E028 Coaching for PhDs in Transition to Industry & How to Gain Social Media Following as a PhD
November 1st 2020
Dr Jennifer Polk, is an entrepreneur, career coach, and expert on PhD careers. She earned Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts titles from Carleton University. In 2012, she earned her PhD in history from the University of Toronto. In 2013, she launched From PhD to Life, a career coaching and speaking business. Since then, she’s worked 1-on-1 and in groups with graduate students and doctoral degree holders based in Canada, the United States, the UK, Australia, and elsewhere.
Jen has spoken on university campuses and at academic and professional conferences throughout North America on issues related to graduate education and career outcomes for PhDs. Her writing has appeared in the Globe and Mail, University Affairs, Inside Higher Ed, the Chronicle of Higher Education’s Vitae portal, and Academic Matters. Her University Affairs blog, From PhD to Life, won three gold awards at the Canadian Online Publishing Awards. She’s also contributed essays to two books: Moving On: Essays on the Aftermath of Leaving Academia, and Reflections on Academic Lives: Identities, Struggles, and Triumphs in Graduate School and Beyond.
Jen created and hosted Self-Employed PhD, an online network of freelancers, independent consultants, entrepreneurs, and small business owners.
For three years Jen hosted #withaPhD chat, a twice-monthly Twitter discussion. She co-founded Beyond the Professoriate and in that capacity (among many other activities) produced online conferences attended by hundreds of graduate students, PhDs, and career education professionals.
Jen is actively engaged in online conversations about careers for PhDs, especially on Twitter (you can follow her at @FromPhDtoLife).
In this episode, Jen told us the story of how she has become a career coach for PhDs and explained what this job entails. She also shared some of her personal strategies on how to grow her Twitter following and build an impact on social media. Lastly, Jen also shared some invaluable advice for launching a career after the PhD with us.
Jen’s Twitter profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jennifer-polk-bab56443/
Jen’s LinkedIn profile: https://twitter.com/FromPhDtoLife/
The website of PhD to Life: https://fromphdtolife.com/
The episode was recorded on November 1st, 2020. This material represents the speaker’s personal views and not the opinions of their current or former employer(s).
Natalia 00:10 Hello, everyone. This is yet another episode of career talks by welcome solutions. And in these weekly meetings, we chat with PhDs and other professionals with academic education who develop interesting careers and can share their stories and life hacks learned along the way with us. Today, I have the great pleasure to introduce Dr. Jennifer Polk. She’s an entrepreneur, career coach, and expert on PhD careers. She earned a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts in Sciences from Carleton University. In 2012, she earned her PhD in History from the University of Toronto.
In 2013, She launched from PhD to life, career coaching and speaking business. Since then she has worked one on one and in groups with graduate students and doctoral degree holders based in Canada, the United States, the UK, Australia, and elsewhere. And Jen has spoken on university campuses and other academic and professional conferences throughout North America on issues related to graduate education and career outcomes for PhDs to university. Her first blog, from PhD to life, won three gold awards at the Canadian online publishing awards. And she’s also contributed essays to two books. She created and hosted a self-employed PhD and an online network of freelancers, independent consultants, entrepreneurs, and small business owners. For three years, Jen hosted a PhD chat, a twice-monthly Twitter discussion, as she also co-founded beyond the professor yet, between 2014 and 2020.
And in that capacity, she produced online conferences attended by hundreds of graduate students, PhDs, and career education professionals. Jen is also actively engaged in online conversations about careers for PhDs, especially on Twitter. Great to have you, Jen. This is very impressive what you have been doing for PhDs in recent years. It’s been seven years already. That was a very long journey. Thank you so much for being with us and for accepting our invitation. Now, I would like to give the floor to you so that you could tell us your story from your own perspective. Thank you so much.
Dr. Jennifer 02:23 Thank you so much, Natalia. Thanks, everyone, for joining us live or for watching later. That was my kind of official bio as it were. I think the takeaway here is that I got a PhD in history and I like to point it out. It’s that big blue thing back there. I’m self-employed these days and I have my own solo business. I work with individuals and institutions. I help folks figure out what they’re going to do next.
And I’ve got a lively sub-niche that I niche on self-employed PhDs that is exciting. And I’ve worked from home for years. Although the pandemic sucks for everybody, in some ways, I’m used to this. I’ve had this background for a long time. I’m based in Toronto, and my cat, Izzy is not in my line of sight. But she does like to sometimes show up when I’m on video calls. You might see Izzy later on. We’ll see.
Natalia 03:30 Okay, and could you tell us a little bit about your experience and your transition beyond academia? A little bit about your PhD? Why did you choose that specific scope for your thesis? And also, how did reality look like after a PhD for you? Because I myself come from STEM sciences. And I feel that since we have such a different background, we also had different experiences with the PhD. I’m very curious about how it went for you and what did you feel after you graduated? How do you see the scope of career opportunities for PhDs in humanities?
I would like to hear more about all these feelings and thoughts that you further felt, once you were finishing your PhD, and why did you make the decision to start a career in this direction? And one question I also have, related to the previous question is, do you feel that PhDs in humanities have a harder or easier job finding their first careers outside academia than some STEM PhDs?
Dr. Jennifer 04:57 Thank you. You can interrupt me anytime because there was a lot in there that I could potentially talk about. And I’m going to forget. I went straight through high school B.A, MA. In Canada, you almost always have to do an MA. I like to say that it’s not that I didn’t do a PhD right away. That’s the standard do a master’s degree. I did a two-year masters with a thesis component. It’s that red book back there. This guy, and then afterward, I did a PhD. And because everyone’s experience is different, I wasn’t thinking very deeply. But what would come afterward, I was 24 when I started my PhD, and I know a lot of 24-year-olds are like grownups, but I was less. I was young in life and in the world.
I just wasn’t thinking about careers so much. It took me longer than some folks in STEM might imagine, history and English PhDs can take a very long time. By the end, a lot has changed. And my thought was that the only thing that I was good for was working as a professor but I wasn’t ever going to be able to do that. And I wasn’t sure that I even really wanted to do that. I didn’t have a positive vision to replace it. This is supposed to be the place for me. But there is no place for me. I don’t know what there is.
