Cara Davies Out of Academia

Social Science to Data Science Series Guest Writer

**If you are interested in guest writing on my blog, please reach out!**

I knew, even when starting graduate school, that I never wanted to be an academic. I was terrified of teaching my own class and I always envisioned getting my Ph.D. and using it to leapfrog into higher government service levels, particularly since my sociology dissertation focused on race and immigration. However, when my second semester coursework introduced me to statistics and coding in Stata, I was enchanted. Coding came easily to me, as I had spent years in undergrad learning a variety of Romance languages and found a natural symmetry between plugging a new vocabulary into a proscribed syntax and plugging code snippets into an established pattern. Statistics and their potential for strengthening any argument also fascinated me, and I could see the potential for a lucrative analytics career outside of the academy. Therefore, I added an extra year onto my coursework and turned my Ph.D. minor in applied statistics into a second Masters degree, before beginning the non-ac job hunt.

I added my summer research assistanceships to my professional resume, as I had spent two terms involved in departmental research — the first summer conducting semi-structured phone interviews, the second supervising a team of graduate students conducting phone surveys. This gave me experience working with data from the very first phases of questionnaire design throughout the collection process, a perspective that few data scientists have. I also spent a summer working at the university’s business research center, where I had the opportunity to see how data was applied to solving business problems. With these three experiences on my resume — as well as comments about my overall time in graduate school, where I included the research projects I worked on, the conference presentations I gave, and the introductory social statistics classes I taught as evidence of my data communication skills —

I started applying to every data role I could find.

Shortly after I received the job offer and began my career as a data analyst.

Perhaps more importantly, I learned the importance of LinkedIn in this role.

I found marketing analytics to be an extremely good fit for this social scientist.

These work experiences outside of academia continued to open new opportunities for me, and I doubled my start-up salary in three years through some lateral career moves. While I may not be using my Ph.D. credentials, the analytical and problem-solving skills I gained in my program were invaluable. I encourage everyone considering a career outside academia to get creative about applying their academic strengths to the professional world, to leverage their network (both online and offline), and to connect with others who share similar interests and career goals.

Life after academia can be fulfilling and fun.

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