How PhDs Can Be Successful in Non-Academic Jobs

Today I got to visit my alma mater, Rutgers University, where I participated in a panel about non-academic jobs for political scientists (thank you Beth Leech for the invitation!). I spoke about my journey from academia to political consulting and public opinion research & strategy and explained how the world of applied research is different from the Ivory Tower. Here are the 5 points I emphasized in my talk:

Very few people will care you have a PhD: Yes, being a “Dr.” might sound prestigious, but people in applied research really only care about your skills- the fact that you can write a survey, crunch data in SPSS, or write up research results. When you’re on the non-academic job market, emphasizing your skills and what you can do is what will get you hired, not your PhD.

You need skills other than research: Yes, knowing how to write a survey, crunch data, and write about data is step one, but those are just basic qualifications for most jobs. You also need to know how to do other things like project manage, interact with clients, and present projects publicly. It’s ok if you don’t have these skills right away, but expect to learn and develop them quickly on the job if you want to succeed.

“Methodology” takes on a very different meaning in applied research: When I was in grad school, sophisticated, rigorous methodologies were highly privileged and respected. In applied research, no one cares how many post-hoc tests you performed on your model (and you likely won’t even develop a model in the first place). Most public opinion data is analyzed via cross tabs, and telling the story of that data and how it matters is much more important than the process by which you collected or analyzed the data.

Research becomes team-oriented: In grad school, conducting research involved me, myself, and I: I conducted the lit reviews, fielded the survey, and wrote up the results. In the real world, research is conducted via teams, including outside vendors like sample providers and online field houses. You often work with other people to develop the research design and analyze/interpret the results. Doing research on a team is a very different experience than doing work solo, and while there can be frustrations, it can also be rewarding to collaborate with smart people and produce research products you’re proud of.

Networking matters (like, a lot): I think one of the most important ways to succeed in non-academic work is through networking. It’s an uphill battle for grad students since most of their colleagues are in academia, not applied research. So you have to work a lot harder to meet people who followed the career path you can see yourself on. The good news is, many PhDs who ended up in non-academic jobs are more than willing to help you and share their insight, so don’t be afraid to call on them for advice.

In sum, pursuing a non-academic career can be challenging for PhDs, but definitely not impossible. For me, the main reward is that I do meaningful, high-impact research on a daily basis which is well worth the time and effort I spent getting here.

I offer consultations to academics on a sliding scale- please feel free to get in touch ( if you’d like to talk!

Honoring the Experience, Holding Space: An Interview with an Abortion Doula

This article was originally published by HowToUse on December 14, 2017.

Understanding the role of a doula
Doulas, or female attendants that are present during a woman’s childbirth to assist and coach her through delivery, are becoming increasingly common within maternal health programs. Though popularly associated with labor and delivery, many doulas offer services that support the full spectrum of birth outcomes. One particular role within full spectrum work is the abortion doula.

As part of the shift towards full spectrum support, doulas are increasingly helping women navigate abortions, miscarriages, and stillbirths. The idea behind this role expansion is that all pregnancy outcomes and choices should be supported equally, and no single outcome (like birth) should be privileged over others.

The expanding role of abortion doulas
Formalized abortion doula collectives have only been in existence for about 10 years, starting in New York City with a group called The Doula Project. However, the concept of women providing support to other women through abortion procedures has a long history in many countries, not just the United States.

Given the newness of the phenomenon, statistics on abortion doulas are scarce. Stories from the reproductive rights field suggest that abortion doulas are active around the world, in both formal organizations and informal groups. For example, in Mexico, several “accompaniment” collectives have supported more than 5,000 women through medical abortions, often just by being physically present when women take their pills.

HowToUse spoke with a U.S.-based abortion doula, Jen Smith, of New Hampshire, to learn more about what it means to be an abortion doula and how doulas can help women safely and successfully make reproductive health choices. A slightly edited transcript of the interview is below.

