Alumni Aloud Episode 8 Transcript

Sociology in Program Evaluation
(feat. Jessica Sperling)

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VOICE OVER: You’re listening to Alumni Aloud. A new podcast by graduate center students, for graduate center students. In each episode, we talk with a GC graduate about their career, the advice they would give current students. This series is sponsored by the Office of Career Planning & Professional Development at the Graduate Center.

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ABIGAIL TURNER, HOST: Today, I Skyped with Jessica Sperling, who is Manager of Evaluation and Engagement at Duke University’s Social Science Research Institute and Education and Human Development Incubator. She got her PhD in sociology at the Graduate Center, and moved on to do program evaluation both and outside of academia.

Hi, Jessica! Could you start off by telling us where you work and what you do?

JESSICA SPERLING, GUEST: Sure, I’m part of Duke University’s Social Science Research Institute and Education and Human Development Incubator. And there, I head up the evaluation and engagement program.

TURNER: And what does that mean? Like, what is your work day like, day today?

SPERLING: Oh, gosh. It varies quite a lot day to day.

TURNER: Okay.

SPERLING: So, it’s hard to say. It’s a relatively new area as a dedicated within SSRI and EHDI. And we work in evaluation research, and evaluation program. Partly with Duke entities, and partly with community, local non-profit entities, which is a branch or the arm that is really sort of external, and community engagement component.

TURNER: So, are these Duke University projects? Or these can be anybody’s projects?

SPERLING: Both.

TURNER: Okay.

SPERLING: And this is evolving. I mean, one of the things that I like about where I am is because it’s newer, there’s the capacity to shape and develop it over time. And so, the way that it has unfolded up ‘til now, we work with – I try to keep it about 50/50, but that’s not 100 percent how it is. We work with part Duke University programs, and those really run the gamut in terms of the content focus. We’ve been more recently with the med center, which has been really interesting. Duke has a lot going on in the medical field, and a large medical center affiliated. And we’ve done a lot with innovation and entrepreneurship at Duke in terms of its own programming. And then, about half if community programs. So, those would be like local, sort of non-profit, mostly based within North Caroline.

TURNER: So, do you look at this job as an academic job? Or would you say it’s more of a hybrid? Or would you say you’re not an academic job?

SPERLING: It’s more of a hybrid. I didn’t intend to be in an academic job, and I do teach now through this, and so it looks more and more academic, which isn’t necessarily what I was going for. But, on the evaluation front – the teaching, I love. And that is something I’m more than happy to be able to do. Especially when evaluation really is a form of applied research, I think it’s such a valuable area to teach in, and I’m happy to do it. On the more project based end, it does bleed into I guess what you would think of as traditional academic research.

But, one of the key points of evaluation, and one of things that drew me to that field, is that the end goal is not to produce knowledge that is often times consumed by other researchers with not a lot of – I don’t want to disparage academic research, but you know, sometimes there’s not a vary over direct, applied implication. And for evaluation, we really are an applied researcher. And often times, sort of strategic planner working with programs to help them learn and grow in program development. And that’s what evaluation is at its root, that what’s took me to that particular field.

TURNER: Okay, and so then, let’s talk about your graduate school experience as well as anything in between, when you went to the graduate center and got to Duke. What were the kind of jobs did you hold, or what work did you get into?

SPERLING: At the grad center, my training was in sociology. And I worked largely in race, ethnicity, and migration. And throughout my PhD, I had an inkling that I didn’t necessarily want to be a career academic. I had kind of set myself up for that, and done the right things, and I think in many ways, it’s a really good place to be, and it really did draw me in. But, I was never quite 100 percent there. With the large concern I had being this sort of disconnect from like, the sort of applied, on the ground implications of the research that you’re doing, and having it speak to things that are happening in a programmatic sense.

And so, throughout my PhD, I had continued to do some applied work that was outside of fellowships I’d had, I had fellowships through the grad center, and then external research funding, which was I mean, supremely helpful as any Grad Center student would understand. But, I continued to do other work, largely just based on interest. I needed that sort of diversity of activities to keep my going. And I’d worked in language access for a number of populations before starting grad school, and I continued to do some of that, I still continue to do some of that, actually in a different sense now.

