FSU History Alumnus Spotlight: Kent Peacock (PhD 2020)
These days, it is difficult to get an academic job in History. But it is important not to overlook the many options open to PhD graduates outside of traditional academia. We reached out to FSU History alumnus Kent Peacock to learn more about his career choices since graduation.
Kent earned his PhD in 2020. His major field was the history of gender and sexuality with minor fields in U.S. history and the history of Latin America. His dissertation is entitled “Sexuality, States, and Settlers: Reproducing Sexual Order in the Early Republican Trans Appalachian West.” While at Florida State, Kent taught survey courses in U.S. as well as Latin American history.
Kent’s first job after graduation was with the Florida Department of Health. There, Kent worked as personnel liaison ensuring that staff were kept up to date on human resource initiatives. As of fall 2021, Kent took a job at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, La., as an Academic Advisor, Instructor, and Dual Enrollment Associate of General Studies Coordinator. Kent’s job includes advising undergraduate students who are either undecided, designing their own major, or are non-traditional students. Kent also teaches a freshmen orientation course, and, along with two other colleagues, mentors high school students who are completing their AGS (Associate of General Studies). Kent explains that there is a big push for dual enrollment at the moment. He currently mentors 87 high school students. While his new job still involves administrative work, it is especially rewarding and is a “good fit because I get to deal with students, and I get to teach.”
Kent relocated from Florida and took his current job because his partner got an academic job at the Northwestern State University. As with many academic couples, it was important for one partner to be flexible in their career plans to allow the other to pursue tenure-track university positions. Once Kent’s partner had accepted a full-time tenure-track position at Northwestern State, this limited the radius within which Kent looked for employment. Kent found his new job by consulting state employment listing sites and university websites.
In the event, Kent applied to one opening in Northwestern State’s Academic Advising Services Office, but, after he was unable to secure that position, was recruited by that same office for a slightly different position. His initial application had so impressed the head of Academic Advising at Northwestern State that, when a similar position opened up, Kent was contacted right away. For Kent, getting his CV on file with as many people as possible was an important step in getting his current position.
The other important step was translating his grad school experiences into language that employers understood. While employers might not be very interested in your dissertation topic, they will want to know that, in order to research and write it, you collected, organized, and interpreted data and that you brought your whole project to completion with minimal supervision.
What were the most important tools that Kent gained from studying History?
A vital one was project management. At the Florida Department of Health, Kent had to oversee the entire process of hiring individuals, making sure that all steps got completed in their proper order and maintain documentation for each step. “I needed to become an expert in [my] duties, just like a historian becomes an expert in their field or research interests.”
The ability to work independently was another key skill. To complete a PhD dissertation, one must have the ability to work alone on projects, set one’s own pace, and work to deadlines. Kent realized this was an important part of both the jobs he worked in. “Any research or writing project - whether for a class paper, article publication, or thesis/dissertation - requires very similar components.”
Being good at communicating is at the heart of Kent’s career. Teaching multiple courses at FSU taught Kent how to summarize and explain material effectively. Since his current job involves teaching students, this is the skill he relies on the most. Mentoring high school students drew directly on Kent’s teaching experience. “In addition to managing or running a ‘project,’” Kent explains, “I am now guiding individuals through their degree.”
Besides communicating with students, Kent also reaches out to their parents. “Being able to distill information in summary form in clear ways and get it to other people,” allows Kent to keep the parents of his high school students informed. Kent explains that he often sends parents informational documents that help their children stay on track with their AA degree and high school diploma. It is imperative that the material “summarizes the information in a way that is accessible” to the parents.
Kent’s most important advice for those interested in pursuing a similar career is to make sure that you get experience and training outside of traditional academia. Getting involved in student organizations, for instance, such as the History Graduate Student Association, helps one learn skills like leadership, teamwork, or even how to manage Excel sheets, that can be applicable to the job market. These outside experiences also help employers understand that “you know how to handle an office environment or a set schedule.”
Kent's final piece of advice is to “look broadly in terms of jobs.” It is more important to get your foot in the door somewhere, even if you don’t stay in that specific position. “Don’t decide not to apply just because it might not be your dream job…Even if you don’t go the tenure route, that doesn't mean that you are done with teaching,” Kent explains. There is a world of possibilities open to graduate students who are on the job market, but one must be open to applying for jobs they might not have considered otherwise.