Hi Jen, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us about your work as an abortion doula. Could you start by talking a little bit about what brought you into this work?

It was really the fact that I had personal experience with having an abortion and wanting to help other people who were going through same experience. When you have a medical abortion, you take the first pill in the doctor’s office and then the other pill at home. You’re supposed to have someone you trust with you when you take that second pill, and while I was fortunate to have a person like that, many people don’t.

I kept thinking about other people who don’t want to tell anyone they’re getting an abortion and have to go through it alone. That just isn’t right. I wanted to be that person for people—someone who is not part of their family or social network, but who can just be there to make them feel comfortable.

I see my role as honoring their experience, and importantly, I am also there to watch out for any medical complications that could arise from the procedure. I’ve been practicing as an abortion doula for about three years now, and it really is so rewarding. It’s not always easy, but at the end of the day I feel that I am making women safer, and providing a service that they otherwise might not have access to.

Did you take a class or training to become an abortion doula?

I took a training to become a doula for full-term births, and we talked a little about abortion doulas during that training. I don’t know of any trainings specifically for abortion doulas in my area, but I’ve had personal experiences with abortions and am very familiar with the process. I know a lot of people personally in my life who have been through it as well. My life experience allows me to be there for other women.

What exactly does an abortion doula do? How does the process work?

Some abortion doulas work through abortion clinics, but I don’t do that—I work directly with the patients. They come to me mostly by word of mouth; people pass my name along. I tell them upfront that everything is confidential, because it’s important that they trust me to keep their privacy.

Once a client contacts me, I like to meet face-to-face before the procedure to get a feel for who they are as well as their needs. Sometimes that’s not possible due to time constraints, but I try to establish a relationship beforehand.

My clients’ needs vary considerably. Some people need a lot of talking, coaching, and reassuring, while others just need me to be there and be the witness to their experience. Some people are grateful you’re there just to walk them into the clinic, past the protestors. I’m used to the protestors by now, but for women walking into an abortion procedure past people telling them they’re murderers, that experience is horrible. I’m glad to be walking beside them during those awful few moments.

Sometimes they want you there when they receive the first pill (during medical abortions). Lots of times I’m in the waiting room of the clinic, because in New Hampshire they don’t allow your support person to come into the surgical room. I also drive them home if they want. Sometimes clients want emotional support when they take the second dose of pills. So everyone has different needs, and it’s my job to fill whatever need they have.

You must see all kinds of emotions from your clients. What’s it like to deal with such a range of different feelings?

That’s totally true, I’ve seen all types of reactions, feelings, and emotions. But I would say that most often, women feel simply relieved after the procedure. Sometimes women take a little longer to get to that feeling of relief, but in my three years of practice I’ve never once heard someone say they regret it and wish they could take it back.

Sometimes women feel a little sad too, and many just want to get back to “normal” life. They feel confident in their decision, though, because often times it just wasn’t the right moment in their lives to have a baby. They know it’s the right choice as hard as it might be. Sometimes they have questions about what will happen to them physically after the procedure, and that’s when it’s helpful for me to share my knowledge to help ease their fears.

What do you want people to know about abortion doulas?

I would want people to know you don’t have to be alone if you don’t want to be and that there are people you can reach out to for support. It can be important to have someone there for you, especially if you need help processing what you’re going through.

Abortion doulas can also be really helpful to watch out for anything that could go wrong physically, even though that very rarely happens. But it can be useful just to have someone be there to reassure you that everything you’re experiencing – both physically and emotionally – is normal and OK. Abortion doulas can hold space and honor what the patient is going through. We want to be there for women.

How do you see the work of abortion doulas fitting in with the broader reproductive rights movement?

I see the work of an abortion doula as a direct action in support of furthering the goal of increasing women’s autonomy, rights, and decision-making power over their own bodies. It’s the most direct action you can possibly take, because deciding when to be pregnant and birth a child is so fundamental to women’s independence.