But, yeah. I just, you know, I kind of always kept, not one foot out the door, but a link to the non-academic world, knowing that if that’s the direction that I wanted to go ultimately, I wanted to be able to have that. And to sustain that connection. And so, I did GTS, so through that I taught, and did all the other GTS sort of things you do. With SPS, I had done some curriculum development work, which again is very academic, but not solely academic. I mean, I was kind of on a good academic path, and so for a while I kind thought, “Okay, I’m going to do this, it seems like it’s working out, and I’m gonna continue to pursue it.”

But, as I got towards the end, it thought more and more about the other things I had been doing, just based on my own interest, and the fact that I had sustained doing that on my own interest, even though I didn’t necessarily have to. And I started thinking more and more about if I didn’t do academia, what else would I want to do? What else would I want to do, and what else would I be in some way qualified to do, beyond traditional academia? And I kind of came to evaluation almost by chance. I don’t even know how I found out about it as a field, to be honest. I think I just looked like, “What do you do in research that’s not academic research?”

And evaluation is really, really a great place for that. So, I started thinking about some of the work I had done through the lens of evaluation, and realizing that a lot of it was although research-y, it was also in some ways rather evaluative, put in evaluative perspectives and the types of questions that you would ask and answer in evaluation research. So, I would just job search for fun sometimes, like as a sort of recreational activity. And at one point, I had come across a job, it was part time, which I had a dissertation to finish, you know? In evaluation Story Core which an oral history, storytelling organization was starting their own internal work in evaluation.

And they were looking for someone to come on and kind of start that. And I thought, “That sounds really interesting. I don’t need,” you know, I still had funding, I was very fortunate, I didn’t need a job, but I just thought this was something I want to explore doing in a more intensive way than I had. And so, I ended up getting a job, and it was really, for me, very transformational in terms of seeing what working in the world of evaluation looks like, and what research can look like outside of academia. For the good and bad. I mean, it’s not without its challenges by any means, but it was just helpful to really be in that setting.

And so, I started there in a very part time capacity as they were feeling out what they really wanted, I was feeling out whether this made sense for me, to be honest. And it just kind of affirmed for me that this is something that I’m really interested in doing in a long term way. And so, I – yeah?

TURNER: I was just going to say, and then Story Core to Duke? Is that –?

SPERLING: No.

TURNER: Oh, okay.

SPERLING: So, this is a funny story. So, then I was on the academic job market at the same time, with you know again like, all the right things were happening. But, I had started Story Core, and I was like, “I really like this, and I just don’t – you know? My heart’s not in it.” And I feel like academia is one of those things where if your heart’s not in it, it’s just probably not going to be a good choice for you, you know? And so, I decided to kind of pull back from that, and not continue in that, and stay at Story Core, and evaluation. In the meantime, I had a friend who worked at – so, CUNY has the Office of Research Evaluation and Program Support, based in the central offices.

And they had an opening for an evaluation researcher position. And I thought, “Oh, that’s interesting, I feel for community programs, and I’m interested in working in education. At the same time I love what I’m doing with Story Core, I don’t want to leave.” And so, I ended up talking to the person who was at that time the head of that office, and what we worked out, and what they worked out with Story Core, was that I would join CUNY’s Research Evaluation Program Support, but part of my time through that office would be contracted out to Story Core, so I could kind of stay involved there, but do more of the work in research evaluation with CUNY programming.

So, I made that shift, but it was kind of like, half a shift. And that was interesting, it’s an interesting setting, and interesting thinking of where I am at Duke, because that was obviously at a university, it’s at CUNY. But, it was very outside – you know, since central office is in administration, and so it’s not part of sort of the research infrastructure that is CUNY in the same way work on campuses is. And so yeah, it was another case of being sort of in a funny, middle ground where you’re not one or the other, you’re sort of both. But, I don’t know. I think there are some advantages to that. So, where am I?

