Rachel Bullock | Crain's Los Angeles

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Rachel Bullock

Background:  

Named the second-fastest growing media company in America by Inc. Magazine, Los Angeles-based Render Media produces content for two emerging brands: Cooking Panda, an online food publication; and Opposing Views, the company’s flagship news property. Rachel Bullock has worked with the company’s founding team since 2011, and was named chief operating officer in 2014.

The Mistake:

The mistake for me was going straight to graduate school from undergrad.

I went from Wake Forest University straight into a Ph.D. program at Brandeis University without really thinking about what else I could be doing. As an English major I really liked getting that gold star for writing a great paper and doing great research. I loved being at school and loved academia, and I was very fortunate to get a full scholarship as an undergraduate straight into a Ph.D. program.

The first couple of applications that I sent out for grad school were rejected. I remember calling my dad, feeling really dejected and expressing concern that I wasn’t going to get in, and he said, “Well, what about all the jobs that you’ve applied to?” I hadn’t applied to any jobs. As an English major I didn’t think that I had the skills to go straight from undergrad to a job.

Of course that wasn’t true. As a junior I ran the literary magazine at Wake Forest. I learned how to run a meeting, recruit people, meet deadlines, handle a budget—all things you need in order to start in the working world, but I couldn’t see that.

When I got to Brandeis, I had a sneaking suspicion that I was maybe in the wrong place. Talking with and visiting friends who had gone straight into publishing out of college made me reflect on the decision I made to stay in school and go straight into a Ph.D. program. They were getting experience I desperately wanted now, and I was looking at a 5-7 year commitment I’d made to get a Ph.D. The reality was if I wanted to get into publishing as a career, I’d be starting in the same place they were now. I was always going to start at the bottom of the food chain in that industry, and I'd just lost two years.

I was able to earn a Master's Degree in English Literature in lieu of finishing the Ph.D. program, which I do think helped me land my first full-time publishing job at McGraw-Hill. But in retrospect, I would have learned more about publishing and business in those two years if I had trusted that my experiences as an undergrad had prepared me enough to just get started. 

In a lot of cases the best way to keep building your career is not to keep getting more education

The Lesson:

For me the lesson was that humanities students really have the skills to start working. And in a lot of cases the best way to keep building your career is not to keep getting more education, but to just to jump in and start, don’t be afraid to try it.

Being accepted into a graduate program is seen as a mark of success, but more school isn’t necessarily better for lots of careers. A Ph.D. in the humanities is designed to prepare you for life within academia, not for the world outside.

We need to do a better job showing and translating for students how the skills that they’re learning—the writing skills, the critical thinking skills, never mind all the skills that they’re learning in the clubs and organizations they belong to, and the internships they’re inevitably doing—can translate into a bunch of different career choices.

When I got to a leadership position in my career, I made a point to establish an intern program and a program called Render Media University. We all take turns mentoring and educating brand new hires and interns about the different career paths at our company, and our own different career paths, so that they can see that maybe the idea of going straight from undergrad to grad school isn’t the only path.

I want our student interns to know that they have the ability to start working, and that getting some work experience right after undergrad will give them that breathing room to really decide what they want to do, before they commit to a long-term graduate program.

 

Render Media is on Twitter at @rendermediaLA and Rachel Bullock is at @ravbullock.

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