Cohort 2010–2011. I edit and write interactive stories for a mobile app at a game studio. While my experience writing and teaching as a PhD helped me get this job, I needed one particular extra-doctoral skill to land it: creative writing. When you’re working on a dissertation, it can be hard to give yourself permission to do other things. So I wrote short humor fiction one paragraph at a time in between dissertation sessions. After I defended in 2018, I worked on short stories in between semesters teaching academic writing as an adjunct lecturer at San Francisco State University. My humor pieces on McSweeney’s and The Belladonna, along with two unpublished short stories, became my writing samples for and my ticket to a job in game design.
As an adjunct, my students were great and the Writing Program Director was wonderfully supportive. But even with the benefit of a union, the pay was low and the availability of teaching was heavily dependent on enrollment. That said, it was helpful to have my experience workshopping student writing as an adjunct both for my current job and in my forays on the academic job market. I also learned some tricks along the way that could make an alt-ac path easier.
Focus on jobs that genuinely interest you instead of ones that seem like the most practical choices. And if you’d prefer to do a full-time creative job without getting an internship or contract work first, apply to startups and independents. More generally, take Daniel Johnson’s invaluable advice and pursue your other interests as you write your dissertation. Give yourself a reasonable daily dissertation writing goal and, once done, allow yourself to do whatever else grabs you. If you need help establishing this kind of schedule, or just want to reinforce it, I can’t recommend the Writing Center’s “Dissertation Bootcamp” enough.
At every stage of my career trajectory, I draw on the support, generosity, and excellent writing advice of my advisors Susan Wolfson, Esther Schor, and Claudia Johnson. They taught me how to comment on colleagues’ writing, solve difficult problems, and understand how different modes of writing work. I use these skills every day in my job. More than that, my advisors, fellow graduate students, and my own students at Princeton and SFSU sharpened my ability to come up with good questions. As a Story Editor at Crazy Maple Studio, I use this skill set to adapt romance novels into interactive games. I solve problems of character, pace, and narrative form. I comment on writers’ and other editors’ writing. And I write with an eye to audience and tone. My PhD helped me to do all these things and to think about them.