So, I was there, and all along this time, I have two little kids, New York is expensive, you know? My husband and I have been going back and forth about, “When should we leave? Should we leave? Can we make this work? Is it worth it?” Blah, blah, blah. All that. And this had been going on for a long time. And finally, we decided, “You know what? Let’s really think about going somewhere else.” Without a specific destination in mind, but you know, just thinking that maybe New York wasn’t going to make sense for us in the long term. Because as much as I love evaluation, it’s not you know, finance.

It can be better than academia, but nor is it you know, getting you in an easy position to live long term in New York with multiple children. So, I was just kind of poking around at jobs on actually, the American Evaluation Association, which is the national association for evaluators. And they have a job thing, and I was kind of poking around there, just kind of thinking about what looked interesting. I did that for a little while, just again, almost recreationally. And I had actually seen a post for this position at Duke earlier, and I was not – at that point we were not looking to leave, you know we were on our down side of that, “Should we leave, should we not?”

And then, I saw a repost and I thought, “Oh, that’s interesting.” And I set up feel search, you know, maybe I’ll just reach out and find out a little bit more. And so, I reached out and spoke to the person who was at that point overseeing that position, and it just sounded really fascinating. It was something new that they were developing and beginning, and there was going to be a lot of ability to take it and shape it in the way I wanted. They were interested in my having come from CUNY in a place where it was that sort of middle ground, you’re part of the university, but you’re not academic, per se.

And it just seemed like a good fit, Durham seemed like a good fit. Durham, North Carolina, where Duke is based, actually seemed like a really nice city. And a lot of respect. So, we came down, and we thought, “Alright, well, let’s do it.” So, we moved.

TURNER: Great. So, in short, you were at Story Core while you were finishing your dissertation, then you were at CUNY Central doing evaluation, and then you just decided to turn the job search on outside New York City.

SPERLING: Yep.

TURNER: And you found this position at Duke. That’s great. And so, you just mentioned the American Evaluation Association. Is this I guess, just an association that you would recommend for anybody to get into if they’re interested in non-academic research too?

SPERLING: Very much so.

TURNER: Okay.

SPERLING: I think it’s a great organization. In some ways, it’s like the service profession of research, slash organizational development. But, it’s a really, really good resource. They have a lot available online, the annual meeting is really just like, useful and accessible, people are very friendly and helpful, and everyone’s looking to learn and improve. And not in the, “I’m gonna show you up with my really intelligent questions,” sort of way, but in a way where everyone’s really looking to learn from each other, from those who are new to the field. Because a lot of people come to evaluation from other fields. It’s very common to come into evaluation with training in other related areas. So, yeah. If anyone is interested in thinking about evaluation and applied research as a potential path, the AEA, the American Evaluation Association is a really good resource.

TURNER: Great. That’s good advice. And could you tell us a little bit about your dissertation research? And did it relate at all to what you ended up doing in your job?

SPERLING: Not directly.

TURNER: That’s a pretty common thing.

SPERLING: I’d have to look back and see the connections – so, one of the funny things about evaluation is that well, you can choose the field where you work, and the sort of substantive areas, I like evaluation because you’re working with many different content areas. So, I worked in immigration and immigrant integration. I still think it is a fascinating topic, a really important topic, obviously. I shouldn’t say obviously, but yes, you know, I would say obviously. But, I just couldn’t necessarily see myself studying that, and only that in this one little niche of transnational comparative whatever for the rest of my life. That just felt confining.

And so, I should say about evaluation that one thing I like about it a lot is that you get to apply your skills and your knowledge to a broad array of content areas, so you’re always kind of learning about new things, which I really like. On the flip side, a lot of it is sort of, you know, you’re a practitioner in a way. And so you’re driven by projects in clients. You say, “This is the only thing I want to study. My passion is around this one specific area, I that is what I want to do.” Evaluation might not make sense, because in some ways it requires you to be a little bit flexible in your field. And that depends on where you work in evaluation. But, anyway. I digress.

TURNER: Yeah, no.

