The Official Blog of UChicago's PATHS Program

Tag: Consulting

Career Exploration Series: Networking

In winter quarter of 2018, PATHS hosted a series of workshops covering different aspects of career exploration for humanities graduate students. This article is the third in a three-part series summarizing the advice and discussion from those workshops. PATHS would like to thank our panelists Monica Felix, Natasha Ayers, Mollie McFee, Donald Chae, and Novia Pagone for sharing their experience and expertise.


How can students use networking to pursue their goals and interests?

Networking, especially informational interviewing, is consistently one of the most reliable ways to find new career options. The main advice our alumni give to current students is to use your networks–including acquaintances and classmates’ contacts–to try to get a personal introduction to anyone you want to talk to. Learning from people in a field that seems interesting is one of the easiest ways to get a sense for the work and whether it might be a good fit for your background and interests. Cold emailing people can be a fruitful way to network, but is likely to require more effort to get the same success as contacting people through introductions.

Informational interviews can also help by expanding your own network. Even if the person you talked to never has a job opening to recommend to you, he or she can often introduce you to other people or point you to related jobs. Donald Chae, a Music PhD alumnus with a long career in business and consulting, said he talked to 50-100 people for every big job search, more during the times when he wasn’t sure what type of job he was looking for. Informational interviews can help you pinpoint specific jobs or industries that fit you the best, and help you find leads once you narrow that down.

When doing an informational interview with someone, flexibility is key. Don’t be afraid to ask open-ended or even vague questions about their experience and background, especially if you are in early exploration stages; you want to learn as much as you can! Be open to picking up on the negative, which sometimes requires paying attention to recurring themes, as not everyone will be completely open about drawbacks to their jobs. Questions to ask include: What allows you to do your best work? What does success look like for that industry? What skills do you use daily, and what skills are you working on developing?

UChicagoGRAD has resources like practice interviewing and career counseling to help you identify networking opportunities and make the most of them.

Malayna Evans, digital marketing expert

Your name:  Malayna Evans

Your degree at UChicago: Ph.D. History of the ancient Near East

Tell us about your work.  What is your current position?  What do you do on a daily basis?
I run a small digital marketing firm,  PWR New Media ( We work with clients on messaging, branding and maximizing their digital presence. I spend a lot of my time with clients but a fair amount of time working with designers and developers as well; I help the internal team craft content that meets clients’ needs, budgets, and timelines. I write for clients as well as our brand.  And, being a small business owner involves a lot of work outside of my comfort zone: negotiating with vendors, dealing with accountant, etc.

I also just got a 3 book contract for a middle grade series, The Egyptified Joneses,to be published in April of 2019 by Month9 Books. The books are about south side Chicago kids who go back in time to save an Egyptian princess. Not exactly my original plan but a good way to put that education to work. 🙂

How did you make the transition from doctoral study to your current work?
My transition to small business owner actually started when I took a part time job while writing my dissertation. The company I worked for was bought by venture capitalists and the product changed. Along with some of my favorite coworkers, I ended up starting a small business, which we’ve now run for over 10 years. 

What skills that you developed during your doctoral studies have proven valuable in your current role?
I think the three skills I use in my current role, which were strengthened at UChicago, are writing, project management (an important skill for anyone who manages to shepherd a dissertation through the process) and working with people (also important both for academia and business).

What advice do you have for current Ph.D. students looking to launch a career in your field?
My advice to students looking to transition into careers is twofold:
1) Network, network, network
2) Stay flexible; plans tend to go south but if you go with the flow sometimes that works out even better.

Career Exploration Series: What’s out there?

In winter quarter of 2018, PATHS hosted a series of workshops covering different aspects of career exploration for humanities graduate students. This article is the first in a three-part series summarizing the advice and discussion from those workshops. PATHS would like to thank our panelists Monica Felix, Natasha Ayers, Mollie McFee, Donald Chae, and Novia Pagone for sharing their experience and expertise.

What career options are available for humanities graduate students?

There are a huge array of careers that build on skills from a humanities graduate education, and a surprisingly large community of fellow humanities scholars interested in these fields.

Plenty of people with PhDs have great outcomes and professional satisfaction outside of academia! Many professional organizations, such as the American Historical Association and the Modern Language Association, have started tracking where people with PhDs in their field make their careers. For example, even before the recession in 2008, MLA & AHA tracked that over a quarter of PhDs were working in fields outside of academia. The University of Chicago has also started tracking PhD careers– you can see a list of some of these careers here.

