As my week comes to a close, I split my Friday between several key tasks. The first key task is prepping for next week. I review the task and hour projections offered by the project managers and ensure that the projections align with the expected workload. Any discrepancies get discussed, but usually this is a fairly smooth process. Given the various projects in which our team is involved at any given time, I create a series of big picture checklists to ensure that the whole team has a sense of what is happening so that they can see how all of the work fits into broader scope. While there is always a mix of client deliverables in the queue, I also coordinate to ensure that our internal, behind-the-scenes work continues to evolve. At any given time, we’re also busy planning events, developing content and tools, and responding to RFPs for new projects.
The second key task for the day is to spend some time on broader research projects in which I am involved. One of the things I like best about my role is that it provides fodder for long-term research. For several years now, I have been collaborating with colleagues of mine from the University of Michigan on a study of coworking spaces around the country to understand how communities evolve in these settings and how people thrive through this form of working. It’s a fascinating project that mixes social science research with my work on the design of space. Some weeks I may be collaborating on data collection or some draft of a paper that we are submitting for publication. During other weeks, I may be working on a proposal to submit to a conference. For me, my professional work influences my academic research interests, and vice versa. By staying visible in academic circles, I get invited to participate in other conferences and seminars – all of which generates knowledge that I can use in my professional work.
As my week draws to a close, I get a chance to reflect on everything that I do and what it means. Writing this series of blog posts has provided me with an extended opportunity to reflect. In addition to gaining valuable research skills, going through the process of earning a PhD was a valuable exercise in time management, patience, diplomacy, and, in my case, cross-disciplinary collaboration. I would argue that my experience was probably not typical of many doctoral students in that I was doing applied professional work along the way, which actually prepared me for a life outside of the academy. This experience helped ease my post-PhD transition from Ann Arbor to New York City.
One of the most important factors in my successful transition was finding great mentors. When I first started working at a previous firm after first moving to New York, I benefited from working with colleagues who – like me – had PhDs but who were working professionally in the field of architecture and planning. In a way, having the opportunity to work with and experientially learn from them really meant gaining mentors in a new discipline and professional context. They understood the academic background from which I came and showed me the ropes of succeeding in the world of practice. From them, I also saw how it was possible to stay connected to some level of academic research and teaching and how staying involved in those activities was mutually beneficial to both their professional practice and to their academic collaborators.
As I said at the beginning of my series, I am excited by the fact that there is no typical week. The fluctuating nature of my routine strengthens my mind and connects me with a growing network of other professionals doing great work in a range of interesting areas.