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From PhD to Life

Transition update: Kimberley Yates, Veronica Rubio Vega and Rachel Mueller-Lust


Kimberley Yates (PhD, English) contributed to the Transition Q & A series in March 2013. Read her interview here. She was then associate director of the Jackman Humanities Institute at the University of Toronto.

Kim 13 Jan 2015

I am still employed as associate director, Jackman Humanities Institute, University of Toronto.  My job duties have developed into a greater focus on research and writing as the focus of the institute itself has developed. I have started a webpage for articles relevant to issues in higher education called Humanities in the News. I have been involved in a series of discussions on topics such as the future of graduate study, public humanities, and global humanities, and I hope to put the perspectives gained there to good use in researching and designing new programs and policies in the coming year.

Veronica Rubio Vega (ABD, political economy) contributed to the Transition Q & A series in June 2013. Read her interview here. She was then a part-time PhD candidate at the Balsillie School of International Affairs at Wilfrid Laurier University, and worked as a research analyst at RBC.


In May 2014, I was hired as a permanent employee at RBC, and in July 2014 I was promoted to a manager position at the Research Center of Excellence (CoE).

I just submitted a final copy of my dissertation and am now trying to schedule to oral defence. I’m planning to defend my PhD in early September. I’m also pregnant and excited to become a mom in late September.

During my maternity leave, I plan to conduct some academic activities such as trying to put together an article for a journal but my main focus will be on putting together a workshop for qualitative research outside academia for people at the MA and PhD levels at my school (the Balsillie School of International Affairs).

It has been two years since I started working for the private sector, so I thought I would share brief tips for PhDs/ABDs who are looking to transition into corporate research:

  • Define your mission and your approach. Do you want to have a  generalist, specialist or investigative focus? I started as a generalist at RBC and now I have a more specialized role (digital research advisor) but I still engage in generalist assignments. Financial services (FS) firms and consulting companies are often looking for people with these skillsets but you have to market yourself. Before I worked at RBC, during job interviews I tried to present myself as a generalist with policy governance, Latin America economics and HR experience.
  • As someone who was experienced in academic research, one of your main advantages is that you can get up to speed fairly quickly to offer effective and targeted insights, in the right context for any company, its clients and senior business partners. This is how you start “building your brand” for networking/job interviews.
  • You also have a broad knowledge base. Think about how you acquired it and how are you continuously developing it. For consulting and FS firms you will need to show examples of how you can develop strategic research, critical analysis and competitive insights.
  • What is strategy in the private sector? Or strategic research? In my experience, it is something that either drives business results or provides some sort of thought leadership. It is a process of connecting the dots between the secondary research you conduct and helping people in a firm to use some of that research in their projects. This research can be used as a solid foundation (background) or as something that makes them think outside the box. I still don’t like the word “strategy” very much but I try to work with it as needed.
  • Don’t be afraid to apply for research jobs even if you don’t meet all the criteria. And when looking for jobs, expand your search with keywords such as “competitive insights” “analytical skills” “business insights” “competitive intelligence” “business advisor” and “qualitative research.

Rachel Mueller-Lust (PhD, psychology) contributed to the Transition Q & A series in June 2013. You can read her interview here. She was then owner of Wondrance Weddings & Ceremonies.


Since I wrote my Q & A back in June of 2013, I have been building my wedding celebrant business with good success.  I continue to find two main strings to my work: writing and presenting.  As a celebrant so much of my time is spent writing an original wedding script for my couples.  Then on the wedding day, of course, I give a big and important presentation—the ceremony.  In academia, I wrote papers and gave lectures.  In corporate America I wrote papers for conferences, gave presentations and sales pitches all the time.  I love both aspects of my work and was trained well in my PhD program for those two responsibilities.  The couple’s coaching part of my celebrant business has not really taken off but I have had a number of more traditional life coaching clients who knew me from my corporate work years.  I launched my new website for coaching at the start of this year and still have my wedding website, Wondrance.

Jennifer Polk
Jennifer Polk is a career coach and entrepreneur. She earned her PhD in history from the University of Toronto in 2012. For more information and resources, check out her website:
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  1. Eric / December 12, 2017 at 15:17

    Great article!