Andrew Cohen (PhD ’17, Sociology)

What did you study at Yale (including major and degree)? When did you graduate? What is your current profession/job?

At Yale, I studied sociology. Specifically, economic and culturally sociology. More specifically, my dissertation used ethnographic methods to explore how advertising agencies function. Now I’m an advertising strategist, working for a marketing innovations firm called Phenomenon, based in Los Angeles.

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

In my current role, I love working a team of people who all have fascinating backgrounds and experiences. There’s a lot to learn from them. And, it’s really nice working in a team. Academic work can be very lonely at times, but ad agency life is very team-based.

I think one of the most challenging things is adjusting how I communicate with people. Learning how to take your complex ideas and boil them down into their simplest forms so you can tell a convincing story–especially when there’s a wild amount of money on the line–is surprisingly challenging but incredibly rewarding.

How did your time at Yale shape your career trajectory?

My time at Yale shaped my career in a number of ways. First, my research was on ad agencies, and done through hanging out at ad agencies–so I got a ton of useful experience that set me up and gave me connections for after grad school. That’s the obvious one, of course. But I think my time at Yale also gave me a lot of room to reflect on what I really wanted to do and where my skills lay. Coming out of that, I have a clearer sense of what my 10- or 20-year plan looks like–and it involves teaching and mentoring, for sure.

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

It’s been tricky identifying the main skills I acquired as a PhD student that help me succeed now. They’re there, for sure–I’m uniquely equipped and incredibly qualified for this job in ways others aren’t because of my time at Yale, for sure–but pinning them down is tricky.

An easy one is that my methodological skills are fantastic. I can come into a project and quickly come up with ways to get the kinds of information I need to answer a pitch or address a messaging challenge.

But I think the more valuable skill is being able to clearly and concisely think through what challenges actually are. Advertising is a terribly nebulous business at times, and knowing how to ask smart questions and think through particular arguments has been invaluable in my work.

Also, working with students and gaining experience in teaching has been incredibly helpful in learning how to simplify ideas to communicate them clearly, as well as helpful for developing my presentation skills.

Did you acquire any professional experience related to your line of work while in graduate school?

Yes, I did acquire some professional experience, as I mentioned. My advertising internships, which were part of my ethnography, created a few headaches for some administrators (whom I’m still incredibly grateful for)! But, while extremely useful, I don’t think internships are totally necessary for anyone wanting a non-academic career. Doing informational interviews or shadowing folks can be plenty useful in helping you learn about non-academic jobs and building connections.

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

For anyone interested in advertising specifically, bear this in mind: the rest of the world has no idea what you’re doing in the ivory tower. They have a vague sense that you’re probably really smart, but without experience in agencies, they’ll be inclined to treat you like a junior–when you’re in fact entirely too capable for that. So, on the one hand, be sure to stand your ground and firmly push to get a position that gives you an appropriate amount of work and responsibility; and on the other hand, be sure to stay humble, because no one cares about your publications in advertising–unless they can immediately apply it to the problems they’re dealing with right now!