Developmental Psych at Education Through Music (feat. Leighann Starkey)
Alumni Aloud Episode 50
Leighann Starkey is a graduate of the PhD Program in Psychology, with a specialization in developmental psychology, at the Graduate Center. She is now Director of Evaluation at Education Through Music.
In this episode of Alumni Aloud, Leighann explains what evaluation at a nonprofit looks like and provides advice on how to find a nonprofit you would want to work for. She also shares her personal experience recognizing her ADHD symptoms while in graduate school.
Listen to the episode below, download it, or stream it in Apple Podcasts (or your preferred podcast player).
VOICE OVER: This is Alumni Aloud, a podcast by Graduate Center students for Graduate Center students. In each episode we talk with a GC graduate about their career path, the ins and outs of their current position, and the career advice they have for students. This series is sponsored by the Graduate Center’s Office of Career Planning & Professional Development.
ABBIE TURNER, HOST: I’m Abbie Turner, a PhD candidate in educational psychology at the Graduate Center. I work in the Office of Career Planning & Professional Development, and I interviewed Leighann, who is the Director of Evaluation at Education Through Music. She earned her PhD in developmental psychology at the Graduate Center.
LEIGHANN STARKEY, GUEST: Hello.
TURNER: Hi. Thanks for joining us. So, why don’t you start off telling us where you work and what your position is there?
STARKEY: Currently, I work at Education Through Music, which is a music education nonprofit, and I am the Director of Evaluation.
TURNER: Great, so what does a director of evaluation do at a nonprofit?
STARKEY: I tell us “is our children learning,” which is how I tell people… (That’s an outdated reference now. Nobody remembers Bushisms anymore.) Yeah, I basically boil it down to two major buckets. One is I’m looking at the impact of our program for two major purposes. One is to say that we are really great and, “Please give us more money,” and the second purpose, which, to me, is the more important one, is to say, “How can we be better, and where are we great and we should keep doing that, and where are we not so great, and how can we improve that in a way that’s informed by data?”
TURNER: Great. What kind of programs are you guys implementing in this?
STARKEY: Our mission, our programming, basically, the idea is that music education has been eroded in schools. A lot of kids aren’t getting it, or if they get it, it’s in this patchwork way, where you get these teaching artists who come in and there’s no continuity from year to year, and it’s really hard to have a sustainable music program in a school that’s taught by one person who stays there over time, and it’s hard to be that person who teaches it, because you’re often the only teacher in the building. So, what we do is we hire the music teachers, we place them in our partner schools with the goal of getting the school to hire the teacher from us, and the programming is doing everything we can to support that teacher to do the programming, so we give them professional development that’s relevant to music; a lot of times they don’t get that. Helping them with classroom management, those kinds of things, supplies and stuff like that.
TURNER: Great, okay, and so as director of… Did you say evaluation?
STARKEY: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
TURNER: Okay, so as director of evaluation, you’re distilling the data for who?
STARKEY: Stakeholders, which is a… When you work a nonprofit, a word you use all the time.
STARKEY: Stakeholders. We have so many. It really is tons of audiences. It can be for our own internal program’s team. For example, they deliver professional development, and I do surveys after the PDs and sit down with the person and people who delivered it and say, “Here is the good, the bad, and the ugly, and how can we improve for next time? What’s your feedback on that?” Board members. Board members want high level stuff, indicators of how the program is doing, what’s our success, what’s our impact. Grant-makers, very especially grant-makers. What’s our need? Prove that you’re needed. So, that’s sometimes a lot of literature review, or in my case, I actually do a lot of work with any publicly available data that the city provides that’s relevant to us to make the case that we’re even necessary in the first place.
TURNER: Oh, wow.
STARKEY: So, the teachers, the schools, anyone who is even peripherally involved or interested in our program is considered a stakeholder, and so in some way, data touches them.
TURNER: Are you doing this all on your own? Do you have a team?
STARKEY: I’m a department of two, me being one of those two people. Yep, so right now it’s me, and I have a… I have one full-time associate.
TURNER: Cool. Okay. So, why don’t you walk us through a little bit of the process or journey from the developmental psych program here at the Graduate Center to Education Through Music, where you are now?
