Are you a Duke Ph.D. student in humanities or humanistic social sciences, considering a career beyond academia? Take a look at the career paths of a few of our humanities Ph.D. alumni. To learn more or to communicate directly with them, click their names to see their profiles in the Duke Alumni Network. All the alumni on this page have given their permission to be contacted by current students and recent graduates, and they look forward to helping you with your career exploration. Be sure to see our tips on reaching out to alumni.
Ph.D.’94 French Literature
Senior Principal Engineer, Intel
Maria Bezaitis leads the Market Pathfinding team on Intel’s Next Generation Standards Group. Her team is responsible for identifying key shifts in the social and ecosystem landscapes as a basis for new business models and technologies in an era of ubiquitous connectivity, smart devices and networks. Maria’s own research has focused on the changing nature of the smart technology landscape and the rise of technologies that augment human skill. Maria started her post-academic career at E-Lab, a firm that pioneered the use of ethnography and design planning for product development, where she became Managing Partner. Before coming to Intel, she was a Vice President at Sapient and co-led its global Experience Research organization, the first of its kind in the technology industry. Maria is the president of the Ethnographic Praxis in Industry Conference. She is married, lives in Portland, and is the mother of two boys, Theodore and Lucas, ages 14 and 11.
Talk with Maria about
- Careers in tech
- Translational value of the humanities
- Transitioning out of academia
Senior Director, Schaffer&Combs
Deborah Chay began her career on the English faculties of Dartmouth College and the Johns Hopkins University, then spent over a dozen years building, managing and supporting comprehensive development programs for major non-profits including Duke University, Yale University, American University of Beirut, and New York’s Japan Society. Her expertise includes strategic planning and implementation, fundraising and philanthropy, leadership and board development, and impact assessment. Deborah is a past fellow with Harvard University’s W.E.B. DuBois Institute for African and African-American Research, and with the Criterion Institute, a leader in the gender lens investment movement. She is a founding board member of Custom Collaborative, a NYC-based non-profit that trains and creates pathways for low- and no-income women to launch businesses and achieve living wage careers in the apparel industry; and of Scalawag, a journalism non-profit that seeks to create an inclusive platform for political transformation in the American South.
Talk with Deborah about
- The social impact sector
- Fundraising and philanthropy
- Leaving the academy
Ph.D.’13 English and Francophone Studies
National Project Leader & Research Data Specialist at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL)
After receiving her Ph.D. from Duke, Aude Diede joined the team of the Research and Right to Development Division of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights based in Geneva. Thereafter, Aude worked with the United Nations University in Tokyo, and Terre des hommes, the leading Swiss child relief agency.
Since 2014, Aude is a project leader at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL). In close collaboration with her colleagues, she leads the personalized data management plan (DMP) support service at the Rolex Learning Center, which is the first such tailored support service created in Switzerland. In addition, she offers workshops and trainings on how to optimize Research Data Management (RDM) to leaders and researchers within Switzerland and abroad.
On a national level, she is heading the first track of the Swiss national project dedicated to Data Life Cycle Management (DLCM), which offers RDM tailored tools, training and solutions.
Talk with Aude about
- Smoothly transitioning outside of academia
- Relocating internationally and working outside of the US
- Careers within higher education in Switzerland
- Developing leadership and professional skills across cultures and countries
Duke B.A.’05 English, Ph.D. English, University of Maryland College Park
Co-Founder @RocketBolt, Instructor at Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship
Aaron Dinin is a software engineer with a Ph.D. in English. Or maybe it’s the other way around. In either case, he’s co-founder of RocketBolt, a venture-backed technology company, and he teaches in Duke’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship initiative.
Talk with Aaron about
- Humanities and technology
- Non-traditional academic career paths
Ph.D. ‘01 Romance Studies
Senior Vice President, Practice Leader, Global Benefits at Lockton Companies
Nick develops and maintains comprehensive global employee benefits resources at Lockton Companies, an international insurance brokerage firm. He manages a team of research consultants who work with Lockton’s global offices to develop statutory and market practice information on employee benefits provisions around the world. His professional experience includes extensive international consulting and research work with multinational clients and managing affiliate relationships. Nick’s previous academic career includes two assistant professorships in French and Francophone studies, first at Bucknell University and subsequently at Macalester College. In his down time, he runs marathons, travels, and sometimes combines the two.
Talk with Nick about
- Transitioning from academia to the corporate world
- Insurance and human resources
- Research and writing outside the academy
- Thought leadership beyond your Ph.D. specialization
Senior Vice President, Head of Marketing & Communications at Jennison Associates, LLC
Jennifer Gilbert, Ph.D., is a senior vice president and the head of marketing and communications at Jennison Associates. She joined Jennison in October 2013. Before joining the firm, Jennifer spent 12 years at State Street Corporation, where she held various marketing, strategic project management, and information technology positions. Most recently, she served as director of global portfolio content and analytics in the global product and marketing department of State Street Global Advisors where she was responsible for global investment-related marketing content, sales support and marketing production including content management. Prior to this role, Jennifer directed multiple firm-wide strategic initiatives with global impact. In her career, Jennifer has developed a strong reputation as a “builder of functions” and “fixer of problems” and has applied that discipline to create solutions across a number of disparate areas.
