independent historian

Thinking BIGGER: Freelance Consulting

Think BigI am thinking about starting a consulting business. Consulting appeals to me because I love controlling my schedule, managing projects, and taking on work that I find interesting and fulfilling. It seems like consulting would allow me to be the historian, writer, and researcher I want to be. However, to start a consulting practice, I need to figure out what skills and expertise I possess that other people would pay for. This is the stage where I have been stuck. How do I translate my academic experience into marketable, real-world skills?

Reinventing You

reinventing-youLast Tuesday, my writing group attended a talk given by Dorie Clark, author of [amazon_link id="1422144135" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]Reinventing You[/amazon_link]. The premise of her book: How can you get to where you want to go in your career?

Clark contextualized her book by telling the audience about her journey from laid-off political reporter to business expert. In between these two careers, Clark worked as a political campaign spokesperson, marketer, and filmmaker. After catching a break with the Harvard Business Review, Clark used her experience and reporting skills to generate a 3-step process for personal re-invention, a process that enables people to get from point A to point B (or even point C) in their careers.


Dorie Clark’s 3-Step Process

Step 1: Discover your personal brand. You need to know how your friends and coworkers perceive you. Clark suggested either working with a career counselor or asking half a dozen friends to describe you in 3 words.

Step 2: Discover your personal narrative. You need to find the thread that connects all of your different career and personal experiences. To find this thread, Clark advised the audience to write down their “war stories,” the stories that we often tell people. These stories form the cornerstones of how we perceive the world. If you can identify the thread that connects these cornerstones, you will understand why you have chosen to pursue the jobs and experiences you have, even if they seem unrelated.

Step 3: Manifest Your Brand. Don’t tell people about your brand, live it.


From Skeptic to Book Buyer

Think DifferentAlthough an inspiring speaker, Clark’s talk did not move me to buy her book. I have read a number of books on personal branding and I did not find her strategy for how to build a personal brand to be all that new and novel. Her strategy: be consistent with your message and promote it via social media, especially Twitter. However, the Q & A session changed my mind because the posed questions allowed Clark to discuss the contents of her book in more depth.

Clark urged the audience not to overlook and undervalue important attributes of their personality just because they can’t figure out how to connect their love of baking with their career interests. It occurred to me that my seemingly disparate interests, history, writing, marketing, organization, and technology (to name a few), all share a common theme: problem solving. (Perhaps problem solving constitutes a marketable skill set.)

Clark asserted that the economic crash of 2008 has affected the present and future job market in two profound ways:

First, potential employers no longer want to see how you conform. Instead, they want to know how potential employees (and consultants) are different and unique. They want to know about the valuable skills and special perspective you will bring to the table if they hire you.

Second, by 2020, 40% of Americans will be freelancers. People who set-up their freelance shops now are in the vanguard of this coming trend.

Clark counseled that freelancers need to mitigate risk for potential clients by creating a rock-solid brand that demonstrates a track record of reliability. Blogs present freelancers with a powerful tool for broadcasting their ideas to the world. They also demonstrate consistency if freelancers update them on a regular basis.


Imagining My Future

Yoga-DogI attended Clark’s talk more out of peer pressure than interest. However, I left her talk interested in her ideas and inspired to think more about what my “brand” can offer people. Appreciative, I purchased Reinventing You. I have not read it yet, but it is my next read.

Even without reading Clark’s book, her talk stimulated ideas and gave me hope that starting a consulting practice may not be a bad idea. Late last week, I sat down and listed the skills and knowledge I possess that others may be interested in making use of. It turned out to be an expansive list.

Over the next few weeks, I plan to think about how I can offer and market my various skills. I love the idea of offering my skills for hire, but I do not want to offer them haphazardly. I want to develop a clear business plan for how I would offer each skill, how each skill adds to the work I want to accomplish as a historian, and what I would charge for my services. Most of all, I want to create a plan that will enable me to expand my brand and still prioritize the project most important to me: writing my first book: America’s First Gateway: Albany, N.Y., 1615-1830.

As soon as I draft my plan of action, I will let you know.


What Do You Think?

Do you offer your historical, writing, academic or other skills for hire? If so, how are you going about it? Do you have a self-imposed guideline for the type of projects you take on? How many projects do you accept?

Are you thinking about offering your skills for hire? If so, what is your plan of action?


How to Network: My Interview with Jennifer Polk, Ph.D.