STARKEY: Yep. It’s like, how did I even get here? Yeah, so I started my program in 2010, about halfway through the… I think my first couple years in the program I did do a paid internship at a nonprofit, at a nonprofit that dealt with homelessness. So, that was my first real experience in nonprofits, and that made me realize that I was… I think I was most interested in applied research. I had never actually wanted to be in academia; I knew that going in. That wasn’t a goal of mine. Then, going into the nonprofits, I saw that there is a place for the kind of things that we learn about and do, and it’s like a niche, right? It’s a niche that needs to be filled. The exciting thing about it is it’s a niche that the nonprofits themselves are just figuring out they need to fill.
So, I started there, and that’s kind of where I started seeing what that place was. At some point that internship ended and I saw that a professor at NYU was looking for a research associate on one of their projects, and I knew this professor through a research associate job I had had at Fordham before I started working. So, he had collaborated on that project. I reached out, I got the job. When his graduate student graduated, then I got promoted to project director of that project, and he allowed me to use the data in that project for my dissertation data.
TURNER: Oh, wow. How convenient.
STARKEY: Yeah, and then that professor at NYU wound up becoming actually kind of my de facto advisor, even though he was not a graduate student, a Grad Center one. But my actual Grad Center advisor was great and collaborative and super happy to do that and work with him and allow me to work with him. When I graduated, that’s the year the grant for that project ended, so the timing was good. I then got a job as a director of research at a small nonprofit. I was there for eight months. I learned about red flags. I learned about nonprofit red flags. I left there, and now I’m in my current position at UTM.
TURNER: Okay, so you have a lot of nonprofit experience, it sounds like.
TURNER: So, let’s talk about jobs and nonprofits, because I know there’s a lot of room for PhDs and MAs with research skills to find a home in nonprofits. So, what are the pros and cons of being in a nonprofit?
STARKEY: Gosh. Okay, pro: you don’t have to rate if it’s a good nonprofit. You don’t have to raise your own money, because to me, that was a big con of being in academia, was this idea that you not only had to do the work, but you had to hustle to raise the grants and everything. A good nonprofit will have a development department, they will have a stream of revenue and funding from whatever it is they’re doing, and your work will help raise that money, but you are not solely responsible for raising the money to do your own work. That was huge for me. I hate writing grants. It’s my least favorite thing to do. I don’t mind helping, but I don’t like doing it all the time.
So, a big pro for me was not having to be on that grant cycle where every single time the grant’s about to expire you’re like, “Do I have work next week? I don’t know.” That’s a huge pro for me. Another huge pro is just I enjoy white collar office work in a white collar office environment that does things like gives you pizza on Fridays and gives you benefits, and has other departments you can collaborate with, and other people you can work with. So, it feels a little less isolated and insular.
TURNER: Got it.
STARKEY: Cons. Nonprofits can be just as shiesty and gross as for-profits, sometimes even more so because they’re trying to hide it. Nonprofits in our country often exist to funnel and serve the needs of for-profit businesses. The board members on nonprofits are usually there because that nonprofit serves their for-profit need in some way. In my field I sort of wound up in education by accident, because I was developmental psych, but it’s almost like I did ed psych, because that’s what I wound up doing. I see tons of nonprofits now where their purported goal actually kind of undermines education in this country. Particularly, nonprofits that are working around charter schools are working around replacing privatizing services, once public services. So, for me, a big con for nonprofits is doing the research to figure out what’s the deal with the place you’re at. Are you going to feel comfortable? If you can sleep at night working there, knowing you’re doing that…
Foundations are really a thing to check same thing out for, foundations are sort of like another niche where that skill in nonprofits can be applied there, except you’re on the other side where you’re evaluating what other people are giving to you. But there’s a lot of foundations where, if you look into it and you look in the research, you’re like, this is actually something that the… It’s run by the Mercers, right? Maybe you don’t want to be part of that. So, that’s a con for me for nonprofits.
TURNER: Definitely do your research on the mission that they have.
STARKEY: Not just what they say their mission is, but who’s behind it? For me it’s like, where does the money come from?
