Author: Graduate School at the University of South Carolina

Professional Journeys: Harley T. Davis

Professional Journeys: Harley T. Davis

Those in doctoral programs may find themselves with job opportunities both within or outside of academia. I have been lucky to have worked in both settings and can offer a few suggestions based on my experiences. These are not meant to be all encompassing or representative of all jobs, individuals, and degree programs.

  1. Government jobs may provide research opportunities.

The choice to pursue a doctoral degree often coincides with an interest in research, no matter what field of study. However, please do think that you have to be in academia to do research. There are many government jobs that deal with collection, analysis, and dissemination of both qualitative and quantitative data. While I know this may not be relevant to every degree program, all state and federal agencies collect data, and there is always the need for individuals to analyze the data and report on the findings. These data drive the decisions made and policies developed by governmental programs.

  1. Government jobs may offer more job security.

In academia, many positions for those with a PhD are tenure track, research, or clinical. While tenure track offers the most job security, that security is often dependent on your ability to apply for and obtain funding, as well as publish. Other positions are often funded by research grants, meaning the positions are time-limited and can end when funding ends.

While these differences may not be important to all job seekers, it was an issue for me. I had a research position for a grant that was up for renewal with a national funder. This meant there would be no money for staff from May-December. This also meant that I had to find another job in order to keep myself employed and with insurance benefits. Once I had a family, I felt strongly about not putting myself in a similar situation. A job in government offered me the benefits I needed, but also strong job security.

  1. Government jobs allow you to serve the public.

One of the biggest benefits of this is (potential) student loan forgiveness. However, I truly feel that I am a public servant. In my role, I help collect information that public health programs use to target health behaviors and health outcomes that affect the population of SC. It is both personally and professionally fulfilling.

  1. In summary, do not limit yourself.

In addition to academia and government, there are positions with private organizations, non-profits, etc. Where you envisioned yourself while in school should not limit your job search. Seek and apply for opportunities that you think will make you happy and grow professionally, no matter the organization.

Harley T. Davis is a two-time graduate alumna of the University of South Carolina. Dr. Davis received a master’s of science in public health in environmental health sciences in 2006 and a doctorate in epidemiology in 2015. She is currently the director of the Division of Surveillance in the Bureau of Health Improvement and Equity at the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.

This blog is part of our fall 2018 Professional Journeys series. Check back all week for new blog posts from graduate alumni. Don’t miss the Professional Journeys webinar on December 7, 2018. For more information and to register, go to

Questions? Comments? Ideas? Email


Professional Journeys: Naimah Bolaji

Professional Journeys: Naimah Bolaji

Mastering My Craft

During my five-year doctoral program in the department of bhemistry and biochemistry, a lot of my time was spent in the laboratory running experimental procedures over and over. It became clear to me that my path did not lie in the field of academic research. I truly enjoyed my training with my wonderful mentor, Dr. Wayne Outten. The relationships formed with my wonderful colleagues, and the joy I felt whenever I got publishable results. However, I loathed the lows that became associated with it coupled with the brutal hours I had to work (because cells are very finicky things).

After my dissertation defense and graduation, I had to re-strategize on building my career post graduate school. I knew I loved teaching – this was mandatory in the first year of my program but I loved it so much that I volunteered to teach over several semesters. I also knew that I enjoyed my field – biochemistry, so the goal was to figure a job that would allow me combine both interests.

As an international student, it was quite a challenge to secure employment due to the strict visa requirements for international students. Fortunately, I got a teaching position as an associate professor in a community college, which I liked. However, the desire to do just a bit more led me to securing another position as a toxicologist in a Fortune 500 Pharmaceutical company. My doctoral training was crucial in the development of my skills. The training equipped me with critical thinking, writing and problem-solving skills that are required for me to succeed at my current position.

