Nandi Dill Jordan is finishing her first year as a Mellon/ACLS Public Fellow and digital content specialist at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Jordan, who has a PhD in sociology from New York University, reflects on the greatest challenges of pursuing a career path outside of academia, as well as her most rewarding experiences thus far at LACMA.
ACLS: How did you come to pursue a non-academic career?
NDJ: I’ve always had a passion for the arts, and throughout graduate school it was a challenge to seamlessly blend those interests into a career path. During and following my doctoral studies, I sought out opportunities to connect my interests and my sociological training. I consulted with nonprofits, collaborated with artists, and even gave corporate America a try. Working in applied settings showed me the type of work I enjoyed and how best to apply my skills. I truly had no idea where I was heading, but I knew where I didn’t want to be.
I should also add that choosing the non-academic path was jarring at times—I was separating from a world that I spent almost a decade deeply immersed in. I’m thankful for having a supportive partner and family who understood my desire to follow my passions down an unconventional route.
ACLS: Name three aspects of your doctoral studies—or skills that you learned there—that have been useful during your time as a fellow.
NDJ: My role at LACMA requires a great degree of independent work and entrepreneurial skills. My doctoral studies were extremely useful because the bulk of the dissertation phase of my studies—especially fieldwork—was independent and entrepreneurial in nature. I learned how to chart a course through a project, troubleshoot along the way, and identify when it was time to seek out help. I use these skills daily at the museum.
Teaching also helped me learn how to take somewhat complex concepts and distill them into clear and digestible content. In my role, I am often working with people with a high degree of expertise in a particular subject area. My job is to help them connect their specialized knowledge to a broad audience with the hope that this audience forms their own intellectual and emotional connection to the work. I found teaching came with similar responsibilities and was quite rewarding when I was able to help students personally connect to material that may have initially seemed distant to them. The potential to do something similar at LACMA is exciting!
ACLS: As you approach the one year mark, what has been your biggest accomplishment at LACMA?
NDJ: I’m really proud of helping the museum deepen their relationship with Google’s Cultural Institute. We’ve got a couple interesting collaborations between our curators and Google’s various technologies in the works that are both innovative and fun!
Within LACMA’s web and digital department, I’m also helping shape the digital content strategy through identifying gaps in our content planning and evaluation, finding new opportunities for partnership and collaboration, and helping raise the department’s visibility.
Lastly, I’m developing some really exciting storytelling content for the museum that I can’t talk about yet but am anxious to share with the world. Stay tuned!
ACLS: What is the most challenging part of your job?
NDJ: Some of my projects involve creating interpretative media which requires a great deal of planning, research, and collaboration across the museum. I’m learning how this process works and how to embrace the uncertainty of the creative workflow.
ACLS: What have you found to be the most difficult aspect of transitioning to a career beyond the academy? The most rewarding?
NDJ: The challenge of carving a path outside of academia is that my training did not explicitly prepare me for this path. Many of the technical skills I use as a fellow I’ve had to teach myself or learn on the job. Essentially, I’ve been undergoing a major career change and much of the transition has pushed me to learn new skills and prioritize others. Although this journey has been a challenge, it was a welcomed one. I often remind myself to remain confident in my vision and allow space for the academic in me to get along with the artist, which is new ground for me. Searching for work can be incredibly frustrating but I’m glad I put myself in the position to see what I was good at and take the risk of failing.
The most rewarding aspect of this transition is getting paid to work a dream job (thanks Mellon/ACLS!) and knowing that I’m getting closer to finding my (work) tribe.
ACLS: What advice would you give to a humanities PhD who is interested in pursuing a non-academic career?
NDJ: Talk to anyone and everyone who may be interested in getting to know you and your vision. Find people who are doing what you want to do and take them out for coffee. Be willing to be misunderstood. Be willing to try again. And again. And again.
It is also important to get lots of practice crafting your narrative. All the coffees, meetings, informal interviews, conferences, etc., that I attended were part of a process of refining my narrative. The more I talked about myself and my vision for my career, the clearer I got about who I wanted to be in rooms with, who I’d love to collaborate with (and my role in that collaboration), and ultimately the type of work I’d like to be doing.
ACLS: What advice would you give to an applicant to the Public Fellows program?
NDJ: Be honest with who you are and where you see yourself going. Surround yourself with supportive family and friends. And enjoy the ride!
Find out more about the Mellon/ACLS Public Fellows program here.