SPERLING: To go back to your question, so my work was on immigrant integration, and racial, ethnic identity construction in the transnational comparative perspective. So, I did work with second generation Dominican and Columbian youth, young adults, in New York City and in Madrid, looking at basically identity formation, and the formation and salience of ethno-racial boundaries as dependent upon distinct socio-historical context. Substantively, the work that I do now is not totally connected to that. I would like to take it back that way, honestly. But, right now the work I’m doing is not connected in terms of topic.

Looking back, I can see – and I did qualitative research. But, I put a lot of thought and work into having a strong, and comparative research design to try to make as best as possible, causal claims and causal findings, which is very much evaluation-y. And not all sociology is necessarily like that, and looking back I think I can see sort of the roots of my interests in having picked a project that could have not gone in that direction, and really thinking carefully through the research design in a way an evaluator might do it.

TURNER: So, what about working on your PhD helps you with your job skills now?

SPERLING: Everything. It is 100 percent related to the job skills. I think there’s some stuff that I do that doesn’t come from it, but nothing I trained in is not useful.

TURNER: Can you elaborate? Like, what did you find most useful from the skills you picked up in getting your PhD?

SPERLING: I think the ability to comb through scientific literature, learn about areas you didn’t know. You say, “Oh, this reviewer says I need to do more about this one topic, I don’t really know that. Let me find out more about that. And you learn how to do that. Which again, especially given working in such diverse content areas in evaluation, it’s really important. I’m working on a health innovation project, and health innovation is not my background. But, I can go back and I know how to – I mean, lit review sounds boring, no one likes doing that, I should say that. Many people don’t like doing them, but it’s a really valuable skill to know how to take an area that you don’t really know all that well, and figure out what’s important from it. And that has been really central. Even more central has been training and research methods.

TURNER: Okay.

SPERLING: So, evaluation is based upon and rooted in the application as applied research. So, you’re applying effectively social science research methodologies to the work you do as an evaluator. And I did, oh gosh! What was the name of the certificate? Whatever the methods certificate is at the Grad Center? I can’t remember what it’s called, Research or something.

TURNER: Okay.

SPERLING: There’s a methods certificate that I did. And it’s funny; I did a lot of quantitative coursework, and ended up doing a qualitative dissertation because that better suited my question. But, I think in the end, it gave me a really good array of skills in both quantitative and qualitative methodologies that I now go back to. And even quant things that I’m a little rusty in, like, do I know everything there is to know about multi-level modeling? Not off the top my head. But, I know enough to know where to look, or what I need, and the research methods training is just absolutely invaluable. As an evaluator, you couldn’t do your profession well without that background.

TURNER: Good. And so, you mentioned a lit review. And so, that made me think, is that something you’re doing often in your job? Like, if you go into evaluation as a career, are you basically writing up research reports all the time?

SPERLING: Not all the time.

TURNER: No?

SPERLING: It depends. Different evaluators work differently, it depends on your focus. In my work, a lot of it – so, the work I do, and this is really important to me, – is really close and collaborative with programs. So, in some evaluations in large firms, you’re very distanced. You sort of have your client, and you’re there, and they’re telling you things, and you’re sending it back, and it’s kind of exchange your reports. The way I work and the evaluation I do is  a lot more close and collaborative with programs. And so, a lot of communication doesn’t happen through the issuing of formal reports.

But that being said, it’s really important, because, let me think of a good example. So, one of the projects I’m working on now is evaluation with an out of school program, a music education program that effectively aims to be a service for anti-poverty program. So, targeting historically under-served youth through out of school music education. So, in thinking about what makes sense in terms of helping the program develop and conceptualize it’s anticipated program outcomes. Like, what is it trying to do?

You need to go back, as a responsible researcher or evaluator, go back and look at the literature that’s already out there on programs like this, and see what some of the identified outcomes are, so you can use that to inform your work with this particular program. You’re going to look up data collection, what has been done? What are the norms in the field? What is not? So that way, you know you’re kind of on the right path, and you’re not kind of reinventing the wheel to the disadvantage of your project and your partner.