I am very grateful for having started and finished the post-graduate degree at UofSC. I was warmly embraced into the folds by faculty and other students and I thoroughly enjoyed my experience. The degree also taught me that- in all things practice, preserve and someday you will be a master at your craft.

Naimah Bolaji received her doctorate from the department of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of South Carolina in 2017. She currently lives in Indianapolis and works as a data quality specialist in the toxicology department at Eli Lilly.

This blog is part of our fall 2018 Professional Journeys series. Check back all week for new blog posts from graduate alumni. Don’t miss the Professional Journeys webinar on December 7, 2018. For more information and to register, go to

Questions? Comments? Ideas? Email


Professional Journeys: Ajit Dhillon

Professional Journeys: Ajit Dhillon

The Expat Teacher

The crowd chanted “Majulah Singapura.” Fighter jets flew above, crisscrossing each other in an aerial display in front of Marina Bay Sands. The parade swelled. A few people openly wept, overwhelmed with joy. It was the 50th anniversary of Singapore’s independence, which also coincided with my first week working abroad one month after leaving Columbia.

I had entered UofSC’s MFA program without giving much thought to what would come after. I wanted to write. I wanted to learn how to write better. I wanted to focus in a space that helped legitimize the practice. Teaching, first as a TA, then as a first-year English Instructor were requirements, requirements that began with the trepidation and anxiety that only a group of twenty expectant freshman faces can induce. But soon, this source of obligation became much more and I began to seriously consider what a career in teaching might look like.

After graduating, I spent a year as an adjunct at UofSC. While I appreciated the job, the difficulties of the position became a reality—low wages, no healthcare, unpredictable teaching loads semester to semester. I searched for other prospects, including positions at other universities, but soon found that those posts, though widely advertised, offered little back in the way of response or mutual interest. To my good fortune, a friend and previous graduate of UofSC invited me to apply for a position at an international school in Singapore. That was four years ago and in that time, I’ve taught students from around the globe, travelled throughout Southeast Asia and beyond, and developed a sense of what post-MFA life can look like.

For those interested in pursuing teaching, I would offer this advice:

Take Advantage of Teaching

Use your teaching time to seriously think about if this is a career you’d like to pursue, especially in a secondary environment. Explore opportunities like Split P and summer teaching programs to gain experience working with younger students. Learn from your fellow instructors and from your pedagogy courses. Many of the techniques I learned at UofSC, especially in first-year English, I actively use in my classes today. If you can, teach beyond first-year English to gain additional experience. Instructing courses like Themes in American Literature, Intro to Creative Writing, Capstone Courses, and Business Writing enriched the scope of my teaching, putting me in a position to find a position by the time I was ready to move outside the walls.

Teaching and Living Abroad

There are opportunities around the world to teach. The demand for an internationally minded education has never been higher. While AP classes are viable, the IB (International Baccalaureate) Program is the most popular model for international schools. Most of these schools offer expat packages which should include moving expenses, housing allowances, and other perks like yearly flight allowances back home. The more open you are to teaching middle school and grades 9 and 10, the better your chances at finding a job. (Though I didn’t plan for it, a year after being an adjunct, I split my time between Grade 9 and Grade 6.) Anything you can do to increase your teaching experience, including pursuing certification, though not a necessity, will help you in your search. Using a job recruiter is the most expedient way to get your name out there to the most schools.

Writing and Teaching

As an MFA student, you should start thinking about life after you graduate. Even if teaching is not for you, there are other opportunities like gaining editorial experience volunteering for Yemassee or another lit mag.

For me, teaching and living abroad has been a wonderful experience. The job itself is rigorous and finding the balance between writing and teaching is a great challenge, but one that is part of leaving the program, regardless of where you end up or what you end up doing.

Ajit Dhillon is a 2014 graduate of UofSC’s MFA Program in Creative Writing. He lives in Singapore with his wife, Marie-Claire. His work has appeared in Glimmer Train, The Dr. T.J. Eckleburg Review, Used Gravitrons, and Jasper. He is currently the Head of the Secondary English Department at The Stamford American International School in Singapore.

