Prelude to a Career
It’s been two months since I’ve last blogged! In the time since SMPC, I’ve done a fair bit of traveling and officially closed the graduate student chapter in my life. Most importantly, I ended up going back for my Ph.D. graduation back in Baton Rouge. I know a lot of people don’t walk and see graduation as kind of just another prom or wedding industry (it is, don’t get me wrong), but given that I have spent the majority of my 20s pursuing higher education, I wanted to fully experience the ritual that was its ending. I do not regret going at all. Below is a picture of me and the dedicatees of my dissertation.
It feels very good to be done. If you want to check out my dissertation (proof that I’m actually done) you can find it here and as I submit more “things” from it and post those pre-prints, I will blog more about it all.1
East Coast Living
Post graduation, I flew up to New York City for both business and leisure. SMPC was a great success, I gave a small talk at CogMIR, and also met with some of my music industry friends. I got a quick tour of the Pandora office in New York City from Steve Keller and also got to meet some of the people I’ve done a bit of work with at Veritonic in person.
In addition to work, I got to catch up with some old friends from BW I hadn’t seen in a few years and did a small weekend trip out of the city. I also got to enjoy what it’s like to not be experiencing constant sound. I even saw a bald eagle fly over a river while the sun was setting.
Since returning, I have been settling back into life in London. Most of this has basically meant trying to sort out what my future will look like which is no small task and I elaborate on a bit below.
I also took my fourth ever holiday (ever) of my adult life where the travel didn’t also include something having to do with music theory, music science, or data science. One of my best friends from Baldwin Wallace is currently the trumpet/guitar player for Kooza and the show was in Malaga for a couple of weeks so I went down to just sit on the beach and drink beer and watch people jump around on giant spinning wheels.
Going on that holiday made me realize I deeply, deeply regret not taking more breaks when I was a graduate student. My CV would have looked probably exactly the same, but I would have been far less depressed than I was most of the time.
My identity as a graduate student is now over. I know this because I now feel bad flexing my student ID card for discounts having changed a few of my titles from Mr. to Dr. on some forms (but never for a plane ride!).
So what’s next? I could just bullet point it out, but I guess most of the people that read my blog read it for the bigger picture and not just “the facts”.
That said, I think it’s important to tell people things don’t always go as planned.
I’m not starting that sweet tenure track academic position this year or have a giant flow chart to show you how many of those jobs I applied to. In reality, I didn’t even apply to that many jobs (20? 30?) compared to some of my peers (some of which literally have sent off over 150 cover letters). I didn’t get even a single phone interview for any permanent position. Maybe there was something just wrong with my application materials? Who knows. There’s always next time.
I did have some success and was offered a position that would have required immediate upheaval of my life (I was told moving back the start date was not possible) and required me to again go long distance with my current partner until she would basically just be pressured into following me for a temporary (though very nice) position. But the stars just were not aligned, it was difficult to pass on, I think about it a lot, and think that it’s worth mentioning to know that it’s OK to not always make the decision that is best for your “career”.
Career Diversity In Real Time
So… where to go from there?
Well the plan a few months ago was to try to do the freelance data thing part time (put those research chops to use!) while chipping away at Mount Datamore from my dissertation and getting that all published. This was going to work until my main freelance gig fell through, which I was pretty gutted about.
And not only from a professional standpoint, but financially as well. I had planned a whole summer of travel (Music Theory Midwest, up to Columbus, California for Music Theory Pedagogy, SMPC) to keep the career continuity going (I was accepted after all!?). Though the problem with having defended your dissertation and graduated is that no longer being in an academic position, you end up having to foot the bill yourself.
Having done the math at the start of summer, got all my flights out of major airports, not pay for any accommodation by staying with friends, not splurging too much, things were pricey, but I justified it as a professional treat to myself post grad school (hello, Stockholm syndrome!). But with the start of that freelance gig being moved back and back over and over again, it just ended up that I had to foot the bill to this myself (thank you, credit card!).
I could try to establish all the blame for this on January’s government shutdown since the gig was going to be through the US government, but really it’s just a hard life lesson learned. My pathological need to be accommodating and low valuation of what I am worth ($$$$) lead to me thinking things would just work out eventually. It was a mistake. In the future, if someone wants to hire you and offers you money, the best thing is to get it on paper and be put on some retainer or something. I’ll just blame it on not having taken any “Business for Music Theorists” classes.