TURNER: Okay, yeah, okay. So that makes more sense. And I’m also wondering, where else – I’m not sure if I’m going to ask this the right way – where else could you get a job like this? Like, did you look elsewhere that was not in a university?

SPERLING: Yeah. So, within evaluation – let’s see how I can divide it up. I’ll think about it two different ways. One, is internal versus external. So, you can be an internal evaluator, which means you work inside the entity where you’re an evaluator. Right now where I am is a little bit of a hybrid, I would say. At Story Core, it was 100 percent internal, right? And so, you’re part of the organization, and it’s really you’re focusing in many ways often organizational learning as part of the organization’s operations. External, you’re a consultant. And external evaluation, often times people are independent consultants. That’s one nice thing, is there can be a lot of flexibility, because you’re working independently. Evaluation is a very in demand field. You know, funders increasingly want to know outcomes, which is a good thing. And so, there’s more and more work out there in evaluation for that reason. And so, some people go at it independently, which has all the advantages of being independent, and some of the challenges of being independent. There are some large evaluation firms, locally to Durham, RTI is one. And that’s a consultancy, like a large consultancy. And you can work there, often times it’s a different sort of client relationship, but there are some nice things about being a part of an entity like that. Or, if you want to be internal, you’re just a staff person at an organization. Some foundations have evaluation folks that work there to help their grantees in evaluation, to help with organizational learning. Yeah, I mean it really expands.

TURNER: So, in evaluation, if you wanted to get into it, you could really work for any sector?

SPERLING: Oh, yeah.

TURNER: You could be in academic, you could be in government, non-profit, as well as corporate, right? And for-profit businesses?

SPERLING: Yes.

TURNER: Great.

SPERLING: Although, for-profit they don’t call it –

TURNER: Okay.

SPERLING: – it’s funny. I feel like if you want to go into evaluation, people tend to have a more non-profit mindset, otherwise, you would just get an MBA.

TURNER: Oh, okay.

SPERLING: So, in the for-profit sector, it’s not usually evaluation. Even though it’s effectively what you’re doing, it’s just kind of like, a different path. And different priorities.

TURNER: Okay.

SPERLING: Most people come into evaluation with a more kind of, “do-good-y” perspective.

TURNER: And so, what would you recommend or advise for current graduate students who want to get into the field of evaluation?

SPERLING: I would recommend, I mean like I said, I think AEA, the American Evaluation Association is a really good resource. I would say if you can, like go to conference. And just hang out, and see if – like, when I went the first time, I was like, “This is it. This feels right.” You know? So, just hang out, and see if it’s the kind of thing that really resonates with you. And I think if it makes sense, and this doesn’t always make sense, but I think actually working in evaluation. If you’re coming from – and again, I’m from the social sciences – and so if you come from a social science background especially, you do presumably have some methods skills that could be useful.

So, look around and see what’s out there in terms of work that could be on a really part time basis. A lot of stuff is very part time these days. And that might give you a chance to sort of test the waters, and see if you like it. And if you do, you can pursue it. And if you don’t, then you tried. And you learned something about yourself. So, that’s kind of how I would think about it. And talking to people who do it. That was one of the most helpful things. When I was thinking about pursuing a different path, I did a lot of – I mean, I guess there are informational interviews, that sounds lame to say.

But really, just wanting to talk to people. Finding people online who did work that I thought, “That sounds cool! That sounds like something I might want to do. I’d like to learn more.” And getting in touch, and basically saying what I just said, and talking to them about their work, and getting a better sense of it so you’re better able to ascertain whether it is really something that might suit you.

TURNER: Yeah, I think those are great suggestions.

SPERLING: Oh, one other little point about the informational interviews, which you can call it something else, but that’s more or less what it is, is obviously going through networks you have is really helpful, but one thing that I thought was really nice – because it can be weird, and you feel kind of ridiculous just reaching out to people. But, if it’s other people who had gone, who have PhDs in an academic discipline, and they’re working in applied evaluation, they tend to have a soft spot for other people like them, as I do, very much so. And so, in my experience, and I’ve been like this because I was on the other end, they’re really happy to help people who want to think about something different, think through that.