This blog is part of our fall 2018 Professional Journeys series. Check back all week for new blog posts from graduate alumni. Don’t miss the Professional Journeys webinar on December 7, 2018. For more information and to register, go to

Questions? Comments? Ideas? Email


Professional Journeys: Tyler Parry

Professional Journeys: Tyler Parry

Engaging the Public Does Not Happen Behind a Paywall

On the tenure-track, and into my “post-tenure” life, I am asked to engage the public with some frequency. This usually comprises an invitation to present my research to a crowd of people interested in my topic. But at one point I felt that I was inadequately addressing current events in my scholarship, especially the legacies of slavery and the residual impact of racist violence in America. Now, I did think I was presenting such ideas relatively well in the classroom. As I transitioned from a doctoral candidate in History to a professor in African American Studies, I learned to appreciate interdisciplinary frameworks in my teaching, demonstrating to students how past meets present. Though I always believed my scholarship on eighteenth and nineteenth century slavery provided historical context for understanding the persistence of inequality and racism in the United States, it was never clear to me if enough people could access my work if it remained behind a paywall.

To satiate my desire to blend my teaching and research interests, I started writing short essays that would, hopefully, be published in outlets that were more widely accessible. Though peer-review remains the gold standard in scholarly publishing (at least for me), I receive nearly as much satisfaction in posting short blogs as I do obtaining the page proofs for my peer-reviewed articles. Initially, my “public” writings were sporadic and largely responding to certain events. Oftentimes, I was being “tagged” by colleagues through social media. I usually obliged the message, thanking them for the alert and I used the material in class discussions. An issue I often confronted, however, was a lack of historical context in most public writings. For instance, when Bill Maher dropped the notorious “N-Word” on Real Time during his interview with Ben Sasse, a flurry of opinion pieces proliferated the internet. Since I previously published work on the word’s history, I was tagged by a colleague about the episode. I decided to write a short response about Maher’s use of the word and the importance of studying its historical etymology for understanding this contemporary moment. The piece eventually found a home at Black Perspectives, an award-winning blog housed by the African American Intellectual History Society.

Eventually, I was asked to be a regular contributor to Black Perspectives. This position provides the necessary balance to my life as an academic, who contributes to the intellectual life of his profession, and a public scholar, who gains satisfaction at educating a larger readership beyond the classroom. I still love producing peer-reviewed work, it is immensely satisfying to have my ideas challenged and reconsider how I frame my argument and marshal my evidence. But one thing I have learned from blogging is that I can only gain true satisfaction in this profession if I write what I want to write, and that I feel it is making some impact in public discourse.

The moment I get lost in the haze of writing requirements for tenure and/or promotion is the point I lose the original passion I held for intellectual pursuits.

Tyler D. Parry, MA, PhD is associate professor in the Department of African American Studies at California State Fullerton.

This blog is part of our fall 2018 Professional Journeys series. Check back all week for new blog posts from graduate alumni. Don’t miss the Professional Journeys webinar on December 7, 2018. For more information and to register, go to

Questions? Comments? Ideas? Email

Professional Journeys: Megan Weis

Professional Journeys: Megan Weis

My Professional Journey, So Far

My academic and professional journey may appear carefully planned, with each step thought out years in advance. However, a few chance encounters and seemingly (at the time) small decisions changed the trajectory of my path several times. And I am thankful for each and every one of them.

As a senior in college, I was certain I would pursue graduate degrees in exercise science and dedicate my career to research in a lab to improve human athletic performance. Then registering for an elective course entitled, “Health Promotion and Education” completely altered my plans as I was introduced to the entire field of study and work broadly known as public health. I joined the Peace Corps to work in maternal and child health to gain practical experience while learning about another culture and part of the world. When I returned home, I knew for certain that public health was my passion and would be my professional home.