InterviewThis week I had the good fortune to interview Jennifer Polk, Ph.D., founder of the blog From Ph.D. to Life. Since December, Jen has written about her transition from academia to real life and her quest to find a fulfilling (and paying) career. Jen’s website serves as a valuable resource for anyone who is thinking about how to apply their historic skills to other history-related work or about transitioning to a non-history career. When you visit Jen’s site you will find that many of her posts are the Q & A sessions she has conducted with educators, researchers, writers, project managers, career coaches, and public speakers. These sessions are the result of Jen’s quest to learn more about different careers as well as how others with advanced degrees have found jobs that they love.

As I am also transitioning from Ph.D. to life, I reached out to Jen to find out more about her transition and how she has managed to network with so many different people.


How does Jen Network?

When I asked Jen about networking she stated, “The challenge of networking is that you are asking people for help and seeking help is difficult.”

After graduation, Jen wanted to learn about what other people do for a living. Her friends helped her ease into networking by introducing her to spouses and colleagues with interesting careers. These friendly interviews gave her the confidence to interact with strangers.

Jen uses the Internet to research different career possibilities. When she finds an interesting position or company, she searches their webpage to find a person who might talk to her. In one instance she found an advertisement for a museum consulting firm in her city. She went to the firm’s website and clicked through the employee bios. Jen found that she and a V.P. of the company shared a common link: They both held doctorates in history from the same university. Jen believed that this common connection might induce the V.P. to help her with information, so she sent him an e-mail. Jen admitted that “it is intimidating to reach out to someone you don’t know,” but she also stated that “the worst that can happen is that they say “no” or ignore you.” Jen’s instincts about the common bond proved correct. A week after she sent her e-mail, the V.P. replied that he would by happy to sit down for a conversation. (Click here to read Jen’s interview.)

networkingAfter months of networking, Jen is still pleasantly surprised by how positively people react when she reaches out to them for her blog Q & As. She has found that people are excited and eager to help, “people like to help and they like to talk about themselves and give advice.”


Why Historians Make Good Networkers

I enjoyed meeting Jen and hearing about her transition experience. She taught me a lot about how to network and convinced me that I shouldn’t be afraid to ask people for help. After all, the worst that can happen is that the person says “no.” However, that outcome seems unlikely. The people Jen has contacted have been eager and excited to help.

My conversation with Jen also helped me to realize that historians are well positioned to network; we possess all of the skills needed to reach out and connect with other people. Historians know how to research and we like to interact with people. Okay, so most of the people we interact with are long since dead, but we seek them out anyway in the papers and works they left behind. We seek them out because we want them to help us answer questions we have about the topics, periods, people, thoughts, and cultures we study. We receive their help when we read, interrogate, and contextualize the papers and possessions they left behind. This one-sided engagement allows us to better understand and connect with our historical people. Networking with the living is not so dissimilar.

The best interactions take place when you find another person who shares something in common with you. Jen conducts research before she initiates contact. When she reaches out to someone she leads with what they share in common: an alma mater, an advanced degree, interests, an experience. After establishing this common ground, Jen asks for help. Historians study people and know that most people will respond favorably to requests for assistance when they feel connected to them. Moreover, historians are capable of making the most out of each networking opportunity because we know how to ask questions of our sources.

Networking will play an important role in my quest to turn my passion for history, research, and writing into a career that pays. I am grateful for the wisdom Jen imparted and I look forward to following and learning from her career journey at From Life to PhD.


What Do You Think?

Do you possess helpful networking wisdom or have you had a networking experience that you would like to share?

Do you use or know of other skills that historians possess that we can use to find or further our careers?



Design Your Own Destiny: How to Open the Door to New Opportunities

door-of-opportunityToday, I would like to discuss what I am doing to design my own destiny and how I am working to open doors to new opportunities. I see my blog as a practical history blog: A resource for independent and post-academic historians who want to surmount the obstacles we face because we are unaffiliated with academic institutions and a discussion forum where we can explore different ways of working and how we can turn our passion for history, research, and writing into careers that pay. In support of this forum, I plan to post more about how I am trying to create new opportunities and how these experiences unfold, for better and worse, in the hope that we all might learn from them.

Please contact me if you have a helpful experience that you would like to share or an issue that we independent historians face that you would like to discuss.