That feeling was very difficult. I was extremely fortunate in that I had some savings. And I admit that because everyone has a story and everyone’s story is different. What it meant for me was that I didn’t feel that I had to get a job immediately. And what that allowed me to do was take my time a little bit. I mean, I was very stressed, like a lot of people are and I felt sort of like a loser.
And I didn’t know all of the very common thoughts. But it did allow me to kind of take my time to figure out things a little bit. Then the next piece of it was that I worked with a coach and I hired a coach. And that’s not the only thing I did. But for me, it was a significant thing that I did it. It introduced me to the world of career coaching and life coaching, She was essentially a life coach which is also what I do too. It’s kind of an approach to asking questions and then shutting up, to put it bluntly. I explored coaching as a skill, a way of working, as a way of interacting with people, and also as a profession. And what that meant was I ended up starting my own business about a year after I formally graduated. And I’m still here. I’ve done different things over the years.
But I still do a lot of one on one coaching, some group coaching. And then I’ve expanded and done various things over the years. But I have always had clients who were figuring out what to do after a PhD. That’s not the only type of client I have. That’s a core client group that I’ve continued to have. Another question that was in what you just talked about Natalia was my experience as a humanities PhD student, and you asked, what are the opportunities for Humanities PhDs, and I emphasize the four because there aren’t jobs outside of academia that are for Humanities PhDs. There are plenty of jobs that humanities PhDs end up getting. But if you’re not going to work as a tenure track professor, or as a very small number of like, really specific other things, there’s almost no job out there that is looking for somebody who has a PhD in history in English and Philosophy etc. That is not like that.
There is no job that is like we are looking to hire a philosophy PhD. I mean, maybe one or two. But this is not a thing outside of academia, of course, if they want to hire somebody to be a university educator or researcher. But beyond academia, they’re not looking for that. I’m emphasizing this because this is a real shift when you’re coming out of a PhD program where everything is about what you research and what you know, as a scholar, and what you produce in terms of scholarship, and what you can teach, etc.
The world outside of academia doesn’t care. I mean, they might care because it’s sort of interesting. But they don’t care. And that’s not why they’re gonna hire you. I don’t do anything related to my dissertation and my master’s thesis, those subjects, and the topics. Those topics are of interest to people within academia. And they might be of interest to other people kind of casually, but they’re not interesting to employers because they don’t connect with the world of work. Does that make sense what I’m saying?
Natalia 10:59 Absolutely. In my case, I also don’t use the knowledge I gained during my PhD. But that was also partially my own choice. Because that’s a long story. But anyway, I mean, that’s also why I asked because when I think PhD in history, I struggle actually to come up with a case when this is the preferred education for the top. I mean, there are some jobs. But it must be a niche. Indeed, that’s pretty much what I mean. That’s something I expected because I also heard some rumors that PhDs in humanities have a hard time. They don’t have that type of technical skills that need years to build up expertise and knowledge.
On the other hand, I always had a feeling that like in humanities, you will spend more time developing soft skills because at least that’s something I remember from classes in psychology was next to physics and mathematics, I was also doing a master’s in psychology. And we had a lot of classes where we were discussing and just persuading each other to something and just having these fire charts and I felt that they were a little bit more of humanities than the natural sciences.
It was something on the edge but I felt it was more into humanities. I felt that this was the type of study that was teaching, how to deal with people more than how to acquire textbook knowledge. And I felt maybe, how do you feel about the ability of PhDs in humanities to actually present themselves and deal with people and build networks? Because I have a feeling that the nature of the studies teaches us more of the soft skills that we sometimes like as STEM students? How do you feel about this?
Dr.Jennifer 13:22 I’m laughing. Everyone is different. Every individual is different, right? And I find it difficult to kind of lump people together and say humanities PhDs are this because there’s a lot of variety, of course. But I will say that I see sometimes there are some trends. I think folks that have come from a humanities background can be more aware of the importance of specific language and the individual words that people use, so they can be more attuned to the importance of communication and the richness of different kinds of communication skills.
They might be kind of just better off learning that kind of stuff, communication skills, broadly defined. Humanities are very often more of a written discipline. Although humanities PhDs do a lot of teaching in various contexts during their degrees most of the time, certainly in the US and Canada, so written and verbal communication.
It’s not that folks are necessarily directly taught a lot of really important transferable skills but that they end up picking the stuff up along the way. And as you said, that persuasive writing and persuasive speaking are skills that are like really common even if you don’t recognize and seek those skills directly kind of pick them up along the way. It’s a bit messy and I think there’s probably a better way. But after a while, you’ve got some years hanging out doing some stuff.
The other thing I would say is that a lot of jobs are broadly similar. And so over the years, folks can specialize. But employers are looking for unless they’re looking for somebody to do something technical, and even if they are looking for somebody to do something technical. They are looking for employees with strong communication skills of various kinds, for employees to show up and be professional, and kind of be able to fit within the culture of a workplace. Those communication skills are really important. And humanities PhDs, like all PhDs can have that stuff. The challenge comes from a career change. And it’s a challenging thing.
There’s a particular challenge from changing careers coming out of what is, in a lot of cases, a really different kind of work environment. There’s a lot of variety. It depends. But the academic world can be quite far removed from the realities of different types of work in lots of different ways. And the need for folks to kind of reimagine themselves as professionals and what they do and what they can offer and understand what employers are looking for, and what has value and how to talk about themselves and their skills and their knowledge takes a lot of doing and then potentially they might need to build up new skills.
They probably don’t need more education, probably don’t need more credentials, but there is a real mindset shift, in addition to the psychological work that folks have to do and then the practical work of like, how do you write a resume? What is a cover letter outside of academia? These are just different forms. And it kind of takes a while for folks to wrap their minds around this stuff. There are a lot of different kinds of challenges that I think all PhDs experience. And some of them are a little more prevalent among humanities than others. But I do think that even though there are differences in general, we all have a lot in common.