Many successful careers outside of academia are based on skills developed during graduate school, like writing, editing, project management, and building expertise. Some of the most popular fields for humanities PhDs to pursue include academic and arts administration, teaching and research–both inside and outside universities, marketing and communications, and government. More general career options, like consulting and entrepreneurship, can also be a good fit for humanities scholars who are motivated by things like problem-solving and building relationships. When considering careers in these types of fields, it it sometimes fruitful to look at the intersection between fields, where non-traditional applicants like a humanities PhD can build their own niche.

Remember, you’ll always be stepping into a different role with different skills no matter where you go. Consider whatever you do next to be a career transition, and start working on how to make that transition easier before you finish your degree–whether your next job is as faculty or somewhere else. Treat your future career like a research project: learn as much as you can about your options and what you need to prepare, and reflect on what that means for your personality and background. Take advantage of UChicagoGRAD resources like career guides, or other sources like ImaginePhD and Versatile PhD for researching career paths.

Alumni Profile: John Cash, Senior Consultant and Principal, Chair of the Board of Directors, Marts & Lundy

Name: John Cash

UChicago Degrees: M.A. and Ph.D. in British History

Current Position: Senior Consultant and Principal, Chair of the Board of Directors, Marts & Lundy


Tell us about your work.  What is your current position?  What do you do on a daily basis?

For sixteen years (2001-2017), I have been a Senior Consultant at Marts & Lundy, the nation’s premier fundraising consulting firm.  For the past five years, I have served as the elected Chair of the Board of Directors of the firm.  My consulting practice has largely supported fundraising programs and campaigns at major research universities with particular attention to public or state-supported universities that have less experience in development and weaker alumni relations programs.  I have also worked with major museums, health care organizations, environmental groups, and other arts organizations on their advancement programs.

Like the rest of my firm, I am a strategic consultant.  I advise on organization, method, budget, and case development.  I train volunteers and staff and work with executive leadership on gift strategy.  I develop multi-year campaign plans and have conducted strategic planning exercises for everything from alumni relations to academic priority setting.  As a consultant, I do not raise money for my clients or solicit gifts.

Our firm is 92 years old and consists of 62 employees.  Most of us are senior professionals who work out of home offices though we have a business office in New Jersey.  I live in California.  We are principally located in the United States but have offices in Canada, London, and Australia.  My practice is international and I have clients in the UK and Australia as well as across the U.S.


How did you make the transition from doctoral study to your current field?

When I returned from my research year in London and began writing my dissertation, the market for new Ph.D.’s in history was very poor.  I attended the AHA meetings and found the opportunities to be extremely limited; there was a surplus of new doctoral students.  The convention was a wake-up call.   I seriously began to look at what could be alternative careers while I tried to secure an academic position commensurate with my UC degree.

At the time, I needed a part-time job to help support my dissertation work and I was hired as a researcher for the development (fundraising) office at the Illinois Institute of Technology.  IIT was an ambitious place at the time and was engaged in a major campaign even though they had little experience at raising large gifts.  It was my job to research individual prospects, which came naturally to me from my academic background.

After six months of research work, an opportunity opened to write grant proposals and to work raising funds for IIT from private foundations.  This was a full-time job.  At this point, the future for an academic career looked pretty bleak and I felt that I needed to learn other skills in order to protect myself professionally for the long term.  My dissertation was about half completed.  I knew that I wrote well and grant writing came naturally to me.   I took the job and effectively “stopped out” of the Ph.D. program in order to work full time.

This was a period where it was impossible to get teaching experience at the University of Chicago.  All graduate students had to find teaching opportunities elsewhere and my position at IIT allowed me to do some teaching part-time at the Chicago/Kent College of Law.  This ended up being the only teaching experience I was able to obtain before receiving my doctorate.

My job in foundation relations at IIT lasted for 18 months and I learned a huge amount about fundraising from private foundations but also how a professional development organization works.  I decided that being another ABD was not my future and that completing my dissertation and receiving my doctoral degree was critical to my career plans.  I also decided that if I was going to leave academia, I wanted to live back in California, which was my home, and I wanted to represent organizations I believed in.

I quit my job, lived off my partner (now husband) for nine months while I finished my dissertation.  I defended successfully and got my degree.  Because of the Ph.D. and because of my fundraising experience at IIT, I was hired – in all honesty above my skill set — to run the development program at a small liberal arts college for women in Oakland, California, Mills College.

I spent six years at Mills and learned a great deal about development and about fundraising generally.  The president of Mills took pride in introducing me as a new Ph.D. from the University of Chicago.  I did no teaching during this period.

Subsequently, I was hired to be the chief development officer in the School of Humanities and Sciences at Stanford with the title of Associate Dean.  My doctorate was extremely important to securing this job as the faculty wanted someone who understood the academic mission but who also had a proven track record of raising private support.

