On Friday, October 12, alumna Amanda Norton sat down with graduate students to share the story of how she went from a Germanics Ph.D. into a successful career in university communications. After scanning the job postings at the University of Chicago, she applied for a college advisor job, which turned out to be her gateway into commmunications positions elsewhere in the UChicago system. In the college advisor role, she did as much writing as she could, and eventually applied to work in the Dean’s Office of the Medical Center as a “Strategist Planner.” Sounds vague, right? Norton explained the day-to-day behind this title, which included a lot of challenging, interesting, time-sensitive ghost-writing. Sometimes she would go sit in someone’s office and listen to them talk for 15 minutes, and then go write up a document based on what she’d heard. After the Medical Center, Norton worked at the UChicago Crime Lab when it was just starting out (now UChicago Urban Labs). Now she works in the Development Office of the Northwestern Business School and has so far enjoyed getting to know a different university system.

Some concrete takeaways:

1. Your UChicago Humanities Ph.D. prepares you to be a valuable communications professional because:

  • you are a highly skilled writer, and have acquired skills in stylistic mimicry, i.e. you know how to adapt your writing for particular occasions and audiences 
  • you write well because you have learned how to think through complex things well
  • you have proven yourself to be a self-starter with the capacity for commitment and attention to detail
  • you are very comfortable with revision 

2. Some perks of a job in university communications: 

  • you get to learn new things all the time, so it’s a great career if you are curious  
  • day-job parameters means you time for other intellectual/sideproject interests 
  • you can be more productive when you’re doing other people’s writing, so there are more concrete milestones (i.e. you finish things regularly!) 

3. Parting advice on how to positively navigate this career shift: 

  • Focus on the positive thing you are working towards (so, no bitterness about what you are leaving behind) 
  • Redesign your CV as a resume
  • Start a LinkedIn profile and make the most of social media connections in general
  • Leverage your people and planning skills (developed through teaching and university organizing of workshops, conferences, etc.)