The Intersection of You with Dr. Sarabeth Berk

Sarabeth Berk, Ph.D. is a personal branding strategist, career advisor, TEDx speaker, author, and the leading expert in hybrid professional identity. Dr. Berk calls herself a Creative Disruptor because she blends her artist, researcher, educator, and designer identities together to lead and create innovation strategies that radically connect resources and people in new ways.

Dr. Berk’s work in hybrid professional identity was inspired by her own professional identity crisis. As a result, she discovered that she was a hybrid and that concept revolutionized her career path. Now, Dr. Berk is obsessed with changing the way we see the workforce and helping professionals realize that their unique value lies at the intersections of their multiple identities.


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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • Try, try, again: Drs. Berk and Strickland on their two doctoral programs – Each!
  • “Dissertating” with friends, and on scheduled time
  • Forgetting the best part of the defense
  • Multiple identities isn’t necessarily a disorder
  • The most important question to determine who you really are
  • Understand who you really are, and the opportunities flow
  • The power of getting them to ask you questions
  • Post-doctoral entrepreneurship: from dissertation to thought leadership
  • Creating your own authentic journey
  • Learning the things you didn’t know you didn’t know

In this episode…

Multiple people have multiple identities. And you probably do, too…

In this episode of An Unconventional Life, Dr. Sarabeth Berk tells Dr. Russell Strickland about the identity crisis she underwent when starting her doctoral program and becoming a student, again. This experience led her to the concept of hybrid professional identities and her unique title of creative disruptor. Dr. Berk now helps other “jacks of all trades” master their understanding of their unique contributions to the world. Join us as Dr. Berk shares her journey as author, TEDx speaker, and burgeoning entrepreneur.

Discover how your unique identities come together in the intersection of you.

Resources Mentioned in this episode

Sponsor for this episode…

This episode is brought to you by Dissertation Done, America’s #1 authority in dissertation completion for working professionals.

Founded by Dr. Russell Strickland, Dissertation Done serves people in two ways:

  1. If you’re struggling with your dissertation, getting ready to start your dissertation, or just plain wanting to get your dissertation done as soon as possible, go to and Let’s Get Your Dissertation Done
  2. If you’re busy living your Unconventional Life and have a message that you want to share, maybe you should join our Expand Your Authority Program to become a published author. Go to and let me know that you’d like to talk about Expanding Your Authority.

Visit to learn more about our other services and leave a message or call them at 888-80-DR-NOW (888-803-7669) to schedule your free 30 to 45-minute phone consultation.

Episode Transcript

Disclaimer: This transcript is here for your reading convenience. It was created by machines and may (a-hem) contain some errors. If you email us about these errors, the machines will undoubtedly find out. I hope they won’t get angry.


Intro [00:00:03]

Welcome to An Unconventional Life, a podcast where we share stories about the crazy one percent out there who earned their doctoral degrees and then went on to use them in crazy, cool, unique and unconventional ways. Here’s your host, astrophysicist turned teacher, author, dissertation coach, and more, Dr Russell Strickland.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:00:29]

Hello and welcome to An Unconventional Life, this is your host, Dr Russell Strickland, and I have with me today Dr. Sarabeth Berk. And Dr. Berk is a wonderful person. She’s an author. I can’t wait to talk with her about her book, — if you’re on YouTube, she’s already out there telling you about your book before she starts talking. She’s a hybrid professional and researches hybrid professional identity. She calls herself a creative disruptor. And that’s because she blends her identities as artist and researcher and educator and designer. She’s going to talk to you about how she underwent her own professional identity crisis and learned from that, this concept that revolutionized her career path. So we’re going to talk more about the book. And I can’t wait to do that. And maybe I’ll have her put me on the couch and fix me a little bit. We’ll see. But, Dr. Berk, thank you so much for being here and welcome.


Dr. Sarabeth Berk [00:01:28]

Thank you, Dr. Strickland. I’m glad to be here right now.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:01:31]

Awesome. Just a quick message. Let’s let everybody know that this episode today is brought to you by dissertation done. If you’re an adult doctoral student who’s working on the dissertation process, maybe struggling, maybe at the end of the rope and thinking about walking away, reach out to at That’s And we’ll see if we might be a good fit for our Fast-Track Your Dissertation coaching program. We regularly bring students to the dissertation process in a year or less, which is much faster than most folks do it. So if that’s something that resonates with you, please do reach out to us. And hey, even if you haven’t started your dissertation yet, no time like the present to get ready. On the other hand, maybe you’re out there and you’re looking to expand your authority to get to build a platform whereby you can get your message out to the world. And if that’s you, then check us out a, because the best way to develop credibility is to have a first name doctor. The best way to get your name out there and be an expert is to also be a published author. And Dr. Berk is going to be able to talk to us about both of those things. So, again, welcome. And how are you doing today?


Dr. Sarabeth Berk [00:02:42]

I’m fantastic. I love that intro. I really like. How are you?


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:02:47]

Doing well, doing well, I. I can’t imagine that I actually get to do this. I mean, I get to talk with interesting people and and this is part of what we do to kind of help our audience, the folks that that are that we serve to serve them in a different way. And I think you’re going to be an inspiration to some of those folks with the stories that you’re going to be able to share with them about what you’ve accomplished since you’ve had your your doctoral degree. But I’d like to start, as I often do, by asking you. What in the world motivated you to make the crazy decision to go after a doctoral degree? And I say that with all affection, but I mean, come on, one percent of the population has a doctoral degree. Ninety nine percent are like, are you guys crazy? What was it for you?


