Notes From The Workfront: Arad Gigi (FSU History PhD 2018)
I completed my PhD at FSU in May 2018. I stayed in Tallahassee for another year, during which I taught at Florida State University and FAMU, before I took a position as a visiting assistant professor at the University of Southern Mississippi. After two years at Southern Miss, I decided to pivot and leave the faculty track of academia.
In the summer of 2021, I began working at Hanover Research, a market research firm based in Arlington, Virginia. Hanover has a robust higher education practice. It provides custom research services using a subscription model to over 500 colleges and universities in the United States and abroad. We conduct custom market research projects for our clients that run the gamut of the higher education landscape, including enrollment management, marketing, finance and organization, academic development, student satisfaction, and alumni and advancement relations.
My title is Content Director. I manage a portfolio of about 25 clients who are long-term members. These clients are mostly vice presidents and deans at higher-ed institutions. I am in charge of their entire research life cycle: understanding their research needs, designing research projects, managing the research internally, and then delivering and debriefing it to the clients. I work across methodologies, managing surveys, qualitative research projects, data analyses, and secondary research projects. In my day-to-day, I meet with faculty, staff, and administrators, write scopes of research projects, collaborate with researchers on complex projects, edit reports, and deliver presentations.
For example, I may have a meeting with a university provost or a dean interested in developing a new academic program and would like us to assess the viability of the new program, to ensure that it will be successful and have student demand. I will meet with them to understand their needs and what research they would like to us to conduct for them. After that meeting, I will write up a scope of work that delineates the research questions and methodology that we’ll use to answer the research questions. In this instance, we will assess student demand indicators, labor market trends and projections, and the competitive landscape to see if overall there’s a market demand for this program. After I write up the scope of work, we’ll start the work internally. I’ll meet with our analysts who will be working on it to devise a work plan. We then continue to communicate via email and have virtual meetings while we’re conducting the actual research. Once the study is ready, I’ll give it a final edit and conduct a quality assurance—verify that the data is accurate and conclusions are sound— and then deliver it to the client. I will often also meet with the client to debrief the findings. The entire process I just described, takes six weeks. Primary research projects, such as conducting surveys, focus groups, or in-depth interviews, are more complex and take longer to complete. On an average week, I will have four to five calls with clients, will manage several projects simultaneously, and deliver three.
How did I get here, from working on the French Atlantic empire in the eighteenth century to working with provosts on new academic programs? When I decided to leave academia, I spent a few months talking to former academics who left before me, learned about their trajectories, explored my opportunities, and gained clarity about what it was that I wished to do and how to go about doing it. I am also glad to have landed at Hanover, a firm that has a track record of hiring former academics. This made my transition smoother and enabled me to succeed in the private sector.
While one does not study history to become a market researcher, the intellectual curiosity that brought you to a graduate program in the first place, and the skills you develop while a grad student in Bellamy, can serve you well in the post-academic world. There are many employers outside of higher education, or at higher-education adjacent sectors, who are seeking these skills; critical thinking, writing, project management, and public speaking are all invaluable skills.
In my view, the main hurdle that historians face once they graduate— and that can be with a bachelor’s, a master’s, or a doctorate—is the ability to realize how valuable these skills are. Grad students, who were capable of working independently to complete a major endeavor like the dissertation, who designed and taught academic courses, and who delivered public presentations, have invaluable experience to put toward the labor market. Let the intellectual curiosity that led you to a graduate program in the first place guide you as you’re searching for your path post-academia.