I’m encouraged to see more women than ever speaking up about things that have been happening to women forever. We’re coming into our own in a lot of ways, and I think people are starting to realize women are smart enough to make our own decisions.

We know our bodies, ourselves, and what’s right for our lives, and we should tune into that more and trust our bodies and minds. I hope society catches up to that soon, and I see my work as helping to further that idea and empower women to make their own choices.

What It’s Like To Be Shamed While Pregnant

I’m 16 weeks pregnant with my first baby. When I was younger, I never thought I would get pregnant — by choice. I didn’t see motherhood as compatible with what I saw as my life trajectory, which included a highly successful and likely demanding career. I didn’t want to attempt to “have it all” because I felt like society had already set mothers up to fail. With inadequate paid family leave policies, the lack of affordable childcare, and the cultural expectation that women devote all of their time and energy exclusively to their children, I imagined motherhood as an oppressive experience.

Over time, I changed my views on having a child and my desire to become a mother outweighed my concerns about its associated oppression. I am not sure what exactly changed my mind, though I expect it was a combination of falling in love with my partner and wanting to start a family specifically with him, as well as the favorable career context in which I find myself today. I am fortunate to have successfully transitioned to an entrepreneurial job that affords me a flexible schedule with unlimited leave time. I know that having a baby will undoubtedly affect my career, but I feel more equipped and prepared to handle it than I did when I was younger. And my excitement to become a mother and have a family supersede my worries about my ability to balance.

But now that I’ve been pregnant for about four months and shared the news with most of my family and close friends, I’ve experienced the oppression of motherhood in a way I never imagined.

The source of the oppression comes from other women — in the form of unsolicited judgment, criticism, and shaming of decisions related to my pregnancy and plans for my baby. I’m not even a mother yet (in fact, I have five months to go!), but I’ve never felt as disparaged in my life as I do now, as a pregnant mom-to-be.

Read the rest of the article on Ravishly.

Are Millennial Women Actually Worse Off Than Their Mothers?

A new study conducted by the Population Reference Bureau included grim findings on the well-being of millennial women. While millennial women have made several advances compared to previous generations, there are key ways in which they lag behind or are worse off than their mothers, as well as other previous generations.

Read the rest of the article at Fairygodboss!

How The Sandwich Generation Is Managing Their Careers

While the costs of raising children can certainly squeeze many adults in their 30s and 40s, increasingly these same adults are finding themselves responsible for the care of their own parents as well. Termed the “sandwich generation,” this group of adults are dealing with mounting stress and pressure to financially provide as caregivers to both their children and their parents. Such responsibilities often demand they make certain career decisions that allow them to juggle these roles and take care of their family, and sometimes these decisions are tough ones to make.

Read the rest of the article at Fairygodboss.

5 Career Questions You Should Answer Before Age 30

Once you’ve hit the big 3-0, you’ve likely figured out some of the “bigger” questions about your career, like what kind of industry you have the skills for and what type of job best suits your personality. But when you’re no longer a fresh-faced college graduate and have moved beyond entry-level positions, a whole new set of career questions comes into play. Being able to answer them may be critical to your future job success and personal happiness.

Check out the rest of the article on Fairygodboss for five career questions you should be able to answer by your thirtieth birthday.

Abortion pill reaches women in restrictive countries

I’m so excited to announce my article publication in Herizons Magazine. This piece profiles a global reproductive health organization, How To Use The Abortion Pill. The group is doing cutting edge work in the field, and is providing much-needed information (in more than 20 different languages!) to women seeking medical abortions. While the abortion pill is widely available in some parts of the world, reliable information about how to use the pill safely is severely lacking. How To Use The Abortion Pill helps fill this gap, making medical abortions safer for women around the world.

This is What Happens When a Woman Writer Asks for Money

This article was originally published by Quartz on June 7, 2017.

Over the past few years, I’ve written a number of commentaries and op-eds related to the work I do in my day job, as a public opinion researcher. Unlike many freelance writers, I don’t rely on the income I earn from publishing my work. In fact, when I first started writing for media outlets, I was pleasantly surprised the first time a publication offered to pay me.