Because they were there, and they know that it’s hard to get that sort of advising when the advising structure within academia is pretty much geared towards pursuing one singular path.

TURNER: Okay, great. So, reaching out to other –

SPERLING: Other people who – I mean, in those –

TURNER: Who did you reach out to?

SPERLING: Oh, gosh. I’m trying to remember now –

TURNER: Was it other Graduate Center alumni? Or –?

SPERLING: You know, one person was. I actually contacted the career center office to ask, so there we go.

TURNER: Excellent, excellent.

SPERLING: I think it was new-ish, so it must have been brand new.

TURNER: Right, right. It must have been our first year.

SPERLING: But, just looking around, I mean I looked around like, “What organizations look cool? Like, where would I want to work?” And looking at who works there, and going from that. I mean really is sort of starting from scratch as you can. And I doesn’t have to be that way if you know people, but I didn’t, so.

TURNER: Yeah, no, I mean think a lot of people are in that position and feel helpless. But, there are some sources, and of course there’s the career center.

SPERLING: Which wasn’t much of a thing when I was there, and so I’m glad that it is there now, and that you guys are doing this sort of work. I think it’s really important.

TURNER: Yeah. Let’s see – do you have anything else to add about working in New York versus working in North Carolina? You know, you and your husband made that decision for your family to get out of the city, and what would you say about – how do people know if that’s the right move for them, to leave the city?

SPERLING: Oh, I don’t know. I don’t know. Sometimes I doubt whether it was the right move for me. It’s hard to say, you know, having lived in New York for so long, it’s such a wonderful place. And I really do miss it. I mean, for us the decision was in many ways sort of financial slash, “How long of a commute do I really want? How far out am I going to have to move to make this make sense?”

TURNER: How far is your commute now? How long is it?

SPERLING: Oh, it’s so funny moving here. My commute now, driving is about I would say like, ten minutes?

TURNER: Oh, gosh. That’s enough to want to move.

SPERLING: Yeah, no. But when we move here, so we moved here for my job, and my husband who works in urban planning, affordable housing developments, when he as in New York he was interviewing for jobs in Raleigh, and I lived in Durham. And they’re about half an hour, 35 minutes away. And people were like, “Oh, but that commute.” We were like, “Okay!” And he ended up getting a job in Durham, and he can walk to work now. So.

TURNER: I mean, for some people that would be worth the move to another state entirely.

SPERLING: Oh, yeah. Now, I look back and I think like, “How on earth did I do that?”

TURNER: Yeah, we’re used to hour commutes, to and from, is what I’m doing. So, yeah.

SPERLING: Yeah, and the differences of course here, public transportation is not the same. And so, you’re driving wherever you go. And I miss the train a lot. I listen to a lot more NPR now that I drive. But, I don’t know. It’s a tradeoff. I mean, it’s nice here, because it’s just easier. It’s a little bit more relaxed, which I really like. The commute is a lot less, the cost of living is significantly lower, all of those things are really great. And Durham itself is like a really cool city, I actually really like Durham. On the flip side, you know, I just have a soft spot in my heart for New York. I really love it.

I love the public transportation, and also in New York, you know, there are a lot of people, there are a lot of jobs. There are a lot of places to work. Which isn’t to say that there aren’t options elsewhere, but they are more constrained because of the smaller size of other cities. So, that’s always something to just take into account. And for us, we decided it made sense. But, you know.

TURNER: Yeah. I think this is something a lot of graduates are going to have to come to terms with. It’s, “Are you ready to leave the city?”

SPERLING: Yeah.

TURNER: I know it’s something I’ve thought about myself. Yeah. Let’s see – Do you have any recommendations as far as just general professional development of skills for Graduate Center students?