STARKEY: It’s all about following the money and what their actual goals are and what they’re trying to do. Another con for nonprofits is… This is another thing with nonprofits, they tend to pay less, they tend to overdo manual and capacity. I found that as our generation ages and is taking more management and leadership roles at nonprofits, that’s happening less and less, but my experience is still that that is still… They’ll try to screw you, right? They’ll try to undervalue and say, “Oh, well, it’s a nonprofit. We’re here for the mission.” I personally don’t care. You will pay me for my time and my skill, and if you can’t pay me for my time and my skill, then you do not get me and you do not get this work. But that’s a boundary we all have to set individually for ourselves, and some of us don’t have the luxury of doing that when you just need work. So, it’s a balance too.
TURNER: Okay, but you would say… Would you say benefits are good in the nonprofit world, even if—
STARKEY: This all depends.
TURNER: Okay, yeah.
STARKEY: This all depends. Some nonprofits do try to make up in terms of saying, “Oh, we’ll give you lots of vacation time,” or, “We’ll do this and that,” but they’re all different. I mean, especially if they’re small. They’re genuinely constrained by what’s available to them. If they don’t have many employees it’s very difficult for them to get the next tier of benefits available to you. They often can’t match you or do retirement. This is the first job I’ve had that does retirement, and they don’t match. So, there’s things you’re missing out on sometimes when you’re there. It’s important to look… Especially if you’ve spent X number of years in grad school, not only not saving for your future, but actively increasing your debt.
TURNER: Of course. What are your hours like?
STARKEY: I say 9:00 to 5:00, but for me, 10:30 to 6:30. I don’t know. As director, I set my own within reason, which is another thing that appealed to me about nonprofits, sort of… It’s generally not an urgent type of place. They’re flexible in hours if they’re a good workspace, and for me, that’s actually what I really wanted in a job. I didn’t want to be doing something in academia where you are burning the midnight oil all the time. Pay me for the time that I’m here, and then I’m gone.
TURNER: Got it.
STARKEY: I don’t generally do work after hours. I don’t check my email after hours, I don’t do weekends. It has to be a serious emergency, and those emergencies need to be few and far between.
TURNER: All right, good. So, definitely boundaries is something we’ve heard a lot.
TURNER: Set your boundaries with all work environments.
STARKEY: Boundaries. Yes.
TURNER: Good. Okay, so I am interested in how you got your research opportunity in graduate school. You said you found a position at an NYU lab for a project.
STARKEY: Yeah, so that was… I mean, I found it because it was advertised, so I didn’t hear from it through a personal connection, but I happen to have a connection to them, and the connection… I actually had a twofold connection to this person. One is in undergraduate I was an undergraduate research assistant, and that professor knew this person also, and then I worked for a another person who also worked with this professor. So, this was a professional connection, which I think definitely helped me get it, because this person was familiar with me. That said, this city is full of large universities that have these projects going on, and if you are looking for them you will find them, and they are often looking for people, and they don’t have to be people from their own university, necessarily.
Another thing people don’t know is that if a nonprofit like mine has an evaluation department, you could potentially be securing work there and using the data from them as well for your dissertation if they agreed and that’s something you want to do. Now, the danger in all of this is if something goes south and you don’t work there anymore, that’s not your data and you don’t get to take it and you lost your work. But you know, them’s the breaks.
TURNER: Interesting, yeah.
STARKEY: Yeah, so that’s how I got that position, and it was actually… It was huge for me. It was not something I ever thought I’d work in. It took me internationally. It got me into doing research in low-income and conflict-affected countries, which I didn’t set out to do, but loved and hope to get back into again one day. I’m accidentally domestic again. Yeah, so it was… In addition to letting me finish my dissertation, it really set me up well for future employment.
TURNER: Great. Okay. So, let’s talk about things that you might want to look out for in the workplaces when you’re trying to find the right fit. You’ve been to a few, so what should… What’s your advice to people looking at—
STARKEY: I’ve learned all of this the hard way. Like I said, first and foremost, figure out what that nonprofit’s trying to do. A second red flag I would look out for is how does that nonprofit hold the status of evaluation? There are many nonprofits that are… Nonprofits adapting evaluation is a late stage thing for them, because capacity to have an evaluator is more advanced in a nonprofit, and the order is usually like we didn’t have one, someone asked for it, the development person tried to do it, they couldn’t, they got an outside person, it was okay. Then they got a manager under the development person, but the capacity still wasn’t there. Then they get an evaluation for it.
