The non-academic job hunt, final part (or: how I got my job)

24 Jun

For all that navel-gazing and existential dilemma-ing I did in part 0 of this series, and the coffees and informational interviews and LinkedIn profiles and career counseling I did in part 1, and the excitement and gratitude I had about getting and completing the AAAS Mass Media Fellowship, it feels like I got my current job through luck. But I think I had to do all the hand-wringing and information-gathering to be happy and in the mindset where I could do this job, so it wasn’t all a waste.

Here’s what I do now: I write for North Carolina Health News. Sometimes I write press releases for Duke and other things. It works pretty well with the whole having-children thing. About every week I have something kid related (dentist appointment, allergy tests, parent-teacher conference, etc.)-I don’t know how full-time people do it. Anyway, I thought I’d tell you how I got these gigs: totally blind networking without realizing I was networking.

In April, before I went to the fellowship last summer, I visited Duke for my spouse’s alumni reunion weekend. It was my first time and I was excited to see the gardens and stay in a B&B and be away from the kids for a weekend. On the last morning of the reunion, we got in a two hour conversation with our B&B owners and a fellow guest, Anne, about racism, gentrification, Durham, police, etc. I messaged her on LinkedIn and we ended up corresponding for a few weeks about my blog series on racism (part 1, part 2, part 4).

I told Anne about my fellowship at the N&O. Anne had worked on the Duke student newspaper decades ago with someone she knew had recently been at the N&O, so she sent us emails and encouraged us to get lunch. I had lunch with this stranger man a few times over the summer, and it was very pleasant (he’s great; I just didn’t ask him if I could include his name in this blog post so I’m not doing so).

In July (I started the fellowship at the end of May), I got an email from my now-editor telling me that she’d gotten my info from stranger man and suggesting I apply for a job with her. I did so, and I got the job and started in September, after the fellowship ended.

For the Duke press releases, I’d been in touch with my editor there from my work over the summer, and met in person at a SciLine event in Chapel Hill (the program director at the AAAS fellowship had asked me to get in touch with him to encourage Duke to sponsor a fellow for this year). He sent out a solicitation to the local Science Communicators list, and I applied for that.  I had clips, and he already knew me, and I got it.

In August, the fellowship wrapped up in D.C. While there, I gave my business card (which I made at the beginning of summer) to several people who stopped by my poster, and I ended up writing a few press releases for them too.

Now I’ve been writing professionally for about a year (hence my passion-project blog has withered away). This is not something I would’ve imagined in 2010, 2012, or even 2016 when I first started seriously thinking about jobs. I remember staying up for a few hours with my brother and sister-in-law one night and settling on ‘project manager’ as a job for me. My Yale career counselor suggesting I look into consulting. My UT Austin career counselor suggested a scientific society. I got emails and DMs about curriculum writing, teaching, data science (did I tell you all I applied for a data science fellowship, got to round two, and decided I hated it?)… no one ever suggested ‘reporter’ as a career, and that’s what I’m doing.

Anyway, let me leave you with my very favorite slide when I talk about my career path:


I love embracing failure and difficulty and angst.

Over the years, I’ve gotten a few nice messages from people about this series on looking for a job, so I wanted to give it some closure with a plug to try things, do what you feel like, throw stuff at the wall until it sticks, and talk loudly in public about things you care about. Side note: that’s how I made one of my friends in Charlotte; he and his friend were asking each other the difference between topology and topography at the park and you bet that I walked right into that conversation while holding my baby.

Anyway, if you find yourself in this boat, good luck! There are lots of people who have been through it and can help you (like me!)


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