Insufferable work-from-home clothes, stroll around the corner, coffee, writing. This Thursday morning, I polished up the draft of the next Team Medium profile in my queue, added images, and otherwise prepared the piece to send out for fact-checking. Then I began drafting a new blog post for Interfolio.
A little before noon, I put on actual adult clothing and jumped on BART to meet Don Neufeld, the CTO of Medium, for lunch in the Financial District. As in academia, the boundaries between “friend” and “colleague,” “hanging out” and “networking,” blur quickly.When I struck out on my own in industry, I was devastated at what felt like the loss of an entire collegial network, particularly the close-knit nineteenth-century Americanist scholar corps, of which my advisor, closest committee member, and many friends are part. I will never stop feeling grateful for that group’s lively intellectualism and generosity of spirit.
I’ve since made some wonderful friends in private industry. Don, an engineer, has become something of a mentor—he’s an excellent and overflowing source of knowledge on navigating the industry—but we also just get along. I gladly invest time in happy hours and lunches, keeping up with people I’ve worked with and enjoy.
Indeed, my larger transition involved two related realizations. First, I’m a bit too extroverted for academia—a dear grad school friend refers to me as an “extroverted introvert.” Second, my non-academic professional network is destined to border on promiscuous. Cross-functional, interdisciplinary work means that you spend time with designers, engineers, community and marketing and support people. I’ve learned that this situation is my ideal; I thrive in an environment based on interactive collaboration.
After lunch, I headed automatically towards BART, then stopped for coffee instead and sauntered leisurely homeward down Market Street. Most people with extensive academic training are internally motivated and have an abundance of self-discipline. For me, these traits mean that I’m not always careful about taking time to exercise, eat well, or go offline. Startup culture only stokes this kind of behavior. I tend to immerse myself in projects, and, with nothing external to contain the work, days can blur together in an endless stream of words and websites. I try to take advantage occasionally of having a somewhat flexible schedule.
In the afternoon, I worked on language for the second email outreach campaign being conducted by Interfolio’s Accounts team and for a document that introduces users to the ByCommittee sandbox, where they can play with the application and test its functions. One of the major challenges of an expansive content role is balancing the continuous flow of new, urgent tasks with project-based work, such as creating a style guide or performing a content audit, that stands to impact the way you approach the discrete tasks.
I also wrote up notes on an impromptu evening brainstorm that we had while I was in D.C. last week to send to Steve Goldenberg, Interfolio’s CEO. We missed our weekly catch-up call, and I wanted to give him a sense of my current product messaging thoughts. I’ve worked with several amazing CEOs. Part of your job as a storyteller is to reconcile their broad vision with the current state of the product and to articulate, in a nuanced way that also doesn’t confuse users, both. It’s not easy, but it’s utterly stimulating.
On this final day of a week in my life, I shut down operations a bit early to make an evening yoga class. Because some days that’s the best way to ensure continued productivity.
This series of posts might give the impression that my transition has been relatively smooth, but I’ve been plagued by countless moments of self-doubt. The total culture of academia means that leaving it leads you to question your essential worth. You feel like a bitter disappointment to people who were integral to the development of your worldview. I’ve also spent plenty of time in abject terror, worrying that at any moment someone was going to figure out that I didn’t actually know what I was doing and send me back to academia. It’s true that the skills honed as a scholar are transferable, but you must still learn how to navigate an unknown professional culture.
There are plenty of unknowns to working in industry, but it’s empowering to be in control of my own destiny, exciting to understand a career as a fluid evolution rather than a fixed trajectory. And one of the things my advisor used to say to me still rings true: “It’s about the work.”
Many thanks to Michelle Erickson for the invitation to share this week in my life. I’m happy to answer questions or talk further about transitions, life outside academia, or related topics.