Skip navigation
From PhD to Life

What’s it like to work beyond the professoriate? Part 2

Learn more about various office designs, potential meeting frequency, whether electronics are provided, as well as how much travel could be involved in a non-academic workplace.


In part 2 of this series on workplace norms and culture outside academia, our PhDs answer questions about the workplace environment. Read part 1 of this series here.

  • Raj Dhiman, PhD (chemistry, University of Toronto), is an inside sales manager (small business) at Rogers Communication.
  • Monica A. Evans, PhD (educational policy, Michigan State University), is a workforce analyst at the U.S. department of labor.
  • Niem Huynh, PhD (geography, Wilfrid Laurier University), is manager of graduate student recruitment at Concordia University.
  • Brad King, PhD (history, University of Toronto), is a vice president (organization and strategy, museum learning) at Lord Cultural Resources.
  • Rachel Leventhal-Weiner, PhD (sociology, University of Connecticut) is the data engagement specialist at the Connecticut Data Collaborative.
  • Josh Magsam, PhD (English, University of Oregon), is director of community success at

How much of your day is spent in meetings? Is it an open office? Will I have a desk?

Raj: I worked in an open concept office and had desk space for myself. It’s hard to estimate how much of your day is spent in meetings because the job can be very dynamic. You can safely bet that you will have a Monday morning meeting as well as a one-hour individual meeting with your manager every week.

Monica: Some workplaces have offices. Currently, I’m in a cubicle, as is my manager. But at my previous agency, I had my own office. I’m in meetings a lot…most of them are productive, but there are the occasional times when I wonder why I’m there. I love teleconference meetings, because I get to multitask if I need to.

Niem: I’ve worked in positions where the space was open, as well as in a closed office. I always have a desk and necessary technology to complete my tasks. There are benefits to both office configurations. The amount of time in meetings varies throughout the work week and depends on your responsibilities. At one position where I coordinated a group research project, we had weekly and bi-monthly meetings. In another role where I met with students, meetings with them occurred daily.

Brad: It varies – a day rarely goes by without a meeting, and some days have more than others. But there is usually plenty of time to work on reports, do research, etc. Our office is a mix of private offices (senior staff and executives) and an open office. Everyone has a desk.

Rachel: Our organization rents space in an office suite so I have a cubicle (it’s a little depressing). My days vary in terms of how much time I spend in meetings, though. I often have a quiet week followed by a week of meetings or workshops that I lead.

Josh: We do have an open office, although companies are starting to back away from this model. On an average day, I can spend 40 to 50 percent of my time in meetings – a lot of these are collaborative sessions, 1:1 feedback dialogue with my direct reports, or check-ins with international team members. I have a desk (adjustable, stand or sit), but our office is a mix of shared work space at long tables, or folks working from a sofa, chair, or kitchen area as they prefer. Everyone has plenty of elbow room.

Do you use your own computer? Can you use business computers/phones for personal use? What about email?

Raj: Laptops are provided. Use common sense/judgement when thinking about using company materials for personal matters; would you want your boss to see what you have on your Instagram account?

Monica: I have a government-issued laptop. I rarely use it for personal tasks.

Niem: In my experience, if your work requires specific instruments (e.g. computer) for your work in the office, these have been provided. The use of company-paid resources for personal use is a grey zone and you should check on what is acceptable in your office.

Brad: No, these are supplied by the company. But yes, they can be used for personal tasks, within reasonable limits.

Rachel: Our organization uses Google Suite products so our email is through Gmail and we use Google Drive extensively. I have a computer that’s been issued to me (and it’s better than my personal laptop). I try and use it exclusively for business but I check personal email and, periodically, I’ll download things to print at work.

Josh: My company supplies a laptop and includes a monthly stipend to cover part of my cell phone bill. Email is also through my company.

Team or solo work? What does collaboration look like in your workplace?

Raj: You will work within a team to hit an overall target and you’re responsible for your own individual target. Thus, you need to balance out your solo efforts and working with the other members of your sales team.

Monica: I collaborate with people in my work unit, and across my agency and other agencies frequently. There are lots of interagency workgroups. Collaboration is really important in the government.

Niem: I currently work in a hybrid situation, where there’s work that’s independent (e.g. planning) and collaborative (e.g. meet with stakeholders). The balance is actually wonderful. Collaboration may include brainstorming with colleagues, consulting with stakeholders, or putting together a message for dissemination.

Brad: A combination, with an emphasis on teamwork.

Rachel: In my position, I have teamwork and solo work. In past organizations, I have had the same kind of arrangement – some work is in collaboration with colleagues. Often, though, I work on my own, creating content for workshops, doing communications work and writing development materials. This will vary from place to place and it is important to ask how that arrangement will work when you interview for a job.

Josh: Our focus is on teams. Planning, strategy, review, check-ins – everyone is involved in teamwork on a daily basis, even if solo tasks are assigned out of those sessions.

Do you travel? How is that decided? Who arranges it? Do you get paid overtime/compensated?

Raj: My position is an inside sales role, thus there is no travel needed. The commission you are eligible to make constitutes the earnings available to you regardless of the number of hours worked: pay reflects performance!

Monica: I don’t travel much, but there are positions where site visits are done quite frequently. Agencies usually have travel offices that can assist staff with arranging their travel.

Niem: In all of my positions there’s been some level of travel related to the job. This might be to give presentations or be an exhibitor at a fair or conference. I organize my own schedule and hotel, following the rules of the organization (e.g. per diem for hotel, using a specific airline, etc). Overtime is usually recognized and this varies from employer to employer. This could be taking time off after the work trip or accumulating the overtime for use later.

Brad: Yes. Staff travel is determined on a case-by-case basis, with senior staff tending to travel more (since clients are paying for senior level experience) but junior staff travel occasionally as well. We usually arrange our own travel. Overtime is paid for staff below the senior consultant level; there is an option to take compensatory time off (with supervisor approval).

Rachel: My job involves periodic local travel and once or twice annual out-of-state travel. I always have the schedule in advance and am allowed to take “comp” time if I’m working many late nights or weekends. My in-state travel is up to me – I make the workshop schedule and arrange my own travel. I also arrange my out-of-state travel. We have a credit card for our organization so often big travel purchases can be made using that card. Depending on the size of the organization or the financial security of the organization, you may be asked to outlay costs for travel and be reimbursed. More often, though, the organization should understand if you are not comfortable with that arrangement.

Josh: I do travel, both abroad and locally. As a member of our company leadership team with a solid number of team members in other countries, I generally get at least one check-in session with our largest international team every year. I also travel to planning sessions at retreats, as well as self-selected conferences. For company travel and planning, I get all expenses covered, including a very healthy per diem. I decide when I need to visit another office or set up planning, and coordinate that with our office administration. We get paid for the days we are traveling – one day to fly to Europe and one day to fly back, for example.

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:
Post a comment
University Affairs moderates all comments according to the following guidelines. If approved, comments generally appear within one business day. We may republish particularly insightful remarks in our print edition or elsewhere.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *