PhD Career Exploration Fellow Spotlight: Chelsea Chamberlain (Hosted by Bucks County Community College)

In the spring of 2021, 44 PhD students from a range of academic disciplines at Penn participated virtually in Career Services’ PhD Career Exploration Fellowship (CEF) program, where they were matched with a host organization to learn about different careers beyond academia. Chelsea Chamberlain, a PhD candidate in History, was placed as a Fellow with Bucks County Community College. Read about Chelsea’s experience in the CEF below!

Describe your experience working with your host:

Patricia and I began with an hour-long conversation in which I learned about her path from a PhD in Sociology at Penn to her current role as Grants Director at Bucks County Community College. She introduced me to a whole range of her colleagues at the college in various administrative and fundraising roles, and then to leaders of community-based non-profits who have partnered with BCCC. Through wide-ranging informational interviews, I learned more about academic administration, the place of community colleges in addressing social and economic inequality, and the field of philanthropy and foundations.

What did you learn from this opportunity (about yourself, about career fields, the job search, etc.)?

In my conversations I noticed a thread: regardless of their formal title, every person’s work boiled down to building and maintaining relationships with others. As the isolation imposed by academia began to chafe (especially during COVID), this made me increasingly excited about the opportunities for collaboration that non-academic careers provide. I also became familiar with the position of “program officer” in foundations, a job that has moved to the top of my list!

How does your CEF experience benefit your future career plans?

The CEF made me feel much more prepared to pursue non-academic jobs. Building networks through my mentor also encouraged me to connect with people in my other networks and get involved in new organizations. Through the knowledge and motivation the CEF supplied, I applied for and obtained a summer internship with the National Endowment for the Humanities, where I’ll receive a more thorough introduction to the field and the work of program officers.

What was the most valuable part of your CEF experience?

The greatest value came from realizing how much progress I could make and confidence I could gain in preparing for the job search simply by prioritizing it. What had felt like a looming black box that was easier to ignore while I worked on my dissertation became an exciting chance to learn new skills and envision potential non-academic futures in which I could thrive!

Top reason PhD students should apply to the CEF:

The CEF provides guidance, instruction, and organization that makes it so much easier to overcome the mental and practical hurdles of preparing for non-academic jobs. Daunting tasks like turning my CV into a resume or speaking with strangers about their careers were made easy through interactive workshops and the help of a supportive mentor who forged new connections for me.


By Helen Pho
Helen Pho Associate Director, Graduate Students & Postdocs Helen Pho