As I entered my MPH program as a student in the Department of Health Education, Promotion, and Behavior (HPEB), my goal was to work internationally in maternal and child health. As fate would have it, I boldly called the person I interviewed with for a graduate assistantship at the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control’s (DHEC) Division of Injury and Violence Prevention to ask if I had a chance at the assistantship as I had to make a decision regarding another offer. He later told me that’s when he knew for sure I was who he wanted to hire as his GA. I graduated from my MPH program with a mentor and a lifelong commitment to injury prevention and to serving South Carolina.

As a professional in injury prevention at DHEC, I realized I wanted to learn and do more, so I entered the DrPH program in HPEB. And as a result was in the right place at the right time when I mentioned to my advisor that I had a final interview for a new position outside of DHEC. Realizing I was on the job market, she connected me to a start-up housed in the Arnold School of Public Health managing a grant to establish what eventfully became the South Carolina Institute of Medicine and Public Health, a non-profit organization with the mission to collectively inform policy to improve health and health care. Over the past 11 years, my career progressed with the Institute and I am now a co-director. I know my work every day contributes to improving the lives of people living in South Carolina.

My professional journey thus far is a combination of a dedication to learning, a focus on skills that can be applied to various content areas and an openness to the possibility of new ideas.

When students approach me for advice or guidance on decisions they face, I often share at least a little of my story. In graduate school it can feel like all the decisions have to be made immediately and you must have each step specifically planned out and know exactly where you want to be in 3, 5, 10, or even 20 years. And while that can be helpful for some people, 20 years ago I thought I’d be working in a lab in human performance now. 15 years ago my current organization and position didn’t exist. And 10 years ago I was a DrPH student thrilled to be part of building something new, but had no idea what it would grow to be – let alone my role in it. Yes, the immediate decisions are important, as is having a plan. But questioning options and being open to something different can also lead to opportunities not yet known.

Megan A. Weis, DrPH, MCHES is a two-time alumna of the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina. She is co-director of the South Carolina Institute of Medicine and Public Health. Dr. Weis is a frequent contributor to our professional development programming.

This blog is part of our fall 2018 Professional Journeys series. Check back all week for new blog posts from graduate alumni. Don’t miss the Professional Journeys webinar on December 7, 2018. For more information and to register, go to

Questions? Comments? Ideas? Email

Professional Journeys: Dominic Casali

Professional Journeys: Dominic Casali

The Industrial PhD

Most of us attend grad school because we love learning. As I approached the end of my undergraduate career, two of the driving factors for me deciding to pursue a PhD were the opportunities to challenge myself intellectually and to possibly spend an entire career involved in learning as a professor and researcher. I believe this is still a great pursuit and use of the PhD, and I have many friends and former colleagues who are still doing great things in academia.

But as I progressed toward my PhD, I came to realize that the academic life might not be as fulfilling specifically for me. Once I became a professor, I wouldn’t be the one doing the “fun stuff” of engineering – creating designs, doing experiments, and making discoveries in the lab (until an undergrad breaks something). And all those grant proposals to write, ugh!

Eventually I realized that I might be an effective engineer in industry. Some key differences I’ve found in industry, which I have found appealing, include:

  • There is more collaborative work, both inside and outside your area of expertise
  • You get to be a part of “something big” – industry works on a faster and larger scale
  • The unique skill set of a PhD positions him or her to make a big impact

I think the last point is critical, and can lead a PhD to great success if leveraged effectively. In academia we usually view ourselves as specialized rather than versatile, and perhaps not as particularly unique (everyone is smart, everyone publishes papers, etc.). But in reality, earning a PhD forces one to learn how to effectively communicate, reason, learn, and adapt, and that combination of skills can benefit just about any company.

