Jul 24th 2021 | Career Development Strategies SE002: How To Become a Ninja: An Interview With Emma Kaywin

Emma Kaywin career development strategies

Emma Kaywin who shares her career development strategies with us today, is the Consent Co-Director at House of Yes (NYC) and co-leads the Safer Spaces team at Meso Creso (DC). They consult for a number of nightlife communities and radical arts organizations across the East Coast, where they develops trauma-informed policies and procedures and trains staff. Emma further delivers tailored workshops and trainings on topics of consent, trauma, and sexuality to party collectives and young scientist groups internationally.

Previously, Emma worked at the Institute for Advanced Medicine at Mount Sinai Health System, where they led a team of Peers living with HIV/AIDS and developed sexuality and anti-stigma trainings. Emma was the sexual health columnist for Bustle for two years. Within this time, they developed weekly, research-driven responses to questions of sexual health and behavior.

Emma received a Master’s of Arts in health education from Teachers College, Columbia University and holds a Certificate in Conflict Resolution from the Teachers College Morton Deutsch International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution. They are currently working towards a doctorate in health education (EdD) at Teachers College. In their research, they are investigating what supports queer and gender-diverse individuals in feeling sexually safer in nightlife spaces.

What Is The Current Scope Of Your Career-Related Activities?

Emma: It is very diverse. I spend around 30-40% of the working week on my EdD studies in health education. I am taking two courses at the moment. I spend a further 30-40% on writing my dissertation. Moreover, I spend 30-40% of the working week serving as a freelance grant writer working in health education for community-based organizations and hospitals. Lastly, I spend around 7 hours per week conducting consent training in night clubs. 

This job is associated with a lot of mailing, staying active on online forums dedicated to trauma, reporting about harassment, and contacting perpetrators of harm to related workshops about consent, safety or trauma.

These Numbers Clearly Don’t Add Up To 100% Of The Working Week…

Emma: No, they don’t. I work a lot!

How Do You See Your Professional Life In the Perspective of the Next 5 To 10 Years? Do You Have Any Specific Career Development Strategies?

Emma: It is hard to say. I am not sure what I am going to do after my doctorate, but I am sure that I will stay education-focused. You see, I have a degree in mediation but I do not have a desire to be a mediator by profession.

When I was an undergraduate, we had an economic crisis in the US, and there were no jobs available at that point. This is why I learned to create my own jobs and to fill the gaps that I see on the job market. I am not worried about my future; if for some reason, what I do now won’t be useful on the market anymore, I will reorient myself in a way to make my skills useful in another way. I do not have one overarching goal for my professional development though.

Do You Think You Will Ever Settle On One Profession?

Emma: I really enjoy side-projects and diversity, as this variety allows me to fulfill my different needs in professional life. For instance, I used to work in a hospital full time as a grant writer, and additionally, after working hours, I also worked with a group of HIV-positive peers (patients hired part-time as employees) as an educator. This additional activity allowed me to fulfill the necessity to work with people on a daily basis which I couldn’t fulfill as a grant writer.

Did You Also Consider A Job Of a Policymaker? This Sounds Logic Given Your Focus On Public Education.

Emma: I did. This is a possible scenario, although I probably would not enjoy the amount of bureaucracy associated with this type of job.

Whom Did You Dream To Become As a Kid? What Career Options Did Consider Back Then?

Emma: A teacher, always!

Did You Have Any Professional Mentors In Your Professional Career So Far, Who Shared Their Career Development Strategies With You?

Emma: I enjoy reading seminal books in my field such as “The Argonauts” by Maggie Nelson. I college, I had many mentors focused on philosophy. Ever since I have been attending the graduate school, I’ve had two mentors who were both quite famous sex educators. I had really good conversations with them. I also had a clinical supervisor the times when I worked in a hospital. Finding mentors has always been hard in my case though, as no one else has the career path that I have. I tend to have a number of horizontal collaborators rather than mentors.