I am almost 18 months removed from graduation and I am still in transition, trying to figure out what I want my career to be. I am a historian and I want to continue working as one. But how can I turn my passion into a career?

Naturally, I have been researching some possibilities.


Public History

NPSI have some experience in public history. I worked for the National Park Service as a seasonal interpretive ranger as an undergraduate. I learned how to develop and present interpretive programs and how to interact with the public. As a graduate student, I volunteered for a couple of historical societies and museums where I conducted research, built finding aids for collections, and developed educational programs.

Even when combined with my Ph.D., this experience is not enough to land me an interview for a public history job. Times are tough. Public institutions want people with history backgrounds who also possess social media and digital humanities skills, curatorial experience, and an understanding of the inner workings of a non-profit organization.

Over the last month I have applied for internships. Unfortunately, I have yet to hear anything. I worry that my Ph.D. hinders me; I get the feeling that many think, “she has a Ph.D., would she really intern for free?” The answer is “YES!” I am anxious to learn the skills needed to work for a public history institution and will work for free to acquire them. (Of course, so would many others.)

I am also trying to create my own luck. I have reached out to my local history society contacts to see about creating an experience. Hopefully between my applications and contacts I will be able to garner an interview and internship.


iStock_000002508116XSmallFreelance Writer

Freelance writing would allow me to do what I love, make some money, and still leave me with time to work on my historical projects.

I have signed up for a workshop called Freelancing Writing Essentials. This daylong seminar will supposedly serve as a crash course on where to look for freelance writing opportunities, how to come up with ideas, and how to pitch stories. It will take place next Friday. I will post about it later this month.



Okay, so this isn’t a career, but it is important. Whenever I meet another historian, I always ask them about their work and how they obtained their job. With regards to the latter I overwhelmingly hear: “Luck” and “I knew someone."

Over the last several months I have pursued two avenues that have, and will, help expand my network of contacts beyond the academy.

networkingFirst, I have engaged in social media. I have found Twitter to be a great way to network with other historians, writers, explorers of alternate and post-academic careers, and, yes, other Boston sports fans. I have had meaningful conversations with other Twitterers and they have shared links to helpful information, job postings, and events that I would not have found on my own. (For more on Twitter see my 3 part series “How to Twitter.”)

Second, I have volunteered to be a docent at Boston by Foot, a non-profit, volunteer tour group that gives history and architectural tours of Boston. I pursued this opportunity as a way to get my head out of my work, to meet other people, and to reconnect with the public; I want to be reacquainted with why and how non-academics appreciate and learn history.

I am still training, but I have already met several interesting individuals and made a few new friends all with different professional backgrounds. Best of all, everyone there loves and appreciates history. Perhaps one of them will open the door to a new career opportunity that I never thought of.


What Do You Think?

If you would like to share your experiences working in public history, with freelance writing, networking, or some other career path that allows you to pursue your scholarship and earn money, please contact me.


How to Twitter Part 3: 5 Points to Consider Before Creating Your Twitter Identity

How to Twitter Part 3 is the final post in my series on how I understand and use Twitter. My first two posts covered the Myths and Realities about Twitter and 5 Reasons Why I think you should use Twitter. This final post will discuss 5 points you should consider before you create your Twitter identity.

5 Points to Consider Before Creating Your Twitter Identity

1.     Why Are You Tweeting?Twitter Istock

  • To create a platform for your research and publications? 
  • To interact and network with like-minded people?
  • To stay up-to-date on the latest celebrity gossip?

Knowing what you hope to gain from your Twitter experience will help you craft your Twitter persona—the version of yourself that you present on Twitter.

2.    What Do You Want Your Twitter Persona to Be?

Do you want to tweet mainly about work or play? Will your tone be mostly serious or funny?

Self-assess your personality. Tweet with the traits that will appeal most to your desired audience, but that will also present the genuine “you.” Your Twitter persona should represent a polished, but not too polished, version of you.

I use Twitter primarily to network and converse with other historians, writers, and alternative academics. I also use it to keep up with friends, news, my favorite sports teams, and events around Boston. I use the same account for all my tweeting, but I tweet more about history and writing than I do about the Red Sox.

Tweeting3.     What Are Your Boundaries?

How much information will you share on Twitter? Will you tweet about your friends and family members? Project your political and religious opinions for all to see?