My career path has been pretty unique so far – I went from chemical engineering in undergrad, to research heavily slanted towards biomedical engineering in graduate school, to a six-month stint in an environmental consulting firm, and then transitioning into a fairly unique job in the aerospace industry that involves varying amounts of chemical, mechanical, and aerospace engineering work. I largely credit my ability to successfully make these transitions to what I call “mental agility” – the ability to quickly process information and gain understanding in unfamiliar areas – and I my cultivation of this skill was developed almost entirely from my experiences in graduate school.

If this industry thing sounds appealing to you, here are a few tips that will make your life much easier once you make the transition.

  1. Be humble – In academia you get used to everyone having a doctorate, but you will be part of a small minority in industry. Sometimes people will find this intimidating – don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty and learn from technicians and others whose expertise comes from experience and not from a degree; their knowledge is just as valuable as yours, if not more. Plus, humility goes a long way in earning the respect of your peers.
  2. Never stop learning – There are all sorts of training opportunities, skills to learn, and classes you can take, usually on the company’s dollar – and your grad school experience will likely make you the best-equipped person in the room to learn from them.
  3. Branch out – Having a PhD will make you stand out, and it makes people want to work with you and tap into your unique skill set. Take advantage of these opportunities and be willing to step outside your comfort zone. Your mental agility and other PhD skills we talked about earlier will enable you to perform at a high level and successfully take on many challenges.

Dominic Casali received a PhD in chemical engineering from the University of South Carolina in 2017. He is a design engineer for Northrop Grumman in his hometown of Melbourne, Florida. He was a Presidential Fellow during his time at UofSC.

This blog is part of our fall 2018 Professional Journeys series. Check back all week for new blog posts from graduate alumni. Don’t miss the Professional Journeys webinar on December 7, 2018. For more information and to register, go to

Questions? Comments? Ideas? Email

Professional Journeys: Candace Wiley

Professional Journeys: Candace Wiley

5⅔ Things I Didn’t Realize About Grad School until I Left

Ah… grad school… The place where you think that you’re the only person crying in the shower. In grad school, you eat Foucault for breakfast! Along with a side of impostor syndrome, anxiety, a dash of depression, and of course no actual breakfast. While it’s rewarding and transformational, can we also acknowledge the exhausting routine: 6:30 wake up to beat the train and find a parking spot, to teach from 8:00 to 10:00, office hours from 10:00 to 12:00 while you huddle over your $8 soup like Sméagol over the Ring, then you take your own classes from 12:00 to 4:00, when you rush off to tutor for a few hours to support your soup habit, then back to class from 6:00 to whenever in the evening, and spend the rest of the night in the library running on coffee and cookies?

This website talks a lot about having a plan, writing it down, and checking in with it. In the picture, you’ll see the Bridge to my Enterprise, where I keep track of my goals and time. Since you already have tons of resources on this website, I won’t spend any space here discussing that. I also won’t spend time here enumerating the many wonderful aspects of my program and University of South Carolina degree.

As a current grad student, you’re already sold; you don’t need a commercial. Instead, I’ll give you…5⅔ things I didn’t realize about grad school until I left.

  • #1: I Thought Grad School was School

It’s not. It walks like school and quacks like school. However, the danger is that you finish and still only have a G.P.A. and degree to show for it.

Grad school is a misnomer: call it “The First Stage of My Career.” I made the mistake of taking a full load of classes each semester, because when else would I get the opportunity to take such amazing classes with such prolific professors for free! Mistake! I should’ve taken a full load for the first three semesters and then spent the last three semesters pursuing my own reading lists, writing my obsessions, working closely with mentors, and submitting for publication. At a certain point, grad school becomes about what you can produce for the world, not how many classes you can balance. That crazy-ass schedule in the first paragraph would have been completely different if I’d known this. My C.V.-building contributions to the industry would have been different, too.

