PhD Career Exploration Fellow Spotlight: Ellen Bryer (Hosted by Penn Libraries – Academic Engagement)

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. Ellen Bryer, a PhD candidate in Sociology, was placed as a Fellow with the Penn Libraries – Academic Engagement. Read about Ellen’s experience in the CEF below!

Describe your experience working with your host:

I had a great experience with my host, Rebecca Stuhr, in Academic Engagement at the Penn Libraries. We were both excited to meet each other and Rebecca had many ideas for how I could learn about library work and the career trajectories of research librarians. She quickly set me up with a few informational interviews and several committees that I could sit in on to get acquainted with the libraries’ academic engagement activities. As someone still taking courses, I was worried about not having enough time to dedicate to the experience, but Rebecca and other librarians I met were very flexible and accommodating of my schedule. We checked in several times over the semester to discuss what I was learning, who I could speak with, and at the end of the semester, to discuss what I had learned.

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

I learned a lot from participating in CEF. From the placement itself, I learned about what academic librarianship entails, but also about the skills necessary (e.g. program planning, project management) to work in universities in non-academic roles more broadly. I also learned a lot from the regular CEF workshops. It was so helpful to have some time set aside to reflect on my own skills and values and how those might relate to future career paths. In addition to some more practical takeaways like the difference between a resume and a LinkedIn page, these workshops gave me reassuring perspective on life after the PhD.

How does your CEF experience benefit your future career plans?

I feel much more prepared to navigate a potential non-academic career search and know much more about what Career Services has to offer. I also feel much more comfortable with informational interviewing and see how easy it can be to make connections with people working in fields I’m interested in.

What was the most valuable part of your CEF experience?

I think the most valuable part of the experience is having some dedicated time to think about my career goals and life after the PhD alongside Career Services staff and other likeminded graduate students. Additionally, I really appreciate having the space to practice conducting several informational interviews in a particular field. This was surprisingly enjoyable and helped me learn a lot about the field as a whole.

Top reason PhD students should apply to the CEF:

The CEF is also a low-pressure, accessible way to network with professionals in non-academic fields who understand the experience of PhD students. It is a great way to learn about the day-to-day experience of those in non-academic careers. Also the experience of going through a set of career-focused workshops with the fixed group of graduate students was enjoyable and approachable.


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