SPERLING: Well, if you’re going to do non-academic, or even academic work, but in a lot of what I do, collaboration and communication, and being organized and things like that are really important. And those are things I like, and I value, which is another reason I feel like this works. But, where I am, sometimes working with faculty who are like, career faculty, they’re just so all over – you know? They’re kind of all over the place? And they’re not like, “Let’s put together like a work plan, with deadlines, and this and that.” And like, that doesn’t sometimes others aren’t as good at that. And so, if you’re thinking about something, I would say even as an academic you should do it, frankly.

But in general, I would say like, be organized, be a planner with your work, that’s helpful. In terms of professional development, I mean it’s hard to say because it depends what you want to go into. But, yeah. I mean, I think like all along, just talking to people, and finding out more about what they do, and how they got there is just really useful. Not just for the sort of network development stuff, but truly to learn more about it. Because for me, that’s what was most helpful, was just actually learning about things that I thought sounded interesting, but you know, you don’t really know.

TURNER: Okay. Anything else coming to mind that you want to throw in there?

SPERLING: I don’t know. Also, I guess the other thing that kind of threw me off at first and now I’ve kind of come to terms with, I don’t know if that’s the right word, but more or less is that you know, nothing is permanent. You know? And yeah, when you do make certain choices, it makes other things less viable, but nothing is permanent, and everything is a tradeoff, is kind of how you need to think about it. And it’s especially for me as someone who, you know, I could have continued in academia, or I could have not, and I saw pluses and minuses to each, and I made a decision. And on the whole, I’m very happy with that decision.

That doesn’t mean at times I think, “Oh, I really should have done this other thing –” Everything’s just a tradeoff, but ultimately you decide what feels most right for you in the moment. And if it doesn’t work out, then you can always try something different. If you can see yourself doing something else and be happy with it, don’t just continue because – you know, don’t let inertia drive you, or whatever. Don’t just continue because you’re already doing it and think like, “Oh, well. I’m just going to plod along.” You know? Explore what else is out there, and then make a choice. And maybe you’ll continue in one way, and maybe you’ll continue in another.

But don’t just continue to do something because that’s what you’re already doing, and that’s what kind of seems like what you should be doing.

TURNER: Cool. Good!

SPERLING: If I can give one more piece of – like, a tip or something?

TURNER: Of course! Yeah, go ahead.

SPERLING: If you’re interested in doing something non-academic, different advisors, academic advisors feel differently in my experience, and experience with others. I think I was really fortunate to have advisors and a chair particularly that was really, I mean I think he was just phenomenal, and really open minded. And I think that was really – it just made me feel like I wasn’t failing by not choosing one thing, and instead of choosing something else. But, I also know of other people, not even at the grad center, but just in general, who have done something different, and that has not been as well received by advisors. And so, that’s just something to keep in mind, is you know, not that you need to be careful –

TURNER: Would you suggest looking for support in other places if you don’t feel like you’re getting it from your committee? Or, maybe not?

SPERLING: Yeah, I mean I would suggest looking for support in other places regardless, because your committee is very good at being academics in most cases. You know? And that’s what they’ve done, and that’s kind of the model of doctoral granting institutions. And so, you’ll still want the advice and guidance from someone else, presumably. But it is really helpful if you do have advisors who don’t think you’re making a terrible decision, or you know, don’t feel like you’re throwing your life away by not becoming a career academic. That’s really nice to have, and it’s not always the case. And I’m glad that it as the case for me. But, it’s just kind of a point of, I don’t want to say warning, that maybe sounds a little extreme, but just something to be cognizant of.

TURNER: Okay, yeah! Yeah, because this is something we’re all going to have to go through eventually at the Graduate Center. Yeah. Okay. If that’s everything, then we can conclude our interview.

SPERLING: Yeah.

TURNER: Thank you so much for taking the time out today. I really appreciate it!

SPERLING: Well, I’m glad that you guys are doing something like this; I think it’s really valuable. So, I’m happy to help in any way I can.

TURNER: Thank you again to Jessica for Skyping with us today. To learn more about the workshops, career panels, and discussions at the Graduate Center, follow the Office of Career Planning & Professional Development on Twitter, @careerplangc. You can also see our updates on Facebook, and our website. Thanks for listening.

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