If you are looking for an evaluation leadership position in a nonprofit, it should be a director position and not a manager position, under someone who is not an evaluator. I say that for two reasons. One is how much you’re empowered to do your job and what you’re empowered to do it for. So, a big red flag to look out for is does this nonprofit only want an evaluator to say good things about them in outward-facing reports, and then do they subsequently then not care about using that to take an honest look at themselves and improve their programs? If that is the case, you’re going to have a bad time, because you’re going to have a lot of trouble. First of all, they’re going to have a problem with you, because chances are their program’s probably not that good if that’s how they’re looking at things, and then you’re not going to be able to find great things for them, and they’re going to blame you. It’s a real shoot-the-messenger scenario.
And then you’ll be frustrated because your work isn’t being used the way it should be. So, that’s a red flag. Is evaluation empowered is a separate department that’s held on par with other departments like programs. Another red flag is look at their 990s and look at what their finances are and what their operating capacity is, and look at what their top leadership makes that they report on there. If they are making something that is wildly out of proportion for what they’re bringing in, then chances are they’re not spending money wisely and there might be some corruption going on. Glassdoor is the greatest resource of our generation, the greatest resource of our generation. Read those Glassdoor reviews. Read them, read them, read them. Every single one, all the way through.
TURNER: You found them to be accurate?
STARKEY: I have not only found them to be accurate, but weaponize them against employers that I disliked. I’m so glad it exists now, and we’re so lucky that they exist now. Look for high turnover. Look for those kinds of things. There’s websites. What does their website look like? Is it impossible to figure out what they actually do from their website? Huge red flags, because that means their stuff might not be together, right? They might have a ton of mission drift. They might just be doing projects to launder money to friends, basically, is what you’ll see happen in a lot of things. Who are their main funders? Who’s funding it? Is it coming from someone whose politics you don’t agree with? There’s a lot of research and public research you can do when you’re looking at places to apply to.
TURNER: All right, definitely good tips. So, how do you know if you want to be into evaluation? What do you think… What characteristics of a graduate student might lead you to evaluation?
STARKEY: You have to be a huge nerd, which if you’re an evaluator, you already are. I think for me… You have to have a real interest in both big picture fit thinking and details, and you have to have a real interest in bridging the gap between doing evaluation and doing research and communicating that to people so they can actually use that. So, in grad school we’re trained in a very academic way. We’re trained to show all the work and make sure you can get this in a peer review journal, and blah, blah, blah. No one cares. In the nonprofit world, no one cares. They don’t care what your sample size was, they don’t care what type of statistic you used. They want to know the bottom line, what did you find out, and then, if they have questions later, they’ll ask you what they were, and you should be prepared to answer them. You should make sure the work is done really well on the background, but they don’t actually care about all the details we’ve been taught to care about, right?
STARKEY: So, the most important thing is that you are a communicator, that you are explaining your findings to people, and that you’re able to bridge those gaps for these different audiences so that it’s meaningful and that it’s useful for them. It’s the what’s the bottom line question all the time. What’s the take-home thing?
TURNER: How do you practice that kind of skill?
STARKEY: I’m constantly practicing it. I practice it literally every day. I sometimes literally write down, “I used these words today, and I didn’t think they worked well, and I’m going to use these words tomorrow.” I mean, it’s down to… You know.
STARKEY: It’s just constant practicing. It helps to learn from people who are already doing it. It helps to look at what other people are doing. I constantly just pretend I’m not me. I just look at and I go, if I had no idea what… I’m not used to reading pie charts. I don’t know what statistical significance really means. Does this make sense to me? I learn from the questions people ask me, common questions. Over time it’s like, I’m sorry, I don’t understand this Y-axis, or I’m going to start labeling it a little differently. Oh, these colors don’t really… You have to really be interested in a bunch of stuff. Graphic design. Weirdly incredibly important. Insanely important. You’d think it shouldn’t be, it is. The visual communication of what we do is so important for bottom line, and that’s something I’ve started dabbling in a lot, actually, to get that to come across.
TURNER: Are you often making presentations for your audiences?
