Five months after graduating with a doctorate in chemistry, I started to question my career choices. Spending hours alone in a windowless lab, I became uninterested in hands-on research. I began to crave an energetic work environment, instead of the drab lab life to which I was accustomed. But the job opportunities that I 'qualified' for in the Dallas Ft. Worth area were a bit hopeless—they were few and far between—and did not satiate my newfound career cravings.
After a lot of complaining and a little bit of soul searching, I committed myself to a new career path and began to pursue opportunities in marketing. I consider myself a creative person, and I had taught myself the basics of online marketing and Web design through a food blog I author. It felt like the best fit for me, and I was encouraged by my close friends and family to forge a new road outside of everything I once thought I knew and wanted.
As supportive as most people were, a handful of people made me question my motives with one simple question: “So, you just wasted four years of your life on a Ph.D. to go into a marketing firm?”
It took a bit of time, but I ultimately I felt confident with my decision to be a part of an advertising agency. I realized many of the skills I developed during graduate school—though scientific and research based—applied to a wide variety of job opportunities outside of the very narrow field I once studied. For some, this realization can bring relief, knowing that previous career decisions don't have to define the rest of your life.
Here is a takeaway of the skills I learned in graduate school that directly apply to my new, fulfilling position as an account manager at 70kft:
1. Project management
Let’s start out with the most important one of all. If you want to graduate on time or earlier than your peers, you MUST excel at project management. Granted, many projects are a one-man team. But there are several aspects of a doctoral project that must be coordinated in a timely fashion to have working results to present in your thesis. Many graduate students also have collaborative projects. If you are the project owner, and your thesis is on the line for killer results, you must step up as a leader. A leader must communicate with their team and make sure all the pieces of the project are aligned. This often includes working or contracting with other universities. Quite clearly, project management is the heart of what an account manager practices day in and day out—coordinating between agency teams and clients.
2. Practice creativity and innovation
This is the backbone of a good scientific research project. You may ask, 'What do you mean by scientific research?' In brief, it is finding a new or better way to solve an existing problem. Most of these problems have working solutions already, so it is up to you to find a different and more efficient way to get the job done. Our creative team at 70kft uses these skills to make the best products or attain the best results possible for our clients. These are also great skills for an account manager to possess, as they bring another point of view to a project.
3. Solve problems
This ties into the previous point, but deserves to stand on its own. Most of the time, research brings more questions than answers. Those answers are seldom easy to find. But if you don’t find the right answers, you’ll end up sacrificing a lot of hard work and time spent on a misdirected project. That is the last thing you want to do as a graduate student—it is also the last thing you can afford to do at a creative agency. We strive for solutions that fit the needs of our clients in the best way possible. While our creative teams do much of the problem-solving for specific projects, it is up to an account manager to ensure they meet a client’s stated needs. Account managers also do their fair share of troubleshooting throughout a project to ensure it runs smoothly and on time from start to finish.
Graduate school brings the opportunity to speak publicly and present your work. Often times, you’ll be in front of a speculative audience and need to appropriately field questions on the fly. If you do it right, you learn how to handle yourself in a professional manner regardless of circumstance or critique. As an account manager at a marketing agency, professionalism with clients is crucial to maintaining trustworthy and effective relationships. This is also important for managing your team, since it is your job to make sure a job is done correctly and efficiently.
5. Analyze data
Data analysis is another cornerstone of scientific research and marketing alike. You must often bring clarity to gray situations, and make sure your data matches up to an expected result. While strategists do much of the hard data analysis at a creative agency, this skill also applies directly to aligning budgets and timelines to each project appropriately. This is an extremely important aspect to the agency and clients alike.
Such a drastic career change did seem like a leap at first, but I would never say my doctorate was a waste of time. I’m a firm believer that all things happen for a reason, and graduate school was on the path that led me to my long-term career. I’m also living proof that whatever path you choose, life’s highway is long, winding and full of detours.