  • #2: I was Soooo Independent

Grad school gives you the unique opportunity to work closely with mentors, but I was too “independent” for that. I thought that asking for help was a sign of laziness, even though I’d always encourage my students to ask for help. I wasn’t sure how to build relationships with people who I so respected and admired. To be honest, these are still some of my hang ups. It’s difficult for me to step over that office-hour threshold and say, “Man…what’s up with John Berryman?” But it’s not about asking for help. It’s about putting yourself in a situation that allows you to achieve beyond your knowledge and abilities. And it’s about building relationships with the people who are pouring into you. That’s only fair, right? Not to just take from them, but to instead build with them.

  • #3: Make Friends Outside of the University, Too

How else will you know what Kim and Kanye are up to? How else will you know what regular people talk about? (Hint: It’s not dead philosophers.) How else will you maintain sanity and perspective?

  • #4: Take More Shots=Make More Baskets. Part 1

This means read more books, write more poems (if that’s your work), and apply for more shit. All of this also aligns with strategically taking fewer classes and following your obsessions in tip #1. Do more of that thing that lights your fire and protect that time with the fierceness of a Tyra Banks smize. Those steps, those shots are what this time is really for. You are after all, in Grad School The First Stage of Your Career.

  • #4 Again: Take More Shots=Make More Baskets. Part 2

Foundations, the government, organizations, etc. are giving away all kinds of shit. Just giving it away! If you’re eligible for funding, publishing, travel, or anything, apply for it. It’s part of being a professional. Make a list of opportunities that fit you and assemble your team, which will change based on what you’re applying to. The team who would give the best feedback on a Fulbright application to Colombia might not be the team who would give the best feedback on your teaching philosophy for the job market. Should any of these team members be your peers? Hell, no! …or maybe only as proofreaders. That’s like watching 7th graders give each other relationship advice. (Yeah, girl! He loves you!) Refer back to #2.

  • #4 Revisited: Take More Shots=Make More Baskets. Part 3

If you read part 2 and told yourself how you’re not ready to apply and that you’ll take some time to get ready, you have effectively shut down your possibilities. You are the reason that you won’t have what you want. No is part of the job. Out of the bucket-full of Nos you will undoubtedly receive, all you need is one Yes. Don’t be the person who tells yourself No, applies for one thing, and when you don’t get it, uses that one thing as proof that you’re not ready. It’s a numbers game. If you take more shots (for which you are eligible), you’ll make more baskets.

  • #5: Keep Track of What’s Really Important

Eat something healthy. Drink water. Sleep. Go salsa dancing. This is how the migraines stop. You have to take care of yourself or there is no book.  You have to take care of yourself or there is no degree. You have to take care of yourself or there is no career. Worst of all, there is no you. Don’t let grad school take all that wonderful you out of you.

Candace Wiley was born in South Carolina, graduated with her BA from Bowie State University, an HBCU in Maryland, her MA from Clemson University, and her MFA at the University of South Carolina. She is co-founding director of The Watering Hole, a nonprofit that creates Harlem Renaissance-style spaces in the contemporary South, and she often writes in the mode of Afrofuturism, covering topics from black aliens, to mutants, to mermaids. She is a Vermont Studio Center Fellow, Lighthouse Works Center Fellow, Fine Arts Work Center Fellow, Callaloo Fellow and former Fulbright Fellow to San Basilio de Palenque, Colombia, a town that was founded by West Africans who had escaped from Cartagena slavery. (The people have their own language and customs that trace back to the Bantu and Kikongo in West Africa.) Her work has been featured in Best American Poetry 2015, Prairie Schooner, The Texas Review, and Jasper Magazine, among others. She is currently on faculty at Clemson University and is now living, writing, and helping direct The Watering Hole from her Greenville home in South Carolina. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at @iamcandace1.

This blog is part of our fall 2018 Professional Journeys series. Check back all week for new blog posts from graduate alumni. Don’t miss the Professional Journeys webinar on December 7, 2018. For more information and to register, go to

Questions? Comments? Ideas? Email