PhD Career Exploration Fellow Spotlight: Knar Gavin (Hosted by Penn Sustainability)

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. Knar Gavin, a PhD candidate in English, was placed as a Fellow with Penn Sustainability. Read about Knar’s experience in the CEF below!

Describe your experience working with your host:

Early in the fellowship, I met with three core members of Penn Sustainability and we discussed the broader context of and features associated with sustainability work at Penn. During this introductory meeting, I received a wealth of information about PSO and its affiliated organizations and community connections. My host, Natalie Walker, kindly made a series of introductions to sustainability-related professionals on campus, allowing me to arrange for several successful and informative interviews over Zoom. Through consultation with my host, I decided to take on a small poetry project for Earth Week. In April, PSO shared my poem “Matters of Pollen and Earth” across their social media platforms, which provided a meaningful way for me to participate in the week’s slate of events. This writing project was rewarding and required only a modest time commitment.

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

I learned a great deal about how sustainability-related work is carried out on campus, which in turn gave me a more complete sense of the sustainability-related careers that exist for someone with my professional profile.

How does your CEF experience benefit your future career plans?

As a scholar working at the nexus of poetry and environmental justice issues, I am dedicated to supporting sustainability-related efforts on and beyond campus. During my fellowship, I gained valuable insight into institutional efforts to meet sustainability goals. As I look ahead toward an unpredictable academic job market, I am grateful to have had the fellowship period to explore alternative career paths related to our changing climate.

What was the most valuable part of your CEF experience?

I deepened my understanding that sustainability is not just one but many things, and thus touches each and every area of life at a university, from faculty and staff to undergraduates, campus visitors, and especially, relations between the university and surrounding communities. PSO was an encouraging and enthusiastic host, and I felt welcomed into the world of sustainability efforts within and beyond Penn.

Top reason PhD students should apply to the CEF:

PhD students receive advanced training in our chosen fields, yet we don’t always develop the most complete sense of how our skills might transfer to other disciplines and areas of professional endeavor. The fellowship period greatly expanded my awareness of the wide-ranging applications of my training, and I feel that I have fortified my appreciation for how broadly useful humanities-related skills can be in a range of settings, including those dedicated to the complex problem-solving work of sustainability.

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