Natalia 14:49 Thank you for this answer, Jen. Guys, if you have questions, please ask in the chat, we’ll just take your questions anytime. I don’t see any questions coming up yet. But we are looking forward to the questions. Let me ask you this question. It’s been seven years since you started. And that’s a long time. I remember that I started advising theories three years ago and I feel it was a long time already. And seven years is a very long time. It’s just a personal question. It’s been a long journey. And I know, for myself how hard work this is. Have you ever had these moments of crisis when you felt like, you would rather move to the woods and breed goats? And I don’t want to do this anymore. Or was that just a blast all the way?
Dr. Jennifer 18:27 I never had that specific thought. But I will admit that I have my moments. In general, the moments don’t last long enough for me to act on them. But it’s it is challenging work. And it’s not that working with clients is challenging. Every time you have a new client, it’s a risk. You never know how it’s gonna go. It’s like, you just got to embrace that challenge with every new person with every interaction on social media. That always keeps me in every group that I give a workshop for. It always keeps me on my toes.
But I think I’m not sure that this is quite accurate but I’m a bit obsessive. I like to get into stuff. The fact that my PhD dissertation is many hundreds of pages, tells you something I think about my personality that I like to get into things and kind of be knowledgeable and kind of know everything and everybody and I think it’s really fun that I’ve been in this world for a while and there’s still so much to learn always.
And it’s been really interesting over the years as things have shifted a little bit and maybe I’m not sure how much they have shifted. But it’s been interesting. The specific way that I have done this work has changed over the years. Nowadays, what I’m doing now is closer to what I started off doing but things have been different over the years. And who knows what will happen next? I think I enjoy interacting with people.
Although I’m an introvert, those are not mutually exclusive. I enjoy building a community that in my case has meant over social media in online networks. But it’s within workshops. Even there are different ways of doing that. I’m interested in helping people to help others. It’s kind of a broadway of saying that but I’m interested in what makes people do what they do. I’m also very interested in people’s stories and how they talk about those stories. I say all of these things to make the point that I can do different things.
Natalia 20:51 I see your point. I also try to think like this that I enjoy what I do as long as it lasts. But who knows what comes next? It’s just also people who are entrepreneurs and people who build companies say, it’s like you’re problem-oriented who work on something as long as you feel like you did everything you can equal to solve a problem and then you move on to a new problem. Ever since my contract expired, I have already kind of repurposed myself a few times because the first problem I was working on, was actually the problem of poor mentoring in academia. And I’ve set the foundation here in the Netherlands.
The main purpose was to help PhDs get better mentoring. I realized that more people were asking me for help with finding jobs. And we’ve helped them with finding mentors. In the process, I realized that there is another problem that’s even more important. I already kind of changed the mission at least once. And I can see that it might happen again and again. But it’s exciting. You just don’t know what happens next.
And I think it’s a good mindset to be prepared for that. But we have a question from the audience. And the question is, talking about social communication skills, how a PhD graduate could benefit from this skill? Not only by reflecting that in the resume, but also in the job application process. One possible solution could be networking. But could we kindly ask your opinion on the matter of how to magnify your applications?
Dr. Jennifer 22:49 It’s the key thing to remember about submitting your application. And I speak, mostly from knowledge of the US Canada situation, and also the understanding that within USA and Canada, there’s a lot of variety and there a lot of different kinds of norms depending on the specific sector that you’re applying to. But in general, it’s really important to remember that your application is a response to a particular job ad within a particular context. And what you want to think about is, how can you put together the best response, the best persuasive response to the job ad in front of you?
My point here is that your application is about you. Ultimately, it’s about what the job ad is looking for. Whatever they want to see in applicants, whatever the kind of skills are, the knowledge, the abilities, the personal characteristics that they’re looking for. And folks, that’s what you should emphasize in your application materials. It just depends on what exactly you’re going to be doing in your application materials. And this is why folks like me talk about the importance of tailoring your materials. If you know anything about an academic job application, where you submit a long CV. Again, I’m talking primarily in the North American context, you don’t change your CV that much from application to application.
But when it comes to jobs outside of academia, particularly if you’re applying to kind of different types of jobs and different types of companies or sectors or industries, even your resume or your cover letter may look extremely different and that’s a good thing as long as you’re being truthful. It’s really important to respond to the specifics of the job ad and whatever else that you know is in that context.
Sometimes, you have to read between the lines how do you do that? You understand more about the particular context of that job. You understand more about that organization or that business. You have a sense of the field in general. You can respond to what is asked for and written and said, in the job ad. And that’s where networking comes in. I’m not answering the question exactly. Because the answer is sort of it depends. But you need to tailor directly to the job that you’re applying for every single time.
Natalia 25:54 Okay, fantastic. I agree. And we have another question from the audience. Let me ask that one. Martha is asking, thank you for sharing your experience, Jen. Maybe I missed the beginning. But I’m curious. How did you know that you would like to become a career coach?
Dr. Jennifer 26:19 Let me answer this way. I hired a coach. In an online forum, there was a discussion about informational interviews and it was something that I’d heard of because I’d read the book, what color’s your parachute, I’ve got a copy of it back there. And it talked about informational interviews. I just knew from my reading that this was something that I should be doing. And so there was a conversation in this forum but information interviews for PhDs and in that forum, in the thread, someone had posted, I have a cheat sheet. Email me and I’ll send you the PDF. And I did this. And it turned out that the person who posted this and who then sent me the PDF file, was a coach, a career coach for academics.
And this was one way that she generated new leads. I got potential clients to engage with her. And she sent me this PDF. She said, by the way, I’m a career coach and I’d love to chat with you, offer you a free session, and initial consultation or something. And I was like, Okay. I had a conversation, and this was Hillary Hutchinson. And her website is transitioningyourlife.com, that’s all one word. And from the very first conversation that I had with Hillary, I started to feel much better. I hired her and we worked together intensively for like three or four months and then less intensively for another couple of months after that.
And very quickly, after I started working with her, I began thinking that maybe I want to do this kind of work. It was kind of embarrassing to think. I eventually got up the courage to say, I kind of thinking about coaching for me too. I sort of cringed just as I told her, and she’s like, no, you pick up this, that’s awesome. It was still another six months before I ever had a client more than that relieves maybe eight months.
