Ann Marie Russell *12 is the Associate Provost for Data and Analytics at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. She earned a Ph.D. in Psychology and Social Policy.
"My work consists of conducting research in support of university or institutional goals, or conducting what is called “institutional research.”
The most valuable and — quite frankly — profitable skill set I acquired in graduate school is easily data management and analysis. Not just statistical analysis, but a general comfort and facility with making sense of large sets of data. This is the direction that society is heading in and I would encourage all graduate students to try to get some exposure to it. If you don’t consider yourself to be a math or a numbers person, you’re in good company because neither do I — or most people — I have found. But, I absolutely adore analyzing data because it’s about investigating relationships between variables or factors. It’s a quantitative way of getting at qualitative questions of interest.
My inspiration for pursuing this work was actually primarily driven by my experiences at Princeton. I had entered the psychology and social policy Ph.D. program with the intention of conducting research that would make a direct impact on issues of social justice. However, over the course of my time there I fell out of love with basic research and the academic track as a mechanism to this end. Perhaps it’s my working-class roots, but I really felt a need to do work that had more immediate and tangible results than I felt basic research could ever produce. But then, like many graduate students, once I’d turned away from pursuing an academic career, I didn’t know where to turn next.
When I was in graduate school, it felt like we had two choices: an academic career or failure. The thought of voluntarily pursuing a non-academic career felt sacrilegious. Now I laugh about that culture and mentality. There are many paths to success and fulfillment, and academia is far from the only course to those outcomes. And I have to tell you that not only am I happier than I ever would have been on the academic track, I also don’t have an iota of regret about leaving it. It was the right decision for me, and it’s important that you choose the right path for you.
Having said that, I think it’s important to say that most people struggle with feeling lost and overwhelmed in graduate school. It pushes you to your limits and is simply the nature of the beast. What got me through it was finding allies — graduate students from marginalized backgrounds in other programs, as well as individual faculty and administrators who truly understood and affirmed what I was experiencing. They were my lifeline — they kept my head above water and gave me the energy and the strength I needed to persevere.
Graduate school is just the beginning of your story. All of the students who I saw struggling to make it in graduate school have gone on to have successful careers both outside and inside academia. Did you hear me? All. Once you’ve gotten that credential in your hand, it only gets better."