Over time, I learned that although less experienced writers sometimes take a few non-paying assignments to build up their portfolio, compensation for writing is the industry ideal. I say ideal rather than norm because despite the many editors and publishers with integrity who recognize that labor should be compensated for in dollars, not exposure, there are more than a handful who don’t follow this norm. They consider including the link to an author’s Twitter page at the end of her article reasonable payment.

Usually, when I submit a piece or pitch to an editor, I ask about pay, but I have also granted outlets permission to publish my pieces for free. The few times I have, the editors—usually of small newspapers or blogs—explained, with kindness and humility, that they could not pay freelancers, and that they completely understood if I wanted to take my work elsewhere. Because I could afford to, I chose to donate my work, to reach new readers.

When I submitted an opinion piece to an editor at a small local newspaper in Connecticut, I didn’t expect payment. After the editor accepted my piece and said nothing about money, I inquired if the newspaper pays for op-eds. I asked this out of principle—because I believe that people should be compensated for labor, and because I believe women in particular should ask for what they’re worth.

The editor wrote back saying that they do not pay writers. “Frankly,” he added, “because of the mention of money, I will not run it now. Thanks for your interest.”

Shock doesn’t even begin to describe my reaction to his e-mail. The shock quickly turned into anger when I realized that this editor had essentially retaliated against me for asking if I would be paid for my work. I sent an e-mail back that said:

“Writers are well within their rights to ask if a company using their work will pay them for it. Frankly, to discourage me from asking and penalizing me for it is not only unprofessional, it is unethical.”

I published the screenshots of this conversation on Twitter and received an outpouring of support from writers and editors all over the world who recognized the blatant injustice of what happened. I also sent a longer response back to the editor as well as the newspaper’s leadership, in which I argued that the editor’s behavior is symptomatic of larger problems plaguing in the media industry—the issue of fair compensation and transparency.

“This incident is a microcosm of broader issues that plague the writing and journalism communities,” I wrote. “While some outlets genuinely cannot afford to pay writers, they still recognize the dignity of writers’ labors, and treat them accordingly and respectfully. Professional news organizations and editors who value integrity will be transparent and upfront about their payment policy. Certainly, they will not pull an article when a writer simply asks if an outlet pays for pieces.”

What happened made me think about broader attitudes toward women writers and equal pay issues. Women workers everywhere (not just writers) are blamed for the pay gap because they don’t ask for money as often as men do. Women are told to “lean in,” to chase that raise or promotion before their male colleague snatches it with his masculine confidence and entitlement. Some women do not follow this advice for fear that speaking up would make them seem too aggressive or unlikeable. My experience would suggest they are, devastatingly, correct. And even though I didn’t actually ask for money (I asked if I would be compensated), the worst thing that could possibly happen in this scenario did happen—I was punished for speaking up. I did not want this point to be lost on the paper, and included this in my e-mail:

“Women in the workplace have a hard enough time as it is asking for what they deserve, and your editor’s reply is a perfect example of why that is. It sends the message that if you ask for what you’re worth, you won’t get it, and in fact you may be punished for asking in the first place. So don’t ask, stay silent. Is that the message the [newspaper] wants to send to women? Imagine if I was a 22-year-old just starting her career and received [the editor’s] reply? I would be terrified to ever pitch an article again!”

A few days after I sent this e-mail, the newspaper’s editor-in-chief tweeted at me to call her. I did, and we had a polite but somewhat vapid conversation about what happened and what the newspaper plans to do in response. She began the conversation by telling me “no one had any bad intent.” Somewhat bewildered by both her vagueness and implication that the incident was a misunderstanding, I respectfully but firmly explained that the incident was not about intent, but the events that took place: The editor pulled my article because I asked about money. Later that evening, I wrote her an e-mail elaborating:

“And I’m not sure if I made clear over the phone, but I strongly believe the editor should be held accountable for his behavior, whether that means he is fired, suspended, or penalized in some other way. It seemed like you may believe he just ‘said the wrong thing’ and didn’t intend harm—I want to make it clear to you that it was what he DID that was wrong, which was to pull my piece because I inquired about payment.”

