also, being in the States, health insurance is an issue, although I am lucky to get this through my husband. Having said that, I love the flexibility of running my own business, being able to choose my own work, and working with lots of different people. I am also doing completely fascinating work! I don’t do anything that doesn’t interest me. For instance, I have written a lot of government grants which enabled me to learn about all sorts of things – from electronic health records to fire stations. If I could find a job which offered me all this, I would take it, but so far I haven’t encountered such a job!
"My writing and editing skills, which were honed in academia, have proven very useful to my career. The most important advice I would give to doctoral researchers considering setting up a business would be to assess their skills and interests, then identify work which will use those skills and meet those interests. Network like mad, professionally and personally, and make up a business card. I think I am more opportunistic than entrepreneurial, though. I went to my yoga class and ended up editing a book for the yoga teacher! I’m sure that, within the next year, someone will call me because of the work I did on that book. That’s how it goes."