Stanford was a terrific job for me.  I worked closely with the dean and saw the challenges that faculty in Stanford’s largest school felt in competing for private funds against the graduates of professional schools.  It was a perfect use of the skills I had learned as a development professional over the prior eight years and the academic background drilled into me at the U of C.

From Stanford, I was hired at Berkeley as Associate Vice Chancellor for University Relations and the leader of a $1.5 billion campaign.  Berkeley was my undergraduate alma mater and I was passionate about the case for support and the need to preserve excellence at the nation’s premier public university.

In this job, I came to manage more than 200 people as well as a large volunteer organization.  I also taught freshman seminars in the history department on the “revolutionary experience.”  I maintained close relations with the senior faculty in history and did my best to secure funding for their programs.

After eight years and at the end of the campaign, I was approached for a number of positions both within universities and as a consultant.  It was important for my home life to stay in the San Francisco Bay Area and consulting seemed to be the most interesting opportunity.  I agreed to join Marts & Lundy and the Ph.D. has proved to be very important in securing and in serving major clients over the years.


What advice do you have for current Ph.D. students?

Strategic consulting on development has been my work for more than sixteen years and it has been a wonderful career.  I have always tried to remain engaged with my academic field but I would be less than honest if I said it had not slipped away from me.   When faced with the alternative of leaving the academy and following another path, albeit within the university setting, I made my decision and I have never looked back.

I want to emphasize, however, that the doctorate has been essential in my rise in my chosen profession.  It has helped me to understand and to communicate with faculty around development and it has provided me with immense credibility given the stature of the University of Chicago.

I also feel that being able to take the time to do the research and to be so focused on a subject of great intellectual interest for was a gift beyond measure.  Who gets such an opportunity in life?  The fact that I was able to parlay my academic experience to an exceptional professional career in an unrelated profession is less important to me personally than having the experience and the achievement of obtaining a University of Chicago Ph.D.  My dissertation sits prominently in my library.

If there is one lesson I hold up it is to pursue one’s intellectual interests and to let the career develop as it will in often unexpected ways.  Enjoy the privilege of this time of research.  But keep your eyes on the options ahead.  Good luck.

Alumni Profile: Theresa Semler, Managing Director of Semler Company

Name: Theresa Semler

UChicago Degree:  Ph.D. in Comparative Literature

Current Position: Managing Director or CEO of Semler Company


Tell us about your work.  What is your current position?  What do you do on a daily basis?

I am the Managing Director or CEO of Semler Company, a management consultancy I founded last year. We specialize in strategy execution and transformation consulting with a people focus. Digital transformation is what we do most currently. That includes, for instance, the design of value propositions and business models, definition and execution of (HR) strategy, (digital) product roll outs, definition and implementation processes and workflows, organizational design, change management, communications and leadership positioning and coaching.

We’re also in the process of setting up an academy that focuses on “working in the digital age.” Our goal is to provide a platform where people learn about digital topics and have the space to explore what these topics will change in their own working environment (including job descriptions, roles and responsibilities, etc.).

As a managing director of a small company as of yet, I’m involved in every aspect of the business—from strategic decisions to recruiting or accounting. Naturally, I don’t do everything on my own. Some of the tasks I have outsourced, some of them are digitized, and I also have a fantastic team (partially employed, partially on a freelance basis) who helps me to reach our goals. I’m mainly busy with sales, delivery management, and positioning. That includes a lot of networking and relationship building.


How did you make the transition from doctoral study to your current field?

Even while I was pursuing a PhD, I ran my own training business in the equestrian industry. That involved managing and training top athletes but soon branched out to leadership coaching with horses. Additionally, I have always been interested in change and transformation—my thesis revolves around the notion of “metamorphic being” as a way of life—so moving into communications and change management consulting seemed an almost natural choice.

Luck and opportunity played a part as well. Early on in my transition into consulting, for instance, I met and worked for the then Head of Global Corporate Communications at Bayer Health Care who himself was in the middle of making the move into consulting back then. Working for and with him was extremely valuable, not only because I started my consulting career with projects at the executive level. I also learned an enormous amount in a very short time. I literally did everything—from preparing presentations to cutting music and input late at night after conferences with hundreds of participants to moderating executive off-sites.

And having an idea where I wanted to be and what I needed to see helped as well. It was clear to me early on that if I wanted to be a consultant and a trusted advisor to top management I had to have a) the experience of working large projects at a large, global management consultancy and b) the experience of being a manager and leader at a large global corporation myself. For that reason, I took a job at Capgemini Consulting and then set up and headed the global change management in-house consulting unit at Commerzbank.