STARKEY: Yes, all the time. Yeah, I get good at that. PowerPoints, good PowerPoints, be good at PowerPoint. Make engaging PowerPoints. You’re entertaining. It’s putting on a song and a dance, honestly. It really is. It’s not writing paragraphs. The fewer words, the better. Here in grad school you learn all about making… Use more words. Use the big words. Say ontology. No one wants to hear those words. I used the word Sisyphean in an email once, and I was mocked for weeks. No one wants to hear that, right? They want the pictures and the arrows and the animations, and then you to tell them and walk them through it.
STARKEY: So, that’s the expectation. Work on your graphic design stuff.
TURNER: Cool. Okay. So, job interviews and applications, resumes, cover letters. Do you have any tips for those?
STARKEY: The biggest thing I’ve learned is tell them why they need you. The thing with evaluations specifically is when a nonprofit is ready to hire an evaluator, have an evaluator, they typically have this idea that their only purpose is to show good things happening. When you get in there to that interview, if you can tell them, “Yes, I can do that, but here’s also what I’m going to do for you, and what I’m going to do for you is I’m going to clarify your program model, because I can see on your website that no one can articulate what you actually do. I’m going to use that to figure out if you’re doing it well or not. I’m going to tell your program people how to do it better. We’re going to work with them on that. Then, when you have it better, then we’re going to actually show that you do things well.”
When you sit down and you tell people that, then they get really excited, because that’s not how they thought of it. They think you’re a nerd, get in the corner, crunch some numbers, and make us look good, and you show them that you are actually bringing a lot more to the table that is integrated into all of the departments. Programs, marketing. Then, that’s where your niche is. So, I get in there and I like to listen to their needs and what they have done and what they’ve got going, have done my research beforehand from what I can see, ask some questions, and then tell them how I work, because that’s part of establishing a boundary from the beginning.
I know with the interview for this place I said I don’t want to work for a place that doesn’t want to hear criticism from an evaluation. So, if you’re not serious about taking learnings from an evaluation and using it for program improvement, then I’m not the person for you. It’s important, I think, to establish that from the get-go, because honestly, some places don’t want to do that. So, it’s better to weed them out now for yourself.
TURNER: Yeah. This is really good advice. What are your coworkers like—other people working in nonprofit world? What do you see? Other PhDs, Masters students? Does everybody have a graduate degree, or we have practitioners?
STARKEY: In New York everyone’s so over-educated, so you know why… A lot of people have their Master’s degrees and are professionals in different fields. There is one other PhD where I work, but in a different field than mine. Everybody is an expert in their own field and in what they know, and for me, for example, coming into a music education background, I had an education background and I dabbled in viola is a kid in a real poorly, half-assed way. But I don’t know anything about the pedagogy music education. I don’t know that, not going to pretend to know that, and I’m going to do everything I can to learn on my own, but I’m going to defer that expertise to other people. Same with marketing. The best way to market… The best way to use statistics is in marketing and things, and what people will find appealing.
That’s their expertise, that’s marketing’s expertise. So, for me, it’s really satisfying, actually, to be able to lean on other people and to kind of integrate and collaborate that way, so then I learn so much from my colleagues all the time. It’s fascinating. I take whatever they learn and I just try to reflect that back to them, because ultimately, my role is I’m serving them. Evaluation is a support department. I am supporting their needs, so I need to learn what those needs are, and as much as possible about that.
TURNER: Great, okay. You’ve explained it really well. What’s a challenge that you faced in nonprofit evaluation?
STARKEY: One thing for sure is being a gatekeeper of ethics, actually. So, in academia there is a process, and it’s understood, and we all know what that is and how the IRB works. Again, in nonprofits, no one knows, and in some cases, they don’t care. So, it’s kind of a gray area sometimes, whether you need an IRB for the work you’re doing, and the general guideline is if this is going to be human subjects research for general knowledge, and IRBs typically define general knowledge as for a peer-reviewed paper, which you may or may not be working to in the future. For me, one thing I have found to be incredibly useful is yes, to have some large impact project that is or could be used for that, so it’s good to be going through an IRB process for everything anyway.