But because of her encouragement and because of my experience, working with her as a client as a coaching client, I started reading about coaching. I started doing informational interviews with coaches. I did other things that were related to that. And then maybe six months after I started working with Hillary, I signed up for a coaching class. This was like an introductory, you know how to coach class. And it was a class that was conducted by teleconference over the phone. That was a class that lasted months. And it was in the context of that course, that first class that I had. And I started to learn about coaching not just as a client but as a coach myself.
And of course, I had lots more to learn over the years and I still have so much more to learn. But that was the specific context. When I signed up for that class, I was not thinking that I’m going to work as a coach. And that’s going to be my career. I mean, I was thinking whatever I do, I know that these skills are going to be powerful in my life and my career because I have had experience working with a coach and it was life-changing for me. I mean, I say that with a straight face. And so I valued those skills and I wanted to learn them for myself and coaching is extremely different from how I had ever interacted with anyone in any academic or other contexts. It took me a while to wrap my head around coaching. Because it’s not the same as telling people what to do.
Anyways, I’m going off on a tangent here but I was working with the coach that inspired me to think about this. And then there was no big grand plan. It was who wants to help me practice the coaching skills that I’m learning because I’m taking this class. Thank you for helping me practice. Do you want to have a second session? I’m gonna pay you to charge and I’m going to charge you money now. And that was what happened seven years ago, in the summer of 2013, as I started to have my very first clients and everybody knew that I was in training. And here we’re after lots of different things.
Natalia 31:11 I have my own question for you because I have a feeling that in the recent few years, especially the last two, or three years, I would say there is an outburst of interest in coaching as a career. And there are lots of these online coaching classes even now in the lockdown. They just produce people with a title of a coach, like it’s a factory, right? I have a feeling that, since it’s so easy to get this label of a coach, it’s also very hard to stand out. Even if you’re very good, it’s really hard to get yourself known and get that trust. Because there is such a supply of coaches at the moment that it’s very hard to start in this business. And how do you see this? Do you also observe that there is a very rapidly increasing supply of coaches on the market?
Dr. Jennifer 32:19 The first thing I would say to that is that anyone could call them a coach. I mean, at some point, the coaching industry co-opted that term from like, sports coaches, I don’t know, I don’t know about that. But you know, anyone can just call themselves a coach. There’s no legislation around this. It’s not like a therapist where you need kind of certain kinds of credentials and there’s a board for certification, etc. Any kind of certification that you would do as a coach, at least in my part of the world is just totally optional. The other thing I would say about that is although I have done coach training by what is generally considered to be internationally respected, my clients don’t care.
I think only one person over the years has ever asked me in seriousness if I was a credential holder and I never finished their credentialing program. I mean, I could pay 100 bucks and get one. The serious one that I was pursuing, I never finished because I was busy. And I realized nobody cared. And so there’s value for me. And now that I’m coaching more full-time than I was the past previous few years, I might kind of pursue that again. But anyway, anyone can call themselves a coach.
Unfortunately, it’s a matter of the person who’s considering hiring somebody to do their research. In most cases, coaches offer free initial consults. And it’s important to get a sense of people before you want to work with them. And make sure that if you’re gonna work with a coach, you’re gonna hire somebody that you put yourself in charge of your life, and you try and be very clear about what you want. If you want to work with somebody, try and figure out, what do you want out of your relationship with them?
I use the term career coach as a general thing. And there are pitfalls to that because a lot of folks assume that I’m going to write their resume and tell them what kind of job they can get. And I’m not going to do those things. I mean, I might have ideas but I’m not a traditional career counselor where I’m going to do a bunch of assessments and it’s gonna spit out that here’s the five jobs that you’re meant to do. That’s not a thing. I’m not a professional resume writer. I have full respect.
And I know people that do that kind of stuff but I don’t make excuses for myself. But just to say, it’s really important to be very clear about what you want. And if you’re not sure, that’s what the initial consultation is for, when you work with a coach because then you can figure out like, what it is that you’re looking for? And is this person going to help you get it? In the style of work that I do, the whole point is for my clients to do the work that they need to do to move forward in life. My job is to facilitate them and figuring out what that is. And this is a metaphor, but like, paving the way so that they can go off and do it. It’s really important for them to just go off and do the work. My job is to work with them so that they go and do it. That’s the point.
Natalia 36:19 I think it’s really important to set the expectations because many people who come to cultures have the expectations that they will actually find a job for them. That’s gonna happen. That’s not like the definition of coaching. Like the fact that you are a coach, almost by definition means that you ask the right questions, not that you’re giving the answer. I think that there is still little recognition in society of what this job is about. And that actually is more related to guidance. The expectations are maybe too high sometimes. And that’s true. There are more questions from the audience. Luke is asking, what do you find most challenging about coaching STEM PhD students in the transition from academia into industry, but not necessarily to lab work?
Dr. Jennifer 37:26 I would say that this is not specific to stem PhDs. The big challenge for the folks that I interact with is figuring out what you want to do. And I don’t mean job title. I mean, the work to figure out what you want to do before you even start thinking about job titles, like what do you actually want to be doing? What kind of people do you want to interact with? What kind of work environment do you want to be in? What is the difference that you want to make in the world? What do you value? What are your strengths? Those kinds of very big questions, seemingly, really simple questions are very challenging for a lot of people. When I asked those questions, and I see this on Twitter all the time, people are like, well, I want to work, I want to be a professor.
And I’m like, okay, but that’s not actually what I’m getting at. What I want to know is what do you actually want to do? And people say, well, I want to be a cancer researcher. I’m like, no, what do you want to do? What do you want to actually do? I don’t mean to sound facile. But it’s important to figure out that stuff. One thing is like, what do you want to do? And then the second thing that is a challenge for a lot of PhDs including STEM PhDs, is the reality that networking is a really important part of this.
Networking is a super important part of this. And before people are like, Jen, don’t tell me to network. What’s wrong with you? Networking is about talking to people. Networking is about interacting with people in other ways. But interacting with folks being in conversation with professionals that you want to potentially work with being in conversation with people over email or social media, in a Zoom meeting, in a one-on-one context, in a group context, that’s what networking is about.