Talk with Jennifer about
- How to translate your academic experience for non-academic workplaces
- Living/working in Boston or New York City
- Building a career in corporate environments
- Making the transition from academia to the for-profit workplace
Ph.D.’09 Cultural Anthropology
Senior Partner, Frontline Solutions
Frontline Solutions is a Black-owned consulting firm that serves the philanthropic and nonprofit sectors. It builds tools, models, and ventures that create far-reaching impact. Micah is a researcher and writer who helps Frontline understand how the social technologies of racism and patriarchy create inequitable American systems. He works with clients to design research processes, build strong organizational cultures, and evaluate impact. Micah led the development of Frontline’s seminal report “Why We Can’t Wait” and contributed to “Gender Norms: A Key to Improving Outcomes Among Young Latinas.” His work has positioned Frontline as a national thought leader on issues of race and gender.
Micah’s research is featured in the forthcoming book The Big Black Man Rules: Race, Manhood, and the Education of Black Boys. He also examined the connections between Zulu hip-hop, politics, and opportunity in Soweto, South Africa. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2004.
Talk with Micah about
- Impact of racism and patriarchy in America
- Leadership development
- Social justice efforts
- Durham, NC
Principal and Consultant, Career Path Writing Solutions
Heidi is a consultant, writer, editor, and workshop facilitator dedicated to helping individuals and businesses succeed when the stakes are high. She specializes in proactive career management. Prior to earning her Ph.D. at Duke, she worked in a factory for 5.5 years while working on her undergraduate and master’s degrees. Heidi combines her Research 1 education with her blue-collar work ethic to deliver superior results to clients.
Talk with Heidi about
- Starting and growing a consultancy
- Navigating career transitions
Principal, Catalpa Partners, LLC
Over nearly forty years, Tom has worked for and run non-profit organizations (which involved, among other things, raising a lot of money for those organizations), led regional conservation coalitions, and helped launch collaborations around issues from water to language revitalization. His dissertation became a book, and he’s co-written 2 others, one of which is on international development strategies. Tom spent the decade after graduate school at Duke thinking that he really should teach, but actively doing other things he liked. Unexpectedly, in his mid fifties he found himself teaching at Western Carolina University as the Sequoyah Distinguished Professor in Cherokee Studies. Afterwards, he opened a small consulting practice, Catalpa Partners LLC, specializing in cross-sector partnerships, advising, conflict resolution, and evaluation. Catalpa Partners is currently working on projects in social investment, economic development, and rural technology. Tom and his wife Jane and I live in Asheville, and they have four grown children.
Talk with Tom about
- Working in the non-profit sector
- Bridging the perceived gap between the humanities and professional cultures
- Key skills they don’t teach in grad school, but which you’ll need
- Working in rural areas
Director of Programs, National Coalition Against Censorship
Svetlana Mintcheva is director of programs at the National Coalition Against Censorship, an alliance of U.S. national organizations committed to protecting freedom of speech. She is the founding director of NCAC’s Arts Advocacy Program, the only U.S. national initiative devoted to the arts and free expression today. Dr. Mintcheva has written on emerging trends in censorship, organized public discussions and mobilized support for individual artists. She is the co-editor of Censoring Culture: Contemporary Threats to Free Expression (New Press, 2006) and of Curating Under Pressure: International Perspectives on Negotiating Conflict and Upholding Integrity (Routledge, 2019 forthcoming). An academic as well as an activist, Dr. Mintcheva has taught literature and critical theory at the University of Sofia, Bulgaria and at Duke University, NC from which she received her Ph.D. in critical theory in 1999, as well as New York University. Her current research focuses on ethics and self-censorship within art institutions.
Talk with Svetlana about
- Continued academic engagement
Retired, former Disney executive
Since leaving Duke, Jack Murnighan has worn many hats: online magazine editor, book author, creative-writing professor, executive at Disney Interactive (specializing in content, analytics, strategy and operations), and now retiree.
Though Jack’s Ph.D. conferred symbolic cachet, he doesn’t think it was necessary — or particularly helpful — in landing or performing any of the above (the professorship was a function of having published a few books, not having an academic Ph.D.). Jack also stresses how unforeseen each job was. He had no intention of ever being an editor or a writer, much less a professor of creative writing, nor any premonition of running an analytics team and various business enterprises for a division like Disney Interactive. His message: You don’t need to plan your future, you should just walk through what seems to be the best available door at any given time. What doors that will lead to, you can’t anticipate.
Talk with Jack about
- The freelancer’s life and work: unexpected challenges, scheduling, etc.
- Managing other people when you’re used to being the star
- Analytics/data and business strategy
- Early retirement
Director of Constituent Research, Higher Education, Huron Consulting Group
Joselyn Zivin is a higher education consulting leader specializing in market alignment for universities and professional schools. She offers multi-perspective expertise drawn from roles as cabinet-level university administrator, full-time faculty member, and senior consultant to 100-plus academic institutions on a wide range of strategic issues. She has demonstrated leadership in all dimensions of strategic market planning including market research, product development, brand positioning, performance and revenue enhancement. Her specializations include higher education, strategy, enrollment marketing, branding and identity, marketing strategy, market research and analytics, non-profit sector, and strategic planning.
Talk with Joselyn about
- Effective repositioning for careers beyond academia
- Higher education industry needs and trends
- Leadership and management skill development