So I could lament about this, or regret about passing on an earlier offer, but if I’ve learned anything in graduate school it’s that things just never work out as planned. And that’s OK. In many ways one of the best skills that I learned as a graduate student was how to let go and to occasionally take off the horse blinders. You never know when other opportunities will arise. And I think that’s important to say especially as someone who advocates for ways to celebrate career diversity.
Rereading these past few paragraphs, I also have a better understanding of why I have been feeling a bit blue the past few months. It has not been that fun in general. The pictures from this post are not randomly sampled. Maybe a future post can dig a bit deeper into some of the less nice feelings that come along with doing a Ph.D. that never really make it to my social media presence.
But this whole post isn’t supposed to be totally grim.
Reconstructing the Box
Of course I wasn’t a total fool when things started to not look so great in terms of future employment. When work started to smell funny, I reached out to the many people I’ve tried to make friends with the past few years2 and tried to find new ways to combine old skills. Some of this work came in the form of doing some projects in the world of audio branding and some came from combining my love of teaching with my love of R and doing some weekend teaching for a small data company here in London developing weekend courses that looked to teach people with no programming experience the basics of R over an 8 hour course.
Over the past few months, I also got better at skimming job boards (other than MTO) and I’d try to put in keywords like music and psychology and data science. Unsurprisingly the perfect Music Theory + Music Cognition + Data Science job didn’t seem to ever come up, but when I started to get a bit more creative, I started to think of other ways of what I learned in my Ph.D. could be put to good use.
If I just let go of music theory a bit in the name of opening up what might be available, I tried to think about what I had that might distinguish me from a typical data person and one thing that came to mind right away is how much experience I have had public speaking and teaching. This might seem totally obvious for most academics, but having now seen some others do the public speaking thing (sorry to have to put that in the negative) I felt a lot more… confident in my abilities.
So I started also adding teaching, education, and instruction to my searches. In some ways this really opened my imagination of what I thought might be possible.
One job that caught my eye was one as an instructor at a coding boot camp. I remember staring at it for a while before even pressing apply, but the more I thought about it, the more it kind of made sense. Over the past few years in graduate school I have sort of (un)knowingly been cultivating the skills required of most data scientists (and have done some data science side projects). Because of my work in computational musicology, I learned a decent amount of programming. Because of my work in music cognition, I have learned more that I ever thought I would about statistics and experimental design. And if there is anything that any music degree (especially a Theory degree) teaches you is the ability to just sit for hours on end and read something until you understand it (and whatever reading you have to read in order to understand what you are actually trying to read).
If you consider this skillset in tandem with experiences teaching both small labs (aural skills), large lectures (fundamentals of music theory), and my time as a teaching assistant for all the intermediate and multivariate statistics courses required of doctoral students in the psych department, everything kind of just made sense.
All of the requirements were there, I just had never thought about them in that way.
Although this wasn’t exactly the job I thought I’d be doing straight out of my Ph.D., it’s a great example of how some constellation of data can be explained by more than one generating system. I ended up applying for this job, had three official rounds of interviews (all of which my Ph.D. research prepared me for) and was offered a position! I’m now one of the Lead Instructors of Data Science at Flatiron School.
All that said, next Monday will be my first day in a few years not doing the stay-at-home-academic thing, but I’m quite excited reflecting on it all. I will get to be back in front of a classroom (which I love!), have a say in curricula development, dive deeper into programming3, machine learning, and have a much better understanding of it all since I will be teaching it. Not only that, but I’m also looking forward to making more connections with people which will in turn allow me to help others out in their career trajectory (students and peers) all while getting a first row seat to learn more about education in a non-academic setting. I’m pre-registering my prediction that I will have even more opinions in the coming months about the “purpose” of education.
Of course this does not mean that I will be abandoning all my research and “giving up on academia”.4 I love what I do and the questions I’ve been asking the past couple of years and am VERY excited to get all this work from my thesis published soon. I’ve got mountains of data and some three quarter baked manuscripts all scheduled for submission in the next few months.
All in all I just wanted to air out some more feelings for everyone to read. Blogging/writing really helps me fit a narrative to my life (especially with my current life that has been devoid of structure recently) and am really glad that anyone has gotten this far down in the post. I hope others find my sharing helpful.
I don’t want to give myself the satisfaction of writing a blog post about the work having not sent it off to a journal… though I probably should write a “WTF did I even just write blog post”…↩︎
The lizard people among us would call this “networking”↩︎
I’m finally going to be R and Python bilingual!!↩︎
I will seriously punch the next person that says I am “transitioning” “out” of academia.↩︎