And a lot of folks are really kind of terrified of it. Because they’re imagining it in a way that I don’t mean, it’s not going to a huge networking event and throwing business cards around. That’s not going to help. Like, don’t do that. Nobody wants that. It’s just about interacting with the folks that you want to interact with. I make it sound so simple and it can be scary. And if you’re feeling a bit shy or a bit unsure about things, okay, well, What are ways that you can do this in a way that feels low stakes, that feels kind of safe? And that’s it.
Natalia 40:15 Okay, fantastic. Many people have this mental barrier that stops them from starting to network beyond their comfort zone.
Dr. Jennifer 40:30 I get it. It’s scary. But I’ve seen this again and again with clients is that once they start to interact sock with a couple of folks, the right folks, whatever that means, they feel so much better. And networking in the guise of informational interviews where people talk about networking, like, make sure you add value, well, sure, but sometimes you’re like, I don’t have any value to add, that may or may not be true. But when you’re doing an informational interview, the value is that you’re listening to that person and you’re giving them an opportunity to reflect and to give advice and everybody likes that.
That’s a fun thing. That’s the value you’re adding. Once people start doing this, they feel so much better. I really encourage you to just do what you need to do to get started doing this because it’s good to be helpful. The other thing to say about networking is that it’s not going to get you a job directly. But this is not a get a job quick strategy. It is a strategy to help you feel better but mostly to help you learn about options to help you become conversant in the language of that industry to learn about possible jobs, to learn about possible companies that you want to work in, and to learn about industries. It’s so important and there’s no better way to learn about them. There are other ways to learn. But ultimately, you’ve got to talk to people you’ve got to get the insider perspective.
Natalia 42:17 One thing I might add to this is that I think networking is like long-term investing because you never know who will meet next and what will happen next. Some people might come back to your life in a very long distant future. And sometimes, I can see that some people whom I used to study with, and we lost talk maybe 10 years ago now come back into my life and become collaborators and become useful in some way to what I’m doing. And I will never think about that categories 10 or 15 years ago and you never really know who you will be next and when your contacts will become useful and actually increasing your personal network is a bit like building.
It has its builds up like compound interest because these people also go out there and meet more people and they remember about you and the number of opportunities you get. Once you build your network, it actually exponentially grows. And you might not see the results very soon, but maybe in a few years or maybe sometimes in 20 years. But once you build up some recognition in what you do, and who you are and people have good feelings about you, then people come and go but you never really know who will come back to your life and at what point in time.
Okay, we have more questions. Shady is asking, I’ve got a feeling that applications are not sufficiently considering these important personality traits and skills talking about communication skills specifically, usually, job descriptions are far away from the real-world needs of the position. I was wondering if anyway based on your experience remind them of the importance of the skill and how to show that you are truly having it. I hope that I’ve been clear with that. Thanks for sharing your idea.
Dr. Jennifer 44:34 There is an opportunity for you to make choices on what you emphasize in your resume. If there are certain skills or experiences that you have that you think are really important to the role, you can choose, whether or not they’re emphasized in the job ad. I mean, that’s your choice to emphasize this kind of stuff. I’ll give you an example. I did apply for a job a few weeks ago and no I don’t have an update. I’ve no idea what’s going on. And in my draft of my resume, I wrote that I had 60,000 followers across social media platforms. But I wrote that because, for me, I thought that that was potentially good evidence of the communication skills of this particular type.
In the end, before I submitted the final application materials, I removed that bullet point and replaced it with something else because I decided that based on what I understood about the job, from the job ad, and from the conversations that I had, and from my knowledge, and various things beyond that, they didn’t really care about that. And so I replaced that one line or two lines, or whatever it was with something that I thought would be more compelling for them. My point is that you can make choices about what you choose to emphasize. For this job that I applied for, in the cover letter, I emphasize the fact that I’m a community builder. That’s not something they really talked about in the job description but I read between the lines and decided that they should hire me because I’m a community builder.
I did emphasize that in the cover letter, even though they are not looking for that explicitly, I think I’m gonna start to repeat myself. But if you really think that you’ve got something to offer, tell them for sure. And tell them not by saying I have awesome communication skills but by talking about what you value, and what you have accomplished, and how the accomplishments are, what am I trying to say here, the context of those accomplishments make that clear, right. Something, you know, 60,000 social media followers, if I just read wrote that without context, is that impressive? Who cares? Like, what does that mean? If I was going to include that, I would have to kind of make it clear that that is like in the top 10%, or whatever, of an academic tutor, I just made that up? I have no idea. And why that’s relevant? I’ll stop talking.
Natalia 47:37 Referring to this following you have on social media, I’m actually very curious because this is very impressive what you achieved there, and especially on Twitter. I also learned already that it’s not very easy to build a following, especially if you’re individually tweeting because some popular accounts are actually led by groups and not by individuals. I’m curious, what your secret is? And if there is any secret or there are any life hacks? Or do you feel that this is more about being persistent and focused and working on this for many years? Or there is maybe you have some talent for this? What would you advise to academics that are considering making Twitter part of their strategy for building personal image and maybe building a business around it?
Dr. Jennifer 48:43 I’m happy to talk about that. Thank you. I will say one thing that, in my personal case, timing is part of it. There are a lot of conversations now happening around, the type of conversations that I also have. But when I was getting on to Twitter in this capacity, there were fewer. It was easier to be a big fish because the pond was smaller and there were a lot fewer conversations that were going on. I will acknowledge that. There is a benefit to having been a little early. I wasn’t the earliest but to have been earlier than some of the newer folks, I will also say that I am not bigger than some newer accounts.
There are definitely newer accounts that are a lot bigger than mine anyway, so for me, timing is part of it. The other thing was that Twitter, the algorithm or whatever, what Twitter promotes within its own ecosystem has shifted over the years. I’m not necessarily kind of the best informed now. I was a little bit more back then but what worked really well for me, I think that has always worked well. I like it. I think if there’s a platform and you’re thinking, everyone says I should be on this platform. I’ll just give it like 20 minutes a week. It’s probably not going to be successful for you because you just don’t like it. And that’s okay. But I would say that there’s a reason why you want to have like a small footprint there. But I think you don’t need it. I personally like it. I think it’s fun. That’s important. I like engagement. I like the interaction with folks. I’ve done different kinds of things on Twitter.