I also suggested that, in the spirit of transparency, she might consider adding a payment policy to the newspaper’s website that explains freelance contributors are welcome to submit work but won’t be paid for it. (At the time of publication of this article, no such policy has been posted.)

I may not have been able to impact this newspaper, but publicly talking about my experience seems to have comforted other writers. My original Twitter post including screenshots of the e-mails received more than 300,000 impressions and was retweeted over 1,000 times.

This strong reaction isn’t surprising, as writers know the injustices and indignities associated with asking for what they deserve all too well. And women understand their impossible position: “you have to be assertive, yet not too confident, yet apologize for breathing,” as one Twitter user said in reply to my post.

The responsibility to compensate people who perform labor should fall on the institutions profiting off of said labor. Publications should include policies about writer compensation on their websites with standard rates of pay, and editors should bring up money first.

Some companies have already implemented such policies, because research shows that compensation transparency reduces inequities among women and people of color. These policies need to be more than ideals in the writing and journalism industry—they should be standard operational procedure that unequivocally demonstrates respect for the dignity of writers’ work.

Girls of the Month: Old Saybrook Seniors Spark Conversation About Immigration

For the past few months, I’ve been volunteering with She’s Speaking, a local organization in Connecticut whose mission is “to educate, empower, support and inspire young women to have a voice in our society through the resources of powerful women leaders of yesterday and today.”

One of their new programs is to honor girls and young women who are making a difference in their communities and who are doing bold, brave things. I was privileged to interview 11 young ladies who were honored for their work on immigration. Read about their amazing work and accomplishments below, and check out the original article here.

She’s Speaking is thrilled to recognize eleven seniors at Old Saybrook High School who have been speaking out in their community about a controversial topic: immigration. After reading a book in their Spanish class, the group of all female students were stunned by how much they learned about immigration and immigrants themselves—and much of this new knowledge contradicted some of their prior assumptions.

“Many people come over when they’re young—as girls and boys—and they’re coming to find their mothers who left when they were really young. A lot of people think immigrants come here just to work but they also come to be with their family,” Arianna Heonis explained.

“Some immigrants are brought over as young children and they aren’t even aware that they’re not citizens until they try to apply for college,” Delilah Hallowell added.

Lucy Marinelli explained that contrary to the stereotype of an immigrant as a law-breaking criminal, she was surprised to learn that the crime rate among immigrants is significantly lower compared to American citizens. “We focused on debunking myths about immigrants,” she said.

Armed with and inspired by this new knowledge, the girls conducted additional research and consulted with experts to develop a comprehensive, facts-driven presentation about immigration in America. They considered having the author of the book that inspired their work come in to talk with other students, but decided to speak out about the issue themselves. As Holly Coppes explained, “We realized we could connect more with the school ourselves, as peers.”

The purpose of their presentation was to share facts about immigration with the community to dispel myths and misinformation. As Marinelli explained, “Immigration is a controversial issue that can be so emotional because of the political connotations. But we really wanted to make this presentation nonpolitical and stick to the facts so people could form their own opinions. We wanted to educate the community.”

And educate they did. The group not only presented to their entire high school, but also shared their work with the Board of Education, the Valley Shore Collaborative, and the Shore’s Women League. Once they started speaking out about immigration they didn’t want to stop. Although some girls admitted to having trouble with public speaking in the past, they were able to overcome that fear and felt motivated to keep speaking. As Jillian Hirst recalled, “We were all on this high after the first presentation when everyone is clapping and being supportive. That positive reaction inspired us to do it again! We presented it a few more times and were so happy to see more groups of people who were really moved by what we had to say.”

