By Rachel Burstein
Rachel Burstein is a PhD candidate in History at the CUNY Graduate Center. Her dissertation examines the public relations strategies of labor unions from 1947-1959. She also is a researcher at the New America Foundation’s California Civic Innovation Project. Rachel’s email is email@example.com.
In September I began a job as a researcher at the New America Foundation’s California Civic Innovation Project. The short version of how I got the job goes like this: I moved to a new city and began researching interesting organizations. The idea was to establish a network so that when the time came to look for a job, I wouldn’t be starting from scratch. But when I contacted the director of the California Civic Innovation Project, she suggested I apply for a recently-listed research position. I took a look at the qualifications and realized I didn’t have many of the required or desired skills. Social network analysis? Advanced Excel? Statistics? These were not skills I had developed in grad school. Still, the director urged me to apply and before I knew it, I was working full-time.
I couldn’t have imagined myself working in a think tank when I began graduate school. Heck, I’m not sure I even knew what a think tank did before I began working in one. But I find my work interesting, rewarding, engaging and important. And I enjoy learning new approaches to understanding the world around me, especially quantitative analysis.
Figuring out what I wanted in a career has been a long journey, but a worthwhile one. My advice to those who are considering alternatives to academia is this: Determine what you want in a career, start the hunt early, reach out to anyone and everyone, and make use of online tools. People sometimes make the mistake of thinking that non-academic jobs are easier to acquire than academic ones. This simply isn’t true, especially in professions (e.g. museum curators) that often require a doctorate. So if you’re going to go the non-academic route, it’s important to know that this path is the right one for you.