But for example, one of the things that I always like is asking questions and having other people respond. Over the years, you know, Twitter has kind of changed a bit how it deals with that. I just asked a question. They turned into these monster threads with hundreds of replies sometimes. And that’s fun. This is less important these days in terms of how Twitter privileges certain types of content. But back then, it was really important to share other people’s content and this was across social media. I don’t think it matters so much anymore. But that was something I was really good at doing. And I still do is I share links out to other folks that what other people are doing, like articles that other people have read and that have been important.
I think it’s less important now. Nowadays, Twitter is privileging content that keeps people on Twitter, which kind of makes sense. I mean, they want you to look at their ads on Twitter. Some of the big accounts have tweets that they don’t link and that just make a point. And especially if the point gets people a little bit like, you’re wrong, that can go viral within a community, for sure. I understand that engagement is really important, responding to people liking things, retweeting, I think the key to being involved in conversations is understanding the platform privileges. Nowadays, I think it’s privileging kind of staying on Twitter. I think we could talk about more things. But I think those are the key.
Natalia 49:04 I have one little question. Because I hear various types of advice regarding Twitter, some people tell me that you should be very pragmatic and scheduled and you should actually plan your tweets ahead. But when I use social media, I just don’t really feel like planning my every statement. But I’m curious about your strategy. Do you just type whatever you feel like typing at the moment when you have inspiration? Or are you one of these very scheduled and well-calculated Twitter users who plan the whole?
Dr. Jennifer 53:36 These days, I have no employees, and no contractors, which I’ve had in the past in different capacities. I’m just me these days. And I do have a brand, and I have services that I offer, and that there’s sort of clarity to a certain extent around that stuff. These days, it’s really important for me to figure out kind of what I’m going to be doing long-term. I say this because if somebody who was like a brand expert were to talk to me, they would say, Jen, you need a social media strategy. And I don’t have that. I don’t do kind of heavy planning. I’m not calculating as you put it. I do in terms of scheduling or tweeting.
I’ve used different software over the years for this and the one I use nowadays is called Publer. And it’s a software that allows you to schedule tweets in advance and I do that. I do sometimes have tweets that come out. I don’t know if you can see it on Twitter. Tweet Deck is also a Twitter app that’ll allow you to schedule tweets in advance. You don’t have to pay for anything extra. But sometimes it’s good to do that. Because I might think that I’m going to be busy all day and not tweeting anything live. But I do want to share some content or thoughts. That’s the benefit of scheduling things in advance.
But I certainly do a lot of, especially kind of in the evenings and weekends, most of you see me tweeting, I’m probably actually doing it then. But I do both. I’m not super kind of strategic. I’m not kind of having those thoughts and plans about what to do. It’s mostly just me. I will say that my pictures of food and a cat, the Izzy, most popular, you can be personal on Twitter, even if you have a business, and that’s your main reason for being there.
Natalia 55:54 That’s funny. I’m not a cat person by any means. But I noticed that people will love that so much. I noticed that also from the best selling books since I passed by a bookstore every day going to the grocery. And that’s one of the reasons why I put a pet on the cover of my second book which is not out yet. But I can see that. I’ve seen quite a few pictures from you. I think cuteness sells. I think that’s the point. But that’s a good life hack to increase your audience and I guess trust is a part of your image. The pets, in some ways, build trust. And that’s the thing.
Dr. Jennifer 56:01 It’s a throwaway line. But it’s true that people hire people for anything that you can do to make yourself see if your business is essentially you. And that’s not necessarily the case. But you are the brand depending on the type of business you have. It doesn’t have to be pictures of other things in your life but any kind of personal pictures are always really popular as well. I don’t take a lot of pictures of things that aren’t Izzy.
Natalia 56:49 Someone is saying that I’m fairly new to the Twittersphere. But I definitely see the value of engaging as a higher ed professional exploring other opportunities. I see that too. I’m just not good at this. But thank you so much, Jen, for your life hacks. It’s very valuable. I have another question that just came to my mind a few seconds ago is, I don’t know that much about coaching these days. But I do courses and individual sessions are part of it.
I have this question for you, as I see this problem that it’s very easy to become friends with your clients because once you work one on one, and you talk about really important life advice, and important matters, such as looking for jobs, changing careers, and at some point, it’s easy to shift to talking about life in general. That brings people close. I always feel like sometimes it’s hard to put this boundary in the right place. How do you treat this? Did you have any instances when you made friends with your clients? And now you keep in good relations and go out to beers sometimes or it never happened. And you put clear boundaries. What was your experience? And what are your personal rules?
Dr. Jennifer 59:00 Thanks for asking. I wish I had a kind of clear answer to this. I mean, the reality is that you might be friends with your clients. I have worked with folks all over the world, mostly in the US and Canada. And some of my clients are based where I live in Toronto but mostly they’re not here. And so you know, going for beers would never be an option. But I think it’s certainly possible to have different kinds of engagements with people over the years. One person I’m thinking of is a friend of mine. And I’m just thinking if I’ve been to her home over the years.
But she’s been to my apartment when visiting the city and I would totally go and visit her too, not during the pandemic. We’ve worked together in various capacities, including me as a coach and she is the client. I think that is possible. Nowadays, there are a couple of clients that I told that I had applied for a job. And it was simply a personal disclosure and it wasn’t in the contract. It wasn’t relevant to our working together. But I did feel a certain kind of closeness with them that I just wanted to share, even though it totally wasn’t relevant to our work together. I will say that I wouldn’t consider my clients to be friends. And it’s not a criticism. It’s just a different type of relationship. I sometimes refer to coaching as a conversation but it’s not a conversation in the way that you would have with friends. Because as a coach, I want to get an agenda for my clients.
There’s a kind of a question I was asked at the beginning. I do want to feel free. I mean, I feel free to interrupt my clients at any time. And I wouldn’t necessarily do that with a friend. But with a client, I’d be like, I’m interrupting. Now, I do that because it’s important for me as a coach and they’re paying me money. They’re not paying money to be a friend. I mean, we’re human. It’s okay. But I want to make sure that we do our session and then I show up as a professional with them. That’s kind of a little bit of a messy answer. But in general, I’m not friends with my clients. And as I say, that’s not a criticism. We have a working relationship. That’s great but it is what it is.