I want my followers to know about my work and who I am as a person. I typically use first names or relationships when I tweet about family. One weekend I tweeted: “Enjoying a family day at the New England Aquarium.” This tweet allowed my followers to see that I have a life outside of my work and that I value time with my family. Its vagueness also maintained the privacy of my family members.  

I do not over share. I may tell you that I am at a Red Sox game, but I won’t disclose what I am eating, wearing (usually my food), or cheering at the game.

With regards to hot button topics like politics and religion, I haven’t tweeted about them. I enjoy a good discussion or debate, but I would rather have them in person.

4.   What Will Your Twitter Handle Be?

Your handle will be part of your brand so create one that people will easily identify with you, like your name.

Twitter limits tweets to 140 characters so shorten a long name with a nickname or initials. I publish under my full name: Elizabeth M. Covart. 16 characters is a bit much for people to Retweet (RT in Twitter lingo) so I use @lizcovart.

If you have a common name you might need to be creative by adding numbers, underscores, and abbreviations to your handle.

5.     Will You Adhere to Good Twitter Etiquette Practices?

There are many rules for good Twitter Etiquette, but I think one rule is the most important: the 90-10 rule.

Twitter90% of your Tweets should be about something other than self-promotion. Most Twitterers hate it when a person tweets only about their book, product, or blog posts. The best Twitterers are those who tweet to discuss, start a conversation, or to bring something of interest to the attention of their community, such as a blog post, book, news article, or event.

Promote your work on Twitter, but make sure that it represents only 10% of what you tweet about.

One final tip, you might find it handy to know that Twitter has a glossary. Twitterers use a lot of abbreviations to save character space and the glossary will be helpful when you need to know what RT, MT, & FF means.


How to Twitter Part 2: 5 Reasons Why You Should Use Twitter

How to Twitter Part 2 is the second in my three post series on how I understand and use Twitter. (How to Twitter Part 1: 4 Myths and Realities) This second post will discuss my top five reasons why YOU should use Twitter.

Twitter Istock 5 Reasons Why You Should Tweet


Reason 1: Networking with Like-minded Individuals

Twitter will connect you with a worldwide network of historians, writers, archivists, and publishers. All historians can benefit from these connections, but they are especially important for independent historians. Twitter can help us escape our isolation by recreating the departmental camaraderie we miss out on by being unaffiliated scholars. Need someone else to talk to? Try starting a conversation on Twitter.


Reason 2: Research Tool

Have a question? Twitter can help you find an answer. In the last week I have asked, answered, or seen requests for book and primary source referrals, historiographical inquiries, restaurant and hotel recommendations for upcoming research trips, blog suggestions, and technology questions.

Although I have not tried it, I believe Twitter will be a useful hack to getting around our diminished access to J-Stor and other journal databases. The scholars on Twitter are a helpful and generous group of people. I have no doubt that if you Tweet a request for an article that someone will help you access it. 


Reason 3: Instant Knowledge

TweetingTwitter will provide you with up-to-date information. You will learn about history-related news, events, books, scholarly debates, articles of interest, fellowships, and the work of other scholars almost the moment they happen or when someone has posted about them on the web.


Reason 4: Enhanced or Virtual Conference Experiences

Tweeting scholars have become a fixture at modern-day history conferences. Conference tweets will enhance your conference experience because they will allow you to keep up with and attend more conference panels.

No longer do you have to choose between the three really interesting panels you want to attend during the same 2-hour time slot. No matter which panel you attend another Twitterer will likely attend and tweet one of the others.

Can’t attend a conference in person? Attend it virtually by using Twitter to follow the official conference hashtag.

social media logosTwitter will also help you improve your conference sociability by providing opportunities for in-person meet-ups with fellow Twitterers. Want to dine or have coffee with other historians? Send a tweet and see who is available. Unfamiliar with the conference’s host city? Tweet for dining or activity recommendations.


Reason 5: Authorial Platform

Twitter will be an important part of your authorial platform. Publishers will require you to participate in the marketing of your book. Your authorial platform serves as the podium from which you will introduce (and hopefully sell) your work and publications to your followers. Independent historians need strong authorial platforms because we lack the pizazz and built-in platforms that our affiliated counterparts enjoy with their institutional affiliations. (I will further define and discuss how to build an authorial platform in future posts.)

These are my top 5 reasons why historians should tweet. What are your reasons and which reason do you think is the most important? Please leave a comment or send me a tweet @lizcovart.