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GSAS Alumni Spotlight: Sarah LeBaron von Baeyer, Consultant

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What did you study at Yale, and what is your current profession/job?

I completed a PhD in Sociocultural Anthropology at Yale in the spring of 2015. Upon graduating, I worked as a consultant for ReD Associates, a strategy consulting firm based in New York and Copenhagen.

What do you like most about your current role? What do you find most challenging and/ or rewarding?

Working at ReD, I had the opportunity to engage in a wide variety of projects, researching everything from luxury and contemporary ideas of femininity in France to education and learning tools for refugee children in Jordan. This kind of fieldwork is very different from what I experienced in academia. Rather than spend extended periods of time in one or two parts of the world, as I did for my PhD in anthropology, at ReD I jumped from project to project, business problem to business problem, and even country to country. For each project, I also had to learn how to be part of a collaborative research team, rather than work primarily by and for myself. Probably the most challenging aspect of transitioning from academia to the private sector, however, was learning how to see things from a business perspective. At the end of the day, working in the private sector means thinking about how to help companies grow — and this is a very different mindset from academia.

How did your time at Yale shape your career trajectory? 

I originally found out about ReD because people in my and other departments left academia to work for them. If it hadn’t been for these peers, I probably would never have known about or considered strategy consulting as an option. That said, doing a degree in anthropology, I was always intrigued by some of the more practical applications available in my field.

What are the main skills that you acquired as a PhD student which help make you successful in your current career?

Besides the usual transferrable skills acquired through coursework, TFing, writing grant applications, and qualitative research, I also took intensive Portuguese class throughout my first two years of the PhD program. This ultimately allowed me to put another language on my CV and use it as a selling point to potential employers.

Did you acquire any professional experience related to your line of work while in graduate school (either through part-time work, volunteering, networking, or other forms of training)?

While at Yale, I did some part-time work for a consulting firm that was hired by the Peabody Museum to overhaul one of their exhibit rooms. This gave me my first taste of how to apply the skills I learned as an anthropologist to the world outside of academia. Also, during dissertation fieldwork, I did some side work as a translator and editor for Time Out São Paulo and a Survey Researcher for an NGO in Rio de Janeiro. Both of these experiences allowed me to work in a much more collaborative environment than I was used to as an independent researcher.

What advice would you offer PhDs who are interested in your line of work?

Being in an R1 setting like Yale can make options outside of academia appear all but invisible, if not taboo. While it might be challenging - even discouraging - to discuss these options with faculty or other graduate students in your midst, try to seek out people who have taken this route, or who can point you to others who have. Also, if you do decide to transition from academia to the private sector, remember that: (1) Whatever the rules and cultural scripts of your field, you’re about to learn an entirely new language and way of being; and (2) Your degree by itself won’t necessarily translate to more responsibility or pay. Swallow your pride, adopt a beginner’s mindset, and, if necessary, be prepared to start from the ground up again. 
 

GSAS Alumni Spotlight

This GSAS Alumni Spotlight is part of an ongoing series featuring alumni who have chosen non-faculty careers.