The girls also reported that since their presentation, their schoolmates seem more comfortable talking about immigration, and some students they had no idea were immigrants came to them for support. “One girl in our school was an immigrant who couldn’t get a social security number and she was about to apply to college. She was really struggling, and she was brave enough to share that with us,” Rory Dunne recounted.

“We made it a more comfortable space for people to talk,” Alexis Parker added.

Although this group of girls learned much about the immigration issue, the biggest lesson they learned was about the importance of speaking out about topics you believe in, even when it’s not easy to do. As Marinelli explained, “You learn the best in uncomfortable situations.” Maggie Smith added: “You should take every opportunity you get to step outside of your comfort zone because you can grow so much.”

She’s Speaking congratulates this group of senior girls for their accomplishment and for their courage to speak out in their community and share their knowledge with others.

Thank you to Patty Marshall, Amy Claffey, and the Old Saybrook High School for making this article possible.

Full list of students involved in the immigration project/presentation:
Holly Coppes
Rory Dunne
Delilah Hallowell
Arianna Heonis
Jillian Hirst
Lucy Marinelli
Alexis Parker
Mia Reed
Maggie Smith
Erin Stangel
Heather Uphold

Small business owners in CT overwhelmingly support Paid Family Leave

This morning, my research company, BLS Research & Consulting, released the data from a poll we conducted among small business owners in Connecticut. Conducted on behalf of the CT Campaign for Paid Family Leave, the survey results showed that more than 3 in 4 small business owners SUPPORT the paid family leave legislation currently being considered in the Connecticut Assembly.


-95% of CT SBOs believe it is important for people to have time off to care for a new baby, a seriously ill family member, or recover from a personal illness, and 69% feel it is very important.

-More than 3 in 4 CT SBOs support paid family and medical leave legislation, and nearly half (46%) feel that way strongly. Support holds across the state and among different industries.

-79% of Connecticut Business and Industry Association (CBIA) members polled favor establishing PFML.

-Once SBOs learn more about paid family leave, including how research has demonstrated its benefits for businesses, support climbs to 82%.

When asked WHY they support paid leave, small business owners pointed out that such policies make good business sense, because they improve employee retention, job satisfaction, and productivity. They also believe having paid leave available is the right thing to do, because no one should have to choose between their family and a paycheck:

“I think it’s been extremely important to allow employees the opportunities to spend time with their family during these periods when it’s so urgent to be available. It’s great to come up with some ideas to not further burden already struggling small businesses and allowing needs to be met in this way. Great to see out of the box strategies.” –Medical/Healthcare Industry SBO, Middlesex County

“I support it because it’s important for employees to balance work and life. And as long as its employee funded I’m willing to sacrifice not having them at work during those 12 weeks.” –Professional Services Industry SBO, New Haven County

“We need to be considerate of human needs in this world. Work and money can wait.” –Real Estate Industry SBO, Hartford County

“Because I understand the need for paid medical leave for employees, but as a small business owner it puts a great burden on such a business. This sounds like a good solution that is mutually beneficial to all parties.” –Manufacturing Industry SBO, Litchfield County

“Sometimes, family members get sick and need care. Family is very important and businesses should respect that. A happy employee is a productive employee.” –Educational Industry SBO, Fairfield County

The data is clear: paid leave supports working families, improves worker retention and builds a competitive economy.

About the poll:

On behalf of the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund, BLS Research & Consulting conducted an online survey of 243 small business owners (2-250 employees) in Connecticut. About 82% of business owners surveyed employ less than 25 people.

The survey was fielded May 17th – May 23rd, 2017. The margin of error is +/- 6%.

Respondents were recruited via online panels and from commercial lists of small businesses in Connecticut. The sample includes a broad mix of small business owners from several industries—from manufacturing and construction to educational services and the medical/healthcare industry. Woman- and minority-owned small businesses are also represented.

For more information about this poll, contact me.

For more information on the campaign, visit their website.