What did you study at Yale? What is your current profession/job?
I received my PhD in French Literature in 1980. I wrote my dissertation (later revised and published as a book) on a 20th Century French Canadian author (the first dissertation at Yale on a Quebecois writer). A native of Montreal, I was aware of the rich field of Quebecois literature and was pleased that my advisor was open to this opportunity. I am currently an independent consultant in nonprofit management. Prior to becoming a consultant, I worked for many years in higher education nonprofit organizations, with the core of my work at the American Council on Education (Washington, DC), which represents college and university presidents. I served as Vice President for Advancement & Planning.
What do you like most about your current role? What do you find most challenging and rewarding?
In my current role as an independent consultant to nonprofit organizations, I have the opportunity to work with talented people in a variety of fields. Much of my consulting involves working with senior management teams and Boards of Directors in strategic planning and organizational development. It is extremely rewarding to assist an organization with its strategic directions as these priorities will guide their work for 3-5 years. I also really enjoy the diversity of organizations and people I work with. One of the challenges of a consultant is to find a balance between competing demands.
How did your time at Yale shape your career trajectory?
While at Yale, I had the opportunity to engage intellectually at a level that was truly inspiring. While those were years of growth, significant pressure, and long hours of study, the experience prepared me in many ways for what lay ahead, both personally and professionally. Due to the demands of my program, I did not take classes in fields outside of French and comparative literature; I was uniquely focused on my area of specialty. I would have benefitted from a class in business basics, for example, which would have prepared me for management in any field. I also regret that I did not take advantage of classes in art history and other fields.
While I originally intended to pursue a career in the academy, I began to explore other options while writing my dissertation. I was living in Washington DC at the time and began to meet people who were engaged in intellectually stimulating work with nonprofit organizations. I gravitated to the nonprofit sector and started to network with organizations in higher education. I was limited geographically and academic positions in French Literature in the Washington DC area were non-existent, which prompted my decision to explore other options. Today, I believe that all graduate students should explore many career directions due to the abundant opportunities within and beyond the academy.
What are the main skills you acquired as a GSAS student which help make you successful in your current career?
Through the doctoral process, I honed the skills that have been instrumental to my professional career. I deepened my analytical and problem-solving skills and refined my oral and written communication skills. I have leaned heavily on the research capacity I gained at Yale. I have also developed a greater appreciation of the importance of perseverance, multitasking and life balance as I gave birth to my son while writing my dissertation.
I also benefited significantly both personally and professionally from the rich exercise in literary criticism that was central to my work at Yale. I learned about differing literary perspectives and movements and developed a deep understanding of key texts across centuries of French literature. I truly learned how to read at Yale – this has been a lifetime gift.
Finally, while at Yale, I didn’t consider myself an entrepreneur. Yet I later recognized that through research and scholarship, and tasked with the production of new knowledge, the doctoral process seeds entrepreneurship. PhDs are encouraged to find new ways of looking at things, new and fresh perspectives. These skills are critical to success in any field.
Did you acquire any professional experience related to your work while in graduate school?
While I was exploring options outside the academy, I continued to make academic presentations at relevant scholarly organizations. I concurrently began to take workshops in nonprofit management such as finance, communications, strategic planning, and advancement. (Free online options make access to these much easier today.) Curiously, my active engagement with academic colleagues in my field led to my first position as CEO of the start-up organization, The Association for Canadian Studies in the United States.
While writing my dissertation, I engaged in several professional activities to learn more about other career paths. I designed and taught a class through the Smithsonian’s Associates Program; I also volunteered with a several nonprofits to learn more about their work and impact. In addition, I conducted informational interviews with leaders at various nonprofits, which helped to expand my scope of interest as well as my network.
What advice would you offer GSAS students who are interested in your line of work?
What do you care deeply about? What are your passions? How do you want to channel your talents and energy? What does the nonprofit landscape look like? These are critical questions as you explore career paths. PhDs are thriving in organizations across a wide array of areas from the environment and health to education and the arts. Professional societies and membership organizations, think tanks, and foundations, are just a few types of nonprofits to consider. The Yale Cross-Campus virtual network of alumni is an invaluable tool.
I strongly encourage graduate students to take advantage of the many excellent resources of the Office of Career Strategy early in their Ph.D. journey.
The transition from graduate school to a position outside the academy calls for a different mindset and a new narrative. It calls for getting out of your comfort zone and exploring new directions, building on the rich array of skills and experiences you have gained. Be open-minded, humble, and patient. Consider how you want to make a difference.