How/why did you decide to choose a career outside of academia?
Brenson: While in graduate school, I realized that I might not be interested in the academic job market. Because of this, I started seeking out other opportunities to discover other career fields that I might be interested in. I worked part-time in the summers of 2013, 2014, and 2015 for the Graduate Student Success (GSS) office at Michigan where I worked as a graduate student mentor. This position allowed me to mentor undergraduate and entering graduate students. In addition to these work opportunities, I lived in the Telluride House, which is a merit-based residential scholarship for students and faculty committed to public service, for four years. Through my involvement with Telluride, I developed service projects to address homelessness, mentorship, and tutoring. These and other experiences led me to choose a career outside of academia. While I am proud of the dissertation research, working as a professor did not appeal to me—I could not get myself to look at, let alone apply to, an advertisement for an academic job. I am ecstatic to work at Project Vote, an organization that has worked relentlessly to increase access to voting and voter registration so that the electorate is as diverse as the U.S. population. I love collaborating with my colleagues at work and other advocates working to protect citizen’s voting rights.
What advice would you give political science graduates who are starting their careers?
Brenson: I recommend that graduate students explored opportunities outside of research and teaching to confirm that their interested in an academia career. If you decide against pursuing an academic career, here are few tips for your job search. First, attend workshops on resume and cover letter writing—it is vital to customize your materials for each job you apply to. Several consulting firms and the federal government offer virtual workshops to job seekers. Second, try to focus your job search. Some graduate students have that the perspective that the academic job market is uniquely competitive—this is not the case. Focusing your search to one or second careers will allow you to network with people already in the field and request informational interviews. I recommend using tools like LinkedIn to contact people that are established in the field. When possible, contact alumni of your program or other political science Ph.D.s because they will be most likely to reply and are uniquely equipped to answer your questions. Third, be prepared to explain to perspective employers why you do not want to go to academia—this came up in every interview I had.
Click here to learn more about LaShonda Brenson’s work and Project Vote.