But there are many projects you will do that would not require an IRB, and unfortunately, because people are not familiar with ethics in research or evaluation, you’re going to be the gate holder for that, and you’re going to be asked to do things that probably you shouldn’t do that an IRB would not approve, necessarily, if you had to go through an IRB. So, for me, I found what a good thing to do is to make sure that if you are contracting an external IRB, if you’re working with schools, or some other institution, you’re going through their IRBs, you’re getting familiar with what their rules are, and what their regulations are, and then you’re just applying those rules and regulations to all of your work.
Whether you’re going through the IRB or not for a very specific project, just keep those rules and regulations, because they will have people… You will have a board member ask you something like, “Why can’t we make every single person mandatorily answer a survey?” Well, we know why that’s a bad idea, and they don’t know why that’s a bad idea. Sometimes they don’t care to hear why it’s a bad idea, and so the only thing they’ll hear is, “We’re not allowed to do it because of an IRB.” It is much easier to blame a regulatory body with what they perceive as completely wildly awful restrictions, bureaucracy, and it’s just like, that’s out of my hands.
TURNER: So, the IRB you usually deal with is the DOE?
STARKEY: I do two. I do the DOE’s IRB, because we work in public schools, and then I contract with an external IRB. The external IRB is much more lax. The institution’s IRB is going to have very specific rules, and the Department of Ed in New York City has very, very specific rules, although I have to say, I’ve not found any of them unreasonable.
TURNER: Nope, nope. I’ve done a couple myself.
STARKEY: Yeah. I mean, not taking kids out of their regular classes unless necessary, making sure teachers cannot… I mean, that’s actually a great example. They have a rule specifically that says the teachers cannot be administering this research, which is… If you were a good researcher, not something you would have them do anyway, but in terms of the time and logistics of data collection, it’s an appealing thing to do. Sometimes people aren’t going to want to hear about how it’s problematic in all these other ways and that it’s not good data and it’s not good practice. The only thing that they’ll hear is, “We’re not allowed to do it, we’re not allowed to do it.”
TURNER: Do you have any tips for finishing off the dissertation?
STARKEY: You need someone else’s data. You need to get it. If you didn’t already, I’m so sorry that you’re trying to do it on your own. I would not have finished in six years if I… I would not have finished in the completely average timeframe if I had not got hooked up with that project at NYU with somebody else’s data. Everyone I know who is taking longer to finish, it’s because they had to acquire data on their own, and that requires funding. If you are listening to this and you are a prospective student or an early student, my advice to you would be to really investigate the extent to which someone you want to work with has an active project that you will use that data for.
Another weird thing that happens in grad school is it’s like they do these interviews and they’re like, “Well, what do you want to study?” It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. Study what someone else is studying. Take their data. You’ll find a reason to be interested in it anyway, right? It’s not your ideal thing, whatever. I promise you that whatever your idea thing to study isn’t being funded right now or ever. Nobody’s funding our research. Just take somebody else’s data and do it. You’re going to learn what you need to learn from it, and when you’re done, no one cares what you’ve written ever, ever, ever, ever. I’m so sorry to break it to you. No one cares.
So, this idea that what you’re doing for your dissertation is your magnum opus and has to be this amazing reflection of your ideals in whatever, you got to… Be hooked up to somebody else’s data, make sure it’s a good project, a sustainable project, and use that for yours. Please be evaluated for ADHD. I didn’t figure out I had it until after I finished the dissertation.
TURNER: Oh, wow.
STARKEY: Would have been a lot easier if I had been medicated during it.
TURNER: Actually, this is really interesting. I have spoken to other graduate students who also had adult diagnoses of ADHD, and if you wanted to talk about it [crosstalk 00:28:06]…
STARKEY: I would love to talk about it.
TURNER: Especially when you’re so high achieving, you’re often overlooked for anything.
STARKEY: I think that’s the problem.
TURNER: Like, how can you have other need disability if you are such a high achieving scholar?
STARKEY: I went to a developmental psychologist. I know what ADHD was, and when my therapist said it to me, I was like, oh no, how did I miss that? I know what that is.
TURNER: So, let’s talk about what does that look like, and what services might you reach out to? What have you been using as a resource to help?
