Laura Buffardi: My Career Change

Laura BuffardiIndustry Change: Education >> Education
Role Change: Research/Academia >> Consultant

See Laura’s complete Careerosity profile

1) What do you do now, and what did you do before?
I am a graduate school admissions consultant. I help candidates prepare the best possible applications to masters and doctoral programs in psychology and related fields.

Formerly, I was an academic, specifically a social psychology researcher. I conducted and published studies that focused on personality and Internet psychology with an emphasis on social media behavior.

2) So, why the change?
In research, it takes a good deal of time to see the results of your hard work – and results, in the end, are not guaranteed. Researchers measure their output using number of publications and/or number of conference presentations. It is not unusual to collect data on a research project for years, spend months drafting and redrafting a manuscript describing the method and results, wait additional months for a response from a peer-reviewed publication and, then, after all that time and effort, receive a big fat letter of rejection in your inbox. Then you face the task of once again revising your work, submitting it to a different publication outlet, waiting and hoping for better news this time.

For many researchers, the process of research and publishing is an invigorating challenge – they thrive on it and love it. After a number of years, and even with success in publishing, however, I felt downtrodden. I knew it wasn’t something I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

Simultaneously, I felt I acquired a lot of valuable skills throughout the course of completing my Ph.D. I believe there are many skills that I could have built a consulting business on, but I chose to focus on mentoring students. I found mentoring undergraduates both in research and graduate admissions rewarding over 7 years in graduate school and as a post-doc. It was something I wanted to continue.

Finally, I also knew I wanted to be – and could be – independent in my work. Both my mom and brother are entrepreneurs and their influence was helpful in gaining confidence and ability in my new career.

3) How did you pitch yourself to the desired industry/role? What worked well? In hindsight, what would you have done differently?
As a consultant, those that I mostly have to pitch myself to are potential clients. I pitch my services in three ways:

First, I use social media – I blog, I tweet, I’m on Pinterest. Shortly before completing my Ph.D., I read Gary Vaynerchuk’s social media book, Crush It!. He enthusiastically describes how to monetize your passion using social media. This message rang true with me – I believe we have an incredible resource now in social media to share our knowledge, our passion and build a following with relative ease. Offering unique expertise, at first for free, to social media followers can lead to numerous opportunities for promoting services, selling products, or even finding a job.

Second, I strive to be approachable. When I was observed teaching college classes during grad school, I was told that one of my strengths as an instructor was that the students appeared to feel particularly comfortable approaching me. I view this trait as extremely important to success in consulting and mentoring. Thus, I try to utilize it to its fullest in my communications with current and potential clients.

Third, I charge modest fees. I understand first-hand what it’s like to be a student and that the territory comes with the limitations of student finances.At this point in my career shift, I don’t know what I would do differently. I’m happy with how it has progressed, but I’m still learning a lot and think I am still mid-shift in some ways. I don’t feel that I have developed a true sense of hindsight yet.

4) What was the most valuable thing you did in preparation for the new industry/role?
About a year before I shifted careers, I began writing a blog, Grad School Guru, for Psychology Today with the principles of Crush It! in mind. In posts, I address topics that are pertinent to those who are in the process of applying to graduate school in psychology and to those who are considering it in the future. For example, my posts cover topics such as news and current events affecting admissions, deciding which program is right for you, and tips on preparing for interviews.Blogging was a great way to get my name and knowledge out there to a captive audience. It also helped me to solidify ideas and advice in my own mind. Slowly potential clients found and contacted me through my blog. Later, other authority sites in the area of grad school admissions also contacted me for interviews or guest pieces. This was helpful for additional exposure and, again, it demonstrates the power of social media.

5) What other advice or insight do you have for readers seeking the same career transition?
For academics who are thinking of becoming consultants, first off, know that having a Ph.D. is a great platform for starting a consulting business – you have a wealth of teaching, research, management, grant writing and probably also other skills! You have also developed an area of expertise that you are intimately familiar with. Think creatively and flexibly about those skills and that knowledge-base. Then slowly start to show potential clients what you’ve got to offer – either through a blog, your publications, presentations, guest speaking, Twitter, etc.

See Laura’s complete Careerosity profile and thank her for sharing!

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