“Hi. My name is Chris, and I am a workaholic.” I’ve never joined a 12-step program, but if I did, this line would be the first sentence I’d utter (unless it was an AA meeting). For me, work is its own reward – something about the Protestant Ethic or American Dream or whatever – which is probably what drove me through 12 straight years of higher education. As an anthropologist/archaeologist, work was a 24/7 endeavor, so graduate school was one long workaholic’s dream. There was always a paper to write, or a lecture to prepare, or a book to read, or a colleague to reach out to, or a field project to plan. I emerged from the grad school cocoon in 2009 with a CV to kill for, offers to give lectures around the world, and the co-directorship of a World Heritage Site excavation.
And yet… silence.
It didn’t matter how many papers I had published, or how many colleagues I reached out to, or how many books I had read. Without a job to apply for, I was not going to get a job: the unfortunate truth for many PhDs who emerge at just the wrong time. Many of my peers went off and began horrific year-by-year contracts teaching 4-5 classes a term at East Fumblebuck University for peanuts. Others got jobs as yoga instructors, farmers, contract archaeologists (for construction sites), or just faded away. I was crushed, and felt betrayed by my professors, and my colleagues, and my entire discipline. There is no greater torture for a workaholic than not to have any work to do, and I was knee-deep in no-work!
So I did what any self-respecting PhD would do – I begged. I had moved to DC to be with my partner (free housing – is that anti-romantic?), so I sent emails to every university in the Washington area to ask if they needed a lecturer. I reached out to the colleagues I had in DC, and asked for work. Life gave me lemons, and I made… well… gin & tonics? I don’t know what I made, but it wasn’t quite lemonade at the beginning. I taught 5 lectures a week to 150 students with no TA or grader, and got paid next-to-nothing. I took a job as a ghost-writer for the curator of an exhibit downtown which paid me decently, but proved to be unfulfilling. My friends and colleagues at the time assured me that I was not unemployed – merely under-employed.
Around this same time, I took another job as a consultant to the National Geographic Society’s exhibits department, as they were developing an archaeology exhibit and were willing to pay me in beer and free lunches for my advice. While there, I heard about a job in the grants division (yes, NGS is a non-profit that has given research grants for over 125 years… catch up!), but nobody knew much about the job and they sent me up to speak with the VP. When I entered his office to inquire about the job posting, he looked me up and down, and said somewhat dismissively, “Well, we’re really looking for someone with a PhD, preferably in archaeology.” No joke. That was the first thing my boss ever said to me.
I’ve been at NatGeo for about four years now, and I love my job. I’ve learned so much here about grant-making (and how to write a killer application), about media and science communication, and about a number of different fields (Paleontology! Astronomy! Botany! Primatology!) that I had never been exposed to before. I advise the Society about archaeology and anthropology, and in return, they teach me about media, about NGO work in DC, and about the world outside of the ivory tower.