Case Study: working as a cultural researcher

Gabriela Mejan completed her PhD in Visual Culture at King’s in 2013.  Here she writes about her experiences of finding work, what she did during her PhD, and gives some advice to people currently looking for help.

I applied for academic jobs for 2 consecutive years (this means hours and hours of searching, filling applications, asking for reference letters). I was not even shortlisted for one single interview (this means getting a rejection e-mail almost every week). I also applied for all the postdocs I could find. The last rejection letter arrived in July.

THE ALTERNATIVE During my PhD years I always worked as a free-lance contractor for agencies like Lindsell Marketing and Marketcast International. My duties were mostly analysing data, working on translation and producing digital content in both English and Spanish. This kind of job was compatible with my studies as it was super flexible, walking distance from King’s and it also helped pay my bills. It also proved useful for me to find a job at Mavens of London right after my viva. It was a good job and a lovely working environment but it was also a marketing-oriented role. And my main interest is cultural studies (rather than helping companies sell more detergent, if you see what I mean). So I did feel frustrated. That was why I kept on applying for academic jobs.

DIGITAL PRESENCE IS A MUST I have made sure I keep a healthy, ambitious, active and visible profile online across different networks, including LinkedIn. This was how I first heard of Space Doctors. The main reason why I became interested in their work was because they recruit highly qualified researchers to provide cultural insight studies. Then they may apply such studies to marketing strategies but I don’t get to be involved in that part.

NOT (REALLY) PAID BUT REALLY REWARDING ROLES I have also kept my ties with academia as a Visiting Research Fellow at SPLAS. I coordinated a symposium there just last month, the result was fantastic and a very relevant publisher in our field offered to publish a book based on our presentations. In addition in the past few months I have helped organise Museomix, a global creative marathon. The one in Mexico took place at the Palace of Fine Arts. Museomix is a collaborative-art experience very similar to Fun Palaces which takes place every year in the UK.

MY ADVICE Find a day job outside the academia which involves putting your knowledge to good use: a think thank, a cultural organisation in need of researchers, a digital content publisher. Keep your ties with the academia but don’t expect to make a living out of it. Be creative!!! This is the free-lance, digital era after all. You could suggest work to employers that they might not thought about.