PhD and Project Management - a Natural Career Fit?

I had always wanted to be an academic and to have the title of Doctor, read Latin and ancient Greek, and spout erudite sound bites out of thin air. But with my father and partner both in the military, I was often in locations where there were no universities. My studies were done part-time at a distance and online for the most part while I worked full time. I choose an applied doctoral program designed for working professionals. Upon graduation, I was working as a Senior Program Manager for a large telecommunications company handling large, complex, and highly interesting programs.

At that time, I believed that the company did not value my education – they wanted me to continue to do the work I had always done, and so I left the company. After writing for a few months and unsuccessfully applying for teaching positions, a project management position came open at the local university. This was my way in (or so I thought)! I loved the atmosphere and volunteered where I could; I applied for teaching positions and spoke with instructors. In most cases, the advice I received was to teach continuing education classes once or twice a year and build up my experience to eventually get a part-time position.

For me, it was a pivotal moment. I was already a respected professional doing a job that I loved – project management – and making a respectable salary. Why would I start from scratch as an academic?

Once I made the psychological adjustment from wanting to be an academic to acknowledging that I was a project manager with an advanced degree, magic happened. My job got even more fun! I was offered more challenging projects that required me to dig deep into both my academic and business background. I came to realize that even at the telecommunications company, I had been growing and using my new academic persona in areas such as diversity and inclusiveness.

Today, I work on projects to improve pedagogy, learning spaces, and learning technology; to create strategy for the university; to oversee construction initiatives that impact pedagogy; and other projects. I still have the opportunity to write, attend and present at conferences, and collaborate with professionals and academics. I am able to combine what I know of theory and practice in business, academia, indigenization, information technology, and project management to work in a job I love. I am continuously challenged by new types of projects.

I’ve come to realize that I am passionate about project management and I always suggest to students and business professionals that they consider going into project management as a career. Grad students and PhDs can easily transition into project management no matter what the specialization as they often use project management techniques and principles during their years of study and research. I know that my doctoral supervisor was taken aback when presented with a full Gantt chart for my research plan! But more than that, project managers are detailed oriented, good communicators, data and results driven, and can bring a project to a close – a good description of a grad student or PhD. For those individuals interested in project management as a career, I recommend starting with a bit of research (projectmanagement.com or PMI.org) to learn more, and then doing research in a field you are interested in such as STEM or archaeology. Most project managers are more than happy to talk about their role, so don’t hesitate to reach out and ask questions.

Nicolle Bourget headshot

Nicolle Bourget, PhD, earned her DSocSci (Doctor of Social Sciences) in communications and indigenous studies from Royal Roads University. She’s currently a project manager at University of the Fraser Valley.

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