STARKEY: Well, I think there’s a couple confounding factors. One is a lot of us are female, and ADHD symptoms really manifest differently in us, where boys in grade school get recognized because they’re—
STARKEY: … externally disruptive and their grades are falling. Girls tend to keep it on the level. We’re in our seats, and our grades are pretty good, but we just weren’t paying attention. But somehow we’re maintaining. So, I think for me, it was overlooked that way, because I always had very good grades, and people just generally… They don’t really understand what ADHD is, honestly, and what that looks like. So, I also think that in PhD programs there’s probably a lot of us, because we are high achievers, and frankly, one component of ADHD, one symptom of is hyper focus, where you can’t stop focusing on something that really interests you, and guess what PhD students are doing? That’s all we’re doing. We’re hyper focusing on this thing that interests us. So, I have a sneaking suspicion that ADHD is actually really, really common in PhD students.
STARKEY: I just have a hypothesis.
TURNER: Well, you also have learned to compensate up until adulthood too, right?
STARKEY: Right, and if we’ve all made it to this level, we’ve all learned to compensate. We all have great non-medical coping mechanisms. The funny thing for me was actually… At this level, it’s like if I never pursued a PhD I never would have realized this, because my coping mechanisms were really just fine for everything I’ve been doing up until then, and it was actually a professor that I was working with kind of very gingerly approached me towards the end of my dissertation and was like, “I really want to support you, I just… I’ve noticed in the years of working with you these things about you, and I would encourage you to get your shit together.” I went to my therapist, and in one sentence my therapist was like, “Oh, have you ever been diagnosed with ADHD?” And I was like, “No. Oh, my God. Oh, this whole time.” Then, after the dissertation, got real prescription medication, without which I would not have been able to be working in my early career the way I am.
STARKEY: So, I’m better late than never situation. For me, the thing that was apparent is so much of the dissertation is working on stuff you don’t want to work on. The lit review, the constant review.
TURNER: You start to hate it.
STARKEY: You hate it, right, which is natural. But it was like I couldn’t even plow through stuff that should have been simple to plow through, and that’s a real ADHD thing. You hit your threshold early, and it’s like, all I have to do is make the page numbers right, and I’m sitting here for eight hours instead of actually doing the page numbers, because it doesn’t interest me. Apparently, normally, a lot of people can just make themselves do that. So, if you’re finding that you are maybe… Maybe just get evaluated if you feel like you’re struggling a lot, because I think it’s probably more common for us than people realize, and boy, would that have helped me out a lot.
TURNER: Wow. Thanks for sharing that. That’s really fascinating.
TURNER: Have any advice? Words of encouragement?
STARKEY: Words of encouragement? Do you have any advice? Know your worth. Know your worth. When you don’t know your worth, you make it hard for the rest of us. That’s my big thing. Know your worth for you, and also for me, because when I have to low ball myself because some other PhD’s undermining me by 20 grand… For example, do not take unpaid internships. Stop taking them. Don’t do work for free. Make them pay you. Know how much work it takes to do a study, including your actual hours from planning that study, collecting that data, getting IRB approval, cleaning that data, analyzing and writing up, because people think you can do a randomized control trial for $5,000, and they will make you do it if you do not put down that boundary.
So, learn how much time it takes and what that time is worth, and how much manpower you need to accomplish something, and then learn how to say no when someone cannot do that in a certain amount of money. It’s really know your boundaries and know your worth. Start demanding that we are paid for the experts that we are. When you leave academia you will be shocked at what a big fish you are in a small… It feels like everybody is so smart and such a genius and knows all these things here, and when you get out in the real world, you realize that you know more about this one thing that you studied than anybody else there, and that is valuable, and you should be paid for it.
TURNER: Great. Great.
STARKEY: So, demand that they pay for it. I don’t care if you’re a nonprofit.
TURNER: Great. That’s great advice. Okay, so Leighann, thank you so much for coming in.
STARKEY: Thank you for having me.
TURNER: It was great talking to you, and we’ll be in touch. Thanks.
STARKEY: Yeah. Bye.
TURNER: Thanks to Leighann for coming in and giving us lots of tips on working in the nonprofit sector. The Office of Career Planning & Professional Development can help you decide if nonprofit evaluation would be a good fit for you. Make an appointment to speak with one of our career advisors at cuny.is/careerplan. You can find the list of our upcoming events there, and also follow us on Twitter @CareerPlanGC. Thanks for listening.
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