How Did Your Undergraduate Education Help You Get To Where You Are Now? Did It Open Any Career Options For You?

Emma: I attended the New York University Gallatin School of Individualized Study here in NYC. It is a unique, interdisciplinary school focused on collaboration. There was no division into separate faculties, or disciplines of knowledge. My work was a mixture of philosophy, psychoanalysis, comparative literature, and popular culture. My thesis concerned monsters in popular culture, and I had to defend the thesis in a colloquium, in a “grad-school” style. Studies at Gallatin highly stimulate creativity, and I can highly recommend this school to everyone.

What Is The Main Lesson That You’ve Learned In Your Professional Career So Far?

Emma: You need to know your boundaries, and when and how to collaborate with people. I am conducting many projects together with people representing disciplines other than mine. I had to learn when I need to reach out for help, and how to find people with skills complementary to mine.

Did You Have Any Personal Discoveries As Well?

Emma: Many people—and especially women—are intimidated by new challenges, and apply for projects only when they feel qualified enough. On many occasions, I took a punt and went for opportunities that sounded exciting—and I was surprised by the outcome. For instance, last year I went to an International conference in neuroscience in order to give my consent and trauma training to the young researchers. I was not sure what level of insight was expected of me, but the reception was very positive and I was invited again!

Do You Regret Anything In Your Professional Career?

Emma: Not really… There were hiccups of course, but I think I was always making the best out of my situation. For instance, when I was looking for jobs in the times of the recession, I got a job in which the boss was abusive. I did not have much choice at time though so I cannot say I regret taking this step.

Do You See Yourself As a Mother And Wife?

Emma: Not in a traditional model. I have no plans to get married—not in the current system at least. I live in a few polyamorous relationships, and I am planning to have a child with one of my partners. We know each other for six years now. We are also planning to co-parent with other people who are willing to have children with us.

And How Do You Treat Your Finances? What Is Your Goal?

Emma: I do not have too high expectations. I would like to have enough so that I feel safe—there is no specific amount. Financials is also one of the reasons why I prefer to have a diversity of jobs: even if I lose one of them, there are lots of other areas in which I could work.

How About NYC? You Seem To Be a Faithful New Yorker. Do You Feel That NYC Is Your Place On Earth?

Emma: Yes, I think so. I live in a small neighborhood so life is not as hectic to me. I visit Manhattan about twice per week. I enjoy the diversity, and the variety of collaborations I can have in this place. I feel that I would not have as many options anywhere else.

What About The American Dream? When You Walk Through The Streets of Manhattan, Do You Feel Its Spirit?

Emma: Well, as the name suggests, this is just a myth. In reality, the assignment of kids to public schools is based on the neighborhood they live in, so the status of their parents determines their education opportunities from the very start. Also, the Ivy League university diplomas open more doors although you can graduate without as much hard work and talent as many people believe. It is very hard to become wealthy if you come from nowhere.

Are Your Parents Supportive of What You Do? Do They Offer You Career Guidance?

Emma: Yes! They are very supportive, and they support my EdD studies financially. It hasn’t always been like this though. Both my parents have an academic education. They spent their whole professional lives building careers in a systematic way. They had initial concerns about the scope of the topics I am interested in. I had to prove to them that it was all worthwhile. But you know how it goes—your parents worry about you but when they see your work published in New Yorker and proudly tell all their friends about it [laugh].

How Do You Choose Friends?

Emma: To me, friendships a gift, and I do not expect anything in a response from any of my friends. I have the whole community supportive of me in multiple ways. All my friends are focused on community support, and freedom. They are all trying to make the world a better place, and they either work in advocacy, research, or art. It is a very diverse group of people in terms of how they contribute to the world. Most of them have a similar lifestyle to me; they are queer and non-monogamous.

Overall, Are You Happy About Your Professional Life?

Emma: There are always ups and downs but I am definitely energized about my professional life!

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career development strategies by a New Yorker Emma Kaywin

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