Maayan Dauber *15 (English) interviewed by Duygu Coskuntuna, GS (NES).
In the Trailblazers Beyond the Tenure Track series, current Princeton graduate students interview graduate alumni pursuing a range of careers beyond the tenure track. Collectively, these stories help graduate students develop a vision of the journey ahead by exploring the experiences of trailblazers who have gone before them.
I’m currently the Executive Director of the Eastern Region at American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic (it’s a mouthful!). Essentially, I’m in charge of fundraising on the east coast, midwest, and Canada from every sector of the philanthropic world: corporations, foundations, and individuals.
At Princeton, I did my PhD in English with a special focus on modernist novels. I wrote my dissertation, under the wonderful guidance of Maria DiBattista, on the way in which modernist novelists eschew the traditional structure of the novel, which was primarily centered on sympathy, in favor of one based on what I called pathos, an emotional experience centered on witnessing, rather than identification.
Laying the groundwork
The decision not to pursue an academic career happened slowly, after many conversations with family, friends, fellow graduate students, and mentors. At the time, in 2012-2014, the job market in English was particularly rough, and I saw a number of students senior to me struggling to find permanent positions. Others more savvy than I seized on some of the new academic frontiers in the field, like ecocriticism and the digital humanities, and found wonderful job opportunities. But for so many reasons, I wasn’t able to make that shift. At the same time, my life was becoming more and more centered in New York City, where not only were the jobs limited and highly competitive, but where I also started to engage more directly in the performing arts and began to see the possibility of a career beyond academia.
The moment that changed everything
After I made the decision definitively to leave academia, I relied heavily on Princeton’s resources, including the vast alumni network. I reached out to too many people to count, mostly in the non-profit sector. One woman, who had founded the education department at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) and was now running her own consulting firm to help non-profits launch fundraising campaigns, offered to meet me. When I got to her chic, downtown office, I was intimidated and she was pretty brutal in her assessment of my transferable skills and my ability, in her opinion, to get a job. She flatly said she wouldn’t hire me even as an intern. However, in the same breath, she offered to put me in touch with her former colleagues at BAM and suggested that I try to intern there for a few months, which is exactly what I did. It was a humbling three months. At 31, I was making $10/hr, which I was lucky to be able to manage financially. But from the beginning, I was given good work--lots of writing! In no time at all, I was promoted, and then a few months later I was promoted again. In the first two years there, I think I was promoted three times, until I was the Director of Major Gifts and Patron Programs, a job I really loved.
Life beyond academia
One of the delightful things about the working world is how regularly you can feel a sense of accomplishment. Of course the feeling has never quite matched what I felt when I passed my general exams or when I handed in my dissertation, but I also never have to wait as long. On a weekly or monthly basis I now feel like I’ve really done something--whether it’s securing a new gift, establishing a new partnership, or writing a grant proposal. I think the other notable difference for me is that as an academic, it was hard to take time off. And when I did, the guilt of not reading, writing, grading was always bearing down on me. It’s nice now that time off really feels like time off and weekends really feel like time away from work.
Best advice for graduate students
I wish I had been slightly more open to jobs beyond the academy earlier in my studies. Forming relationships outside of academia and learning about other careers is crucial to making the transition. There are so many resources now to help students with the transition from academia to the working world, and Princeton is a leader in this effort. Rely on the people who want to help there. Rely on the alumni network.
This interview has been edited for clarity. Read More Trailblazer Beyond the Tenure Track stories here!