Natalia 1:01:46 I mean, I’m still figuring this out. If you’re this type of person that just breaks eyes very easily, then it’s sometimes hard not to make friends. But I totally agree that during the process, once you are in the process of coaching before you end and get the bill, and you know that, basically, you’re in it, then there’s not an option to be friends. But like, sometimes, it happens to me that I keep on chatting after the process and that sometimes results in friendship. But I always try to keep very professional during the process. I see your points. It’s hard sometimes.
Dr. Jennifer 1:02:40 It’s super interesting. One of the things that I was really struck by years ago was that I had a client and I think we had a really positive, good working relationship. And then I did end up meeting her in person. We didn’t really have anything to talk about. And it was, again, not a criticism, but it was just kind of an interesting moment of like, she was great but we just were different types of people. We had different interests. Outside of the coaching relationship, we weren’t really going to be friends. That surprised me but I always remember it because I have a certain personality when I’m not coach Jen.
Natalia 1:03:29 Sometimes, it’s a very weird type of situation. Because once you work with someone, people mostly focused on that person. This’s human nature that people like to talk about themselves to be the center of attention and to be helped. Once this relationship ends, then it shifts to another type of relationship that is different. And the dynamics can change because you’re equal. You’re not focusing on the other person. You’re supposed to support each other equally. It’s really hard to predict how it goes, you know, once you have a really good coaching relationship, and then that kind of feels like that might convert into a friendship in the future. That doesn’t necessarily go this way. It’s really unpredictable how it pans out. Anyways, I think we have another question from the audience.
Shady is asking, could you tell us a bit about your journey of being a certified coach training and experience collecting? I think both Jen and me are not certified coaches if I’m correct. I have to say that I am on the same page with what Jen said before. I think that a good coach is a person that proves themselves by doing and this is not about the titles and this is not about diplomas because it’s very easy to get a diploma. You basically pay and you get it. It’s not what states about the quality of what you’re doing. I think what Jen is doing is really great because she’s in this business and it’s the hard business. It’s not easy to survive.
Because when you think from a business perspective, it’s very hard to market because potential clients or someone who is leaving academia has always had alternatives. They have other resources. They have free resources online. They have all this material on social media. They have YouTube channels. You have to be very good both at what you’re doing and sales to get clients in the space. And this’s quite a unique situation. Because, employees in companies, when they’re looking for coaching, they don’t have alternatives. They have to buy into something if they want to get good coaching. But academics have alternatives to university. They don’t have to pay for them. You have to offer a 10 times better service than the free service to get the client. I mean, Jen is in the business for seven years. I think this speaks for itself. It’s a much better stamp of quality than the title or certificate.
Dr. Jennifer 1:06:41 It really depends on what you as a client want out of the relationship. The type of work that I do, generally speaking, you can’t get it from your university, and you can’t get it from watching a YouTube video because it is personal. In a small group coaching situation, it is about the dynamic life of that group. You can generally get it. And most people, even folks that call themselves coaches don’t have the mindset of what I mean, when I say coaching, I will say really quickly, for folks that are interested in coaching as a profession is lots of different approaches and methods.
The one that I did some training in, right. I’m not certified but I did some training in International Coach Federation. The ICF, the International Coach Federation, and there are lots of accredited training programs, and schools that offer the ICF credential directly or indirectly. You can look into that company that I did Coach Training with which is called mentor coach. It’s mentor coach.com. I chose it for a variety of reasons including that there are a lot of PhDs, psychology PhDs, particularly, who founded the company and are on staff, as the coaches and the instructors. And it has an emphasis not only on the ICF credential, and the life coaching model, but also on positive psychology.
That appealed to me I’m not saying that it’s better or worse than others but it has some kind of recognition out there as a legitimate thing. I appreciated it. I don’t know a lot about the coaching, education, and training landscape that’s out there nowadays. If you’re interested in learning coach skills and being certified, whatever that means for you, then there’s a lot to explore. And I’m not informed of what’s going on these days.
Natalia 1:08:50 Great. I have one more question about your coaching experience which is, is there any question that comes back over and over again, so many of our clients have exactly the same problem? Or dilemma or question that they make the same mistake. Anything that comes to mind?
Dr. Jennifer 1:09:20 I tend to work with folks that are trying to do a big thing and affect a major shift in their life in their career. And they have to do it largely by themselves. Because they’re changing jobs. They’re the only ones that can do it. They’re running a small business or starting a business. It’s on them to do it or they have tenure and they want to advance to full and there’s some kind of structure around that at university but they’re independent researchers. They largely have to do it on their own. And those are finishing a dissertation. And again, you might have a supervisor but you’re largely doing something on your own. That’s really challenging.
And the value of hiring a coach could be that you have someone on your team who is not otherwise involved in your life or in your work. I’m not your advisor. I’m not the IRS. I mean, whatever it is. But I’m Sorry. I have something getting my way that’s really important to have somebody to chat with who’s not involved. I always say to clients that I don’t care about what they end up doing. I mean, I’m a human. And sometimes I can admit that I might personally have feelings about things. But generally speaking, if I’m showing up as my best Coach Self, I don’t care what the specifics are. What I do care about is living in a world where people are living according to their values and their desires and making positive changes in the world in a way that is meaningful for them.
And that’s what I care about how people answer those questions, how people determine what impact means for them, what’s engaging for them, what’s meaningful for them, like, I don’t know, that’s going to depend on you. But that’s what I care about. And that outside perspective, that facility, like me, as a facilitator, of folks doing explorations, and of taking risks, and of trying things and doing things, is really valuable for a lot of people particularly when they’re trying to affect significant change personally or professionally. That’s the value of having a coach. It’s kind of this broader thing that I need someone to tell me what to do. Sometimes, I do put on my more consulting hat and I say, Okay, let me step in here with you and tell you a couple of things, that’s not coaching, that’s not like peer coaching. But it depends on the client. And on the session, sometimes there’s room for this. I have forgotten what you asked me Natalia and I might be completely veered in a different direction.
