From Journalism to Academia to Advertising to ...?
I worked as a journalist for six years, primarily writing about arts and culture. The last 18 months of that journalism career were spent on the arts beat in Prague, and they were fantastic. The main frustration with my writing that persisted, though, was increasing dissatisfaction with the constraints on my research and investigations of cultural issues imposed by quick deadlines and limited column inches. So, with a drive to dive deeper into the intersections of community and culture, I left journalism for graduate studies.
Seven years later, I found myself with a similar but 180-degree frustration. I’d earned an MA in Cinema Studies from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, and then kept going for a PhD in Media Studies from the University of Colorado Boulder. I’d loved spending months and even years getting to dig into my research topic of choice—the representations and ramifications of infertility and its treatment in popular culture.
I was proud of my journal publication and book chapter, and truly enjoyed the dissertation process. But I missed one of the key perks of my time in newspapers: seeing the results of my work out in the real world. I felt stymied by the lengthy publication process and the paywalls awaited the final result, particularly as someone analyzing contemporary pop culture works and their audiences. My research could do something out in the “real world.” I didn’t feel as effective as I wanted to be.
In talking this over with a friend in advertising, he encouraged me to look into his industry and how it employs research. It was a new world to me and, after a few meetings over coffee, I was interested in how to translate a background in academia to a position in advertising and marketing. Sometimes agencies call their researchers and strategists cultural anthropologists, sometimes insights drivers, often strategic planners. Not all (ok, far from all) agencies employ full-time strategists, and fewer are readily convinced to take a risk in bringing someone on who’s already had two careers in other professions but boasts no advertising industry expertise. Thankfully, PriceWeber in Louisville, KY took a chance on those as my features, not red flags, and I now serve as our Director of Research and Strategy.
The main trade-off of this career redirection has been not getting to choose my own research topics. I knew that in leaving academia, and it’s proven fine to me. I often miss being able to dig into what’s behind reproductive justice issues I see playing out on tabloid magazine covers, and I miss my colleagues and peers at SCMS and Celebrity Studies conferences, but on the flip side I’ve learned a lot more about hands-on audience research than ever before, and about industries and products my prior research never touched. I can bring new lenses of analysis to campaigns my colleagues develop, helping to make products I’m proud to see in the surrounding culture. I get to speak up for inclusivity and diversity in advertising—something I studied and critiqued prior, but now get to critique while helping create.
I left my first career to dig further into cultural studies. I left my second to be able to apply those studies more readily to my surrounding world. For me, life beyond the professoriate has proven a rewarding fit.
Brooke Edge earned her PhD in Media Studies from the University of Colorado Boulder. She’s currently Director of Research and Strategy at PriceWeber.
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