What skills that you developed during your doctoral studies have proven valuable in your current role?

I’ve found several skills useful that I developed during my doctoral studies. Three of them stick out for me:

  • analytical skills, i.e. being able to structure and master complex content and being able to quickly understand topics and fields that I didn’t know much about before
  • understanding how language and communication works, i.e. being able to express content in different ways and languages and address stakeholders in appropriate ways
  • having no fear to be challenged, and seeing challenge as an opportunity to learn


What advice do you have for current Ph.D. students looking to launch a career in management or consulting?

Be confident that you learn many things at UChicago that will prove useful in a business career—even if you can’t see them right now.

Make an effort to learn “business language” and try to translate what you’re good at into that language.

Use to your advantage that you may have a different background than most of your colleagues by bringing in different perspectives.

How to Get Your Dream Job . . . and then Give It Up for Your Dream Job

By Allison Turner, Ph.D. Student in English Language and Literature


Neil Chudgar is one of those rarest of creatures: someone who got a coveted tenure-track position and then left the academy voluntarily. I met him this past April at a UChicagoGRAD event called “What We Talk About When We Talk About Work.” Chudgar was a graduate of UChicago’s English PhD program and a specialist in eighteenth-century literature like myself, so I was particularly eager to hear what he had to say.

I had heard about Chudgar and his unusual career path before—to me, he seemed practically legendary. In anticipation of finally getting to hear his story, I wondered privately: What could possibly motivate someone to give up his dream job—or my dream job, anyway—to become a communications consultant? Isn’t consulting what graduates of elite colleges do when they’re 22? I was baffled but intrigued: I wanted to know what Chudgar knew.

From the moment the discussion began, it was clear that Chudgar must have been amazing in the classroom. There were at least two dozen graduate students circled around him, all from a variety of programs and disciplines. Chudgar has an infectiously vibrant personality and a talent for putting others at ease. We talked about what we valued in our work and ourselves, about what we wanted from our professional lives, and about what we imagined would constitute our success. As if by magic, Chudgar created an environment in which we felt not only willing but eager to share thoughts and desires we so rarely discuss in our home departments.

Chudgar told us about himself too, about the life events that had led him to his position as an Assistant Professor at Macalester College. He recalled feeling lucky to have gotten the job—so lucky, in fact, that it never even occurred to him to think about how much he would be paid. It turns out, he later realized, that you’re supposed to negotiate these things.

In his fourth year at Macalester, though, just as he was beginning to think about putting together his tenure package, there was a death in Chudgar’s family. That loss led him to think about time in a new way. Suddenly, the idea of going up for tenure amounted to choosing to be an English professor for the rest of his life. Did he want to be an English professor when he died? He’d hit the jackpot in landing this job. But did he actually like it? He realized that he didn’t. And so he left Macalester, turning his expertise into a communications consulting business.

Chudgar’s workshop could easily have been a two- or three-part series. Indeed, when it was over, many of us wanted to know more. How did you decide to go into communications consulting? How did you transition from not being able to find anyone to hire you to starting your own business? How do you start your own business? How do you find clients?

We may not have gotten to all the particulars, but what we did get from this conversation with Chudgar was something more foundational: a new (for many of us) sense of confidence in the simple fact that there are other things, aside from academia, that we can do. That a non-academic career path is not a failure. That there are many legitimate choices we can make.

There’s a lot to value in academic work. Many of us are drawn to it for the sense of autonomy it gives us. We steer our own courses, set our own schedules, and define the horizons of our projects. Many of us relish in the thrill of making discoveries. We want to intervene in our fields, to see and help others see the world in a new and different way.

However, as Chudgar helped us to see, these are not the only aspects of our work or ourselves to value. Successful work might not be measured by the amount of autonomy one has. It might also be something that makes other people happy. As a scholar in the humanities, Chudgar consistently felt that no one wanted what he was selling. He had plenty of freedom, yes, but he always had to persuade others to value his work—to take his classes, to publish his articles, and so on. In many other kinds of jobs, people actually want what you do for them. They might even ask you for it. And while there’s much to be said for the kind of disruption we’re drawn to in the academy, there’s also value in work that gives order to our lives. “A lot of the work that the world requires is maintenance,” Chudgar said. “Variety needs structure to make it joyful.”

I am grateful to Chudgar and UChicagoGRAD for hosting this conversation. I took away from it—and have taken great joy in sharing—an expanded sense of what might count as good work as well as a renewed appreciation for the parts of academic life that are special. One example, of course, is the form of the seminar itself—in Chudgar’s words, “sitting around and talking about a thing.”



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