Natalia 1:12:34 I think the question was, what about if you experienced that there are some questions or problems that are reported often by your clients?
Dr. Jennifer 1:12:45 I mean, the problem that folks have is they don’t know what they want to do. And they don’t know how to do it. They don’t know where to start. That’s what they tell me. And my work is to help them figure out to take the next step. What do you know, right? Like, let’s figure that out. What do you actually know? And what is your next step? I mean, we can start to map up at least a vision of the several steps after that. But all you need to do right now is to feel like I do kind of know what I want and where I’m at. And here’s my very next step. I’m giving you a vague answer. That I think that’s the best answer I can give. Does that make sense?
Natalia 1:13:39 I fully agree. I experienced the same that 80% of the effort you have to take to transition to the industry is basically to figure out where to like which door to knock out. And only the remaining 20% is to actually learn the contracts. That’s my feeling. That’s also what I focus on doing the courses and I also focused on that in my book, how to discover that, and actually this is quite surprising that researchers are taught in a systematic way to have the systematic approach to problems and research things. But no one told us how to research ourselves. And you know, sometimes you ask people very simple things like what do you actually like doing?
What types of stress are you resilient to and are you actually motivated by public talks? Or are you stressed? Are you motivated by leading other people? Are you stressed and even to those like very simple questions, like they’re like, I never thought about this. And I’m like, You’re 30 years old. Like how come you never thought about this? It’s sometimes you really have to dig into to go through this whole journey. And then with the person ask simple questions and help them find the right answers. I can see the same problem that we don’t research ourselves enough. I don’t see any more questions from the audience.
I still have a question that I would like to ask you, which is more about how you feel as a self-employed person since you also do coaching for self-employed PhDs. I would like to ask you about your experience and what do you think is the best part of this job? And what do you like the most? What type of people you would recommend this type of working scheme to? How to recognize that you were born to be self-employed?
Dr. Jennifer 1:15:55 That’s an interesting question. There are lots of different types of work. I think if I could weasel out of answering your question directly, is that whatever type of person you are, this could be right for you. Because it depends on the type of person you are. I refer to myself as a self-employed person. I might call myself an entrepreneur. I do that on LinkedIn. I do think there’s a meaningful difference between my job these days, as somebody who is self-employed, I do everything myself, with clients, and with software, right, and somebody who is starting a startup where they’re commercializing their research and they’re going after VC funding, venture capitalists funding. They’re gonna disrupt an industry. I mean, I do make a distinction between those.
There are lots of different types of self-employment. I will also say that the word self and self-employment does not mean that I am by myself all the time responsible for paying my income. Should I have any? But I’m working with clients all the time. And I like collaborating with folks a lot. And there’s no conflict there. I think it depends on whatever type of person you are. I think this can be right for you. Sometimes people say, Oh, I can never be self-employed because I need security. I mean, there’s a time and a place in life. And maybe for a lot of people listening, what they really would like, is a full-time paycheck with benefits and a permanent contract. But is that available to you? Are you happy about the trade-offs of that?
And the other thing I would say is if that’s not available to you, or you decide against that, for whatever reason, at whatever point is, there is a way of seeing self-employment as more stable and more secure long term. Because when you get fired from a job, 100% of your income is gone. And depending on the industry you’re in, it may or may not be more challenging or easy for you to get another employer.
A lot of people like me have multiple streams of income and lots of different clients. It really depends on the type of work you do. When something dries up, there are other income streams. There are other sources of revenue for you. And that’s the security in itself. It really depends. I don’t like answering A, B and C, and D in order to know if you’re going to be self-employed because the reality is that it’s a mess. If you don’t like doing something, you can hire somebody to do it for you.
There is software for that. There’s just a huge world out there. I did not grow up in a family of entrepreneurs. My mother worked for a government department for like 40 plus years. My father was a grade seven teacher in one school in probably one classroom for like 25,30 years. This’s right. I am not from the kind of an entrepreneurial background. I’m self-employed. I do think that PhDs and STEM folks are used to doing everything on their own. Now that is a bad thing when it comes to self-employment because it’s a good thing anyway. I’m not starting to not make sense anymore. But I refuse to answer your question.
Natalia 1:20:11 All right, that’s also an answer. If I may ask you the last question, what would you advise to PhDs who are still searching for their first jobs outside academia? It can be anything that comes to your mind.
Dr. Jennifer 1:20:37 My advice is if you’re looking for your first job after your PhD, take stock of where you’re at with the process, and ask yourself, what are you not doing that you need to do? Ask yourself, what am I not doing that I really need to be doing? And maybe the answer is I need to network. And if that’s the answer, do it. A lot of folks apply for jobs and they spend the vast majority of their time doing that. It depends on your situation if that’s the right thing, but generally speaking, applying to jobs and doing very little networking is not a great strategy. It’s not a great strategy. It depends, right? I don’t want you to go away and give me bad advice because it always depends. But you should be talking to more people than you are doing now.
Natalia 1:21:31 Okay, fantastic. It’s very good advice. If there are no more questions from the audience, then I would like to wrap up. Thank you so much, Jen, for joining us today and for this fantastic webinar. And I wish you well on your journey and I’m curious about what you’re going to do next with your business. I always sympathize with self-employed people. I think it’s quite hard. I wish you all the best.
Dr. Jennifer 1:22:15 Thank you very much.
Natalia 1:22:19 Thank you, everyone, for coming over and for your questions. One little announcement I have is this week the second edition of my book came out so it’s now available online. I will link the book in the description of this episode. And if you would like to receive more of this type of content and you would like to get more advice for PhDs that are on the that are considering changing careers then please subscribe to this channel. Thank you so much for your attention. Thank you guys for joining us today and wish you all the best.
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Please cite as:
Bielczyk, N. (2020, November 1st). E028 Coaching for PhDs in Transition to Industry & How to Gain Social Media Following as a PhD? Retrieved from https://ontologyofvalue.com/career-development-strategies-e028-coaching-for-phds-in-transition-to-industry-how-to-gain-social-media-following-as-a-phd/
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