Lisa Carnevale at Non-traditional Career Speaker Series

The “Non-traditional Career Opportunities for Students in Humanities and Social Sciences” Speaker Series organized by URI librarian Bohyun Kim continued with Lisa Carnevale, co-founder and executive director of DESIGNxRI, on March 29th, 2018. This organization works to share information about the design sector in RI, create an environment for design businesses to thrive, and make grants to these designers and businesses. To support this mission DESIGNxRI runs programs, maintains a directory, and holds events, such as Design Week. Carnevale earned her degree in communications and since then has used her passion and interests in the arts and design to guide her career in the nonprofit sector.

Carnevale’s passion is in non-profit work with the arts and design sectors, but she shared that public affairs and marketing consulting is what pays the bills. Over the years, though she has worked with several successful mission-driven non-profits, such as the Pawtucket Arts Council, RI Citizens for the Arts, and Partnership for Creative Industrial Space, which work on mill redevelopment in Providence, she was candid that sometimes these organizations are running on tight budgets. In fact, Carnevale got into the nonprofit sector through volunteering and suggests this as the best way to learn more about and become involved in an organization.

While positions in non-profit businesses may not be the most immediately lucrative, Carnevale also pointed out that not all mission-driven businesses are non-profit anymore. The socially-conscious for-profit company has gained a foothold and more can be found. This offers more opportunities for someone looking to keep their values and beliefs in their career. Social enterprises are typically for-profit companies that directly engage in a social mission, often by donated profits or products, such as Tom’s Shoes, which donates a pair of shoes for every pair sold.

Both of these types of mission-driven organizations look to have conversations and bring people to the table, and communication and connections are important. Carnevale considers her training through communications to be extremely helpful and considers the skills of writing, synthesizing, and facilitating to be the most pertinent. These relationships may be stored in a database for record keeping, but to actually maintain a good network a more personal touch is needed.

Carnevale’s talk included a lot of useful information about the non-profit sector generally and was able to help students consider the different options available for mission-driven work, but it also highlighted some of the difficulties of creating alternative career training. English PhD student Beth Leonardo Silva shared her thoughts with us about the talk and how it reflects the struggles of preparing students, and especially graduate students, for “non-traditional” careers:

As I enter my fourth year I the PhD program and the job market looms large, I greatly appreciated Dr. Bohyun’s initiative in hosting this important series. I know how much effort goes into planning, organizing, inviting speakers, etc., and focusing on such a topical issue was a thoughtful and creative approach to serving graduate students. I quickly found, however, that the content of the talk followed a frustrating pattern.

The premise of this talk was for speakers to share “how their academic background worked for their career, how they were able to leverage their academic skills and knowledge in their non-academic and non-traditional career path for the maximum benefit.” I hoped that the speakers would have an academic background similar to mine, and that they would have practical, hands-on advice for how to leverage graduate humanities degrees to navigate their career paths. Unfortunately, this was not the case.  Carnevale was a wonderful speaker, very knowledgeable and informative, thoughtful, engaging, and showed a genuine interest in building relationships and offering sound advice. She did not, however, have a PhD in the humanities or social sciences, but a BA in Communications. Describing her career path, Carnevale explained that she used her communications major, which she called the more practical degree, to support herself financially while she continued to explore other options. Furthermore, Carnevale stated that she had never been hired by applying to a job and getting an interview. Rather, all her jobs were acquired via the various connections she had made, often through volunteer work. While I certainly appreciate her point that building relationships throughout one’s career is invaluable, I think there is a great need for practical advice about how to craft resumes, navigate interviews, and negotiate salaries as well. When graduate students, including myself, asked her what advice she, as someone more familiar with the nonprofit than the academic world, had to give in terms of how to market ourselves on resumes and in interviews, Carnevale was eager to help and encouraged us to find transferable skills but she seemed unsure exactly what skills the PhD offered. I found that, rather than highlighting how our Humanities and Social Science PhDs were valuable degrees in the nonprofit sector, it reinforced the idea that they would be a very hard sell outside academia.

What I found even more frustrating was the repeated advice to volunteer in order to get jobs.  While I see the value of volunteer work and appreciate that this was a successful approach for Carnevale after her undergraduate degree, the message this sends is that our advanced degrees and our years of experience don’t matter. Surely five years of higher education teaching, four years of administrative experience, committee work, and event planning qualify me for a salary. It frustrates me to no end when I hear my fellow grad students preface questions about salary or salary negotiation with “I’m not in it for the money but.” Why shouldn’t we be in it for the money? What’s wrong with hoping to be fairly compensated, or just plain compensated, for our labor? I sincerely hope to see more programs aimed at helping us bridge the gap from graduate school to employment. Being a bit more selective about the experience of the speakers and how to educate them to the specific needs of our graduate students would be really helpful to the success of those programs.

Discovering what people are doing outside the expected career paths can seem like a challenge at times, but more difficult is codifying how many others can likewise find these new paths. As we continue to explore this topic and create career-training around this at URI, the more we find that “alternative” careers are not a simple solution to a simple problem. Our initiatives at URI, including this speaker series, have been a learning experience for all, not just the students who attended.

If you are interested in learning more about DESIGNxRI, an education and grantmaking organization, visit their website here.

If you want to read about other speakers in the series in our Feb. 28 and March 29 posts.

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