Launching out on your own can seem daunting, particularly when you've spent the bulk of your career in one setting (in my case, academia). My last post was about why I decided to leave academia to start Rise. This post has tips for making that type of move.
In thinking through this post, I talked to many of my grad school peers who pursued non-academic jobs. Some ended up in government, some in industry, and a handful launched out on their own. While this post is perhaps most applicable to those thinking about leaving academia, the insights apply across professional transitions.
First, some advice if you've decided to depart from your current professional path but don't know where to go:
If you're considering jobs outside of university settings, build skills that will apply in a variety of professional settings:
If you're thinking of launching out on your own:
Finally, once you're at the point of applying to new jobs or building your own professional network, my super smart cousin who went the industry route (to Indeed, no less) had some awesome practical advice: "I wish every grad program included a career planning course where students:
Full disclosure: it took me awhile to figure out that entrepreneurship was the way to go. Before starting Rise, I applied to a range of jobs in government, at think tanks - even some at university-based research centers. None of them had what I was looking for, but all of them helped me learn about other types of jobs -- eventually getting me to where I am now.
Each year, I get contacted by grad students, post-docs, and asst. professors who want to learn more about my journey out of academia and into Rise Research. These are typically folks who are thinking about leaving academia -- finding it too restrictive or jobs too few and far between.
I thought I'd write up some of what I share in those conversations for others who are interested. As background, I trained and worked in a university setting for nearly 20 years prior to starting Rise. This post is about why I made the move.
1. I wanted to feel more of an impact with my work. If you're reading this, you probably find a lot of fulfillment in analyzing data and answering big questions. Me too! But there is a big gap between landing an article in a leading journal and feeling an impact outside of academia. The incentives of academia can make it difficult to achieve the latter, and that's what I wanted to do.
2. There was a need for my skills. Before launching out on my own, I did a lot of market research. What would I work on? Who would hire me? I learned that there are a lot of potential funders (public and philanthropic) in MN, a strong interest in understanding and improving social programs, and a robust network of public and nonprofit orgs that I could work with. I also talked to a number of local freelancers and consultants who were making it work. This convinced me that I could too.
3. I wanted to self-direct. This is why I chose entrepreneurship over a think tank or government job. As an entrepreneur, you choose the projects that you work on and the partners you work with. Only possible as your own boss.
4. I wanted to be flexible in my approach. The world feels like it is changing so rapidly and it is important to be able to quickly pivot to a new topic or way of working. Case in point -- our team was able to quickly develop and refine Rise Data Walks in response to increasing interest in engaging community members in research and evaluation projects. This would have been a lot harder to do at a big organization with an established set of products and operational practices.
5. Finally, I wanted to lean into my strengths. For so many years I felt like I had to turn off parts of myself in academia. I felt like I wasn't using skills in communication, relationship-building, and seeing outside the box. As an entrepreneur, you have the ability to craft your work in a way that builds on those things that make you who you are. This is an incredibly rewarding feeling.
Does this sound familiar? Stay tuned for the next post, where I'll talk about different ways to make the move.
As 2021 winds to a close, we have been doing some reflecting about our experiences and lessons learned this year. Even though making it through a second year of the pandemic is pretty much a win in itself, here are a few other things we've taken away from this year.
And that's a wrap on 2021 lessons! Looking forward to a new year of partnerships, learning, and change.
Permit me to nerd-out for a minute.
Yesterday, the White House released its “Executive Order on Transforming Customer Experience and Service Delivery to Rebuild Trust in Government” and OH MY GOSH IT IS SO EXCITING!
The Executive Order (EO) is about reducing the costs of interacting w/government - what scholars call administrative burden. Think filling out your taxes or having to stand in line all day to vote. These are activities that cost people time, energy, and can sometimes feel pretty dehumanizing. In fact, research finds that when the costs of interacting with the government are high, people are less satisfied, have a less favorable view of government, and are less likely to access or complete programs (see Pamela Herd and Donald P. Moynihan, 2018.)
Rise routinely partners with government and nonprofit partners that are trying to reduce administrative burden - particularly in programs that assist people in moments of crisis. As the EO notes: “Customers often navigate services across multiple agencies in specific moments of need, such as when they are seeking financing for their businesses or experiencing food insecurity.” If you’re on the verge of getting evicted because you lost your job, it is quite possible that you’d have to navigate a bunch of different government departments and systems - one for emergency housing assistance, one for food support, one for unemployment insurance, etc. - each with its own forms, rules, and restrictions. This is stressful, confusing, and can often result in people not getting access to the critical support that they need.
The EO states that it is the government’s policy to improve service delivery and customer experience and calls upon various federal agencies to update rules, policies, and procedures in order to improve the experience of accessing government support. Though I find the term ‘customer service’ problematic (something I’ll save for another post), this is GREAT NEWS! It sends a message that the experience of interacting with government matters and identifies concrete steps for agencies can take to improve that experience.
As the federal government ramps up its efforts to improve service delivery, federal agencies can and should look to cities and counties that have been actively working to reduce administrative burden - especially in MN. Our experience with local governments across the state suggests that reducing the costs of getting government help is actually really hard in practice - it involves a complex web of federal eligibility and reporting rules, state laws related to data privacy and data management, as well as local policies and practices. A boost of federal support in easing the complexity will help a lot. And, there are a number of localities that are making it work -- all the while providing evidence that changes are making it easier and less costly for residents to get help in times of need.
We’re excited to see how changes at the federal level can help localities make even more progress on reducing administrative burden!
Want to learn more? Reach out to email@example.com to learn more about how we work with localities to reduce the costs of accessing service. Or stay tuned for our next Research Bite - conveniently on administrative burden.
Y'all, I'm tired.
Tired from the year of home-schooling kids and endless work meetings on Zoom. Tired from the backlog of work that followed my breakthrough COVID case. And so so incredibly tired of worrying and then uttering sighs of relief only to worry again.
If there's one consistency I've seen across Rise projects this year, it's how tired everyone is. Whether the project is about public health, homelessness, or transportation policy, folks are just exhausted. I've seen this show up explicitly in survey responses, interview data, and in facilitated discussions. Sometimes I've just felt it in a virtual meeting or in how people respond. The burnout is real and it's affecting everyone from recipients of social programs to case managers, public leaders, and business owners.
I've thought a lot recently about how we transition into a post-pandemic (or less pandemic-y) world; what it means for our projects, our data collection and analysis strategies, and how we engage across systems and sectors. I'm not exactly sure what the 'after' looks like, but one thing that is abundantly clear is that things are not going to snap back to normal - nor should they.
COVID forced us to do a better job of meeting people where they were at. At Rise, we extended more grace to our partners and thought more deeply about how to alleviate burdens associated with data collection and analysis. We were more flexible with projects and timelines. In our interactions, we led by recognizing and creating space for our shared struggles.
The effects of the pandemic will be long-lasting and the need to meet people where they are at will continue in the months and years following our collective return to normalcy. Let's continue to extend grace and flexibility, work to alleviate burdens for others, and create space for recognizing our shared humanity in all of our interactions.