Dr. Sarabeth Berk [00:03:33]

I was going to agree right away. It’s a crazy decision. I mean, I know in my heart I’m an academic. I’m someone who wants to go all the way to the finish line. So just getting my undergrad degree, I think it was in the back of my head that someday I’d go for a dissertation and Ph.D.I just didn’t know when. So there was that. And then ultimately I was working in the field of K-12 and to be respected, you need the reputation. You need the credentials. So a Ph.D. was that stamp of approval that I needed to get ahead and move my career forward. So those were the main drivers, but little did I know I was embarking on for a lot of good things despite the challenge. Right. I’m glad I did it.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:04:19]

Yeah, now you said you’re working in K-12, we’re in K-12, this is a doctoral degree considered necessary.


Dr. Sarabeth Berk [00:04:27]

Yeah, I’d say administrative level, when you’re going to start being a change agent and a leader of the show, that you’re an authority and curriculum design or you understand school administration. And so I wanted to become a master teacher and help redesign and transform education. So it was going to be like a central administrative role.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:04:47]

Yeah, we’ve had a few superintendents who’ve been guest on the show, and one in particular was actually had her… I forgot whether she said it was her principal or her superintendent… came in and lovingly kicked her out of the classroom because he said, you’re meant for bigger things. You got to go out there and do these other things. And and so she did. And and that’s the thing. The doctoral degree provides all sorts of opportunities to folks, things that you want. And you are embarking on your if you’re chasing your pursuing and the other things that you just would never have thought of that that just happened to find you on this journey. But before we get there, what about when you decided to get into the doctoral degree? What was that like for you? What were you doing this remotely? Where you on campus? What was the experience for you?


Dr. Sarabeth Berk [00:05:38]

Yeah, I was a little hodgepodge, maybe unconventional, maybe conventional, so I had applied to a couple of programs and I was in California at the time and I was teaching full time in the classroom so I wasn’t ready to become a full-time student. So I found a program that was at first an Ed.D., so that’s a doctorate in education. And it was meant to be done concurrently while I was working. So I’d have night classes on campus and then we had summer class. So when I was out for summer break, I was back in grad school. I ended up actually transferring. So I did a year in that program. And then I went to a full PhD program and was a full time student. And I came to Colorado for that. And I worked for the university in one of our living and learning community service staff on campus and was taking classes at night. So I was just juggling everything.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:06:26]

Yeah, it was difficult when you when you were so I actually went through the doctoral process kind of twice. I went through as a traditional student. The first time around I went to I was going to be an astronomer. I was going to be an astrophysics professor. And and I went well through that program until my advisor died and made me do some reevaluation, thinking, is that is this what I want to do? Still don’t want to do something else? And and I chose to do something else at the time. But when I was there as a full time student, I must have been putting in like 80 to 100 hour work weeks. And you simply cannot do that as a quote unquote, real adult. You know, I was 20 something years old, but I had no responsibility. I had cheap rent that I had to pay and groceries I had to buy for myself. And that was I didn’t have a family that depended on me. I didn’t have all these other responsibilities. And so I could devote 80 to 100 hours, which was kind of insane. But I enjoyed it in a way, and I could do that. But like I said, when you get to a certain point in your life, you have to work. You have to have others that depend on you and that you want to spend time with. You have to consider in this process as well.


Dr. Sarabeth Berk [00:07:47]

Yeah, you have to make this work for your lifestyle. And a lot of people in my program have full time jobs. So a lot of our classes were nighttime or weekends or summers. I mean, they were trying to accommodate different styles because you get older if they figure it out and, you know, you’re making the commitment for a certain period of time, just a few years, right?


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:08:08]

That’s true. Well, at least in the beginning when when it’s all structured right. What was your experience as you transitioned into the dissertation, though?


Dr. Sarabeth Berk [00:08:17]

Yeah, I wanted to get the heck out of there, so I was like, I’m getting this done. The year started my dissertation proposal and the process of getting IRB approval in the spring and then the following spring I was done. So I had that goal. The other thing, though, was I had a great accountability buddy. That’s what we called each other. We were like neck and neck each other like. Did you finish chapter one yet? Do you have your interview methodology down? Oh, I just got this. Did you get that? And so it helped to sort of have someone at your level where we were facing each other.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:08:50]

Yeah. In two great points that that you just made. Number one is having a goal. You have to be strategic. You’re going to get. You’re going to get whatever you do and you want to make sure that you’re doing things that are going to get you what you want. So a lot of people will just sort of float around like a leaf on the wind or something like that. They will they will just do whatever they think they’re supposed to do or they’ll put their head down and work or whatever it is. But they’re not working purposefully towards a very specific goal. You knew you wanted to get out of there, so you made it happen. So that’s critical because if you didn’t take that goal, they. I know. Want to get out of here in a year, you would have been there two or three or four years later.


Dr. Sarabeth Berk [00:09:26]

And I had friends that graduated much later than I did, even though our coursework was done at the same time.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:09:30]

Which is pretty much the norm. I mean, the finishing that quickly is not not normal for doctoral students. That’s why we kind of are proud about our students through that quickly.


Dr. Sarabeth Berk [00:09:44]

The other part to write is having structure. I knew, OK, figure out my research and get it gathered in the fall and start doing analysis in the winter, during the holidays and then write during the spring semester.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:09:57]

And having that structure that that. That structure that’s not imposed upon you by the university and not even imposed upon you by your committee to go and set up time, and then you have to do things on schedule time, because when we have all these other priorities, if you’re just trying to find time, it’s never going to happen. You have to schedule time. You have to make it a meeting with yourself, just like it’s a meeting to go to work or a meeting to go to the gym, maybe or church or whatever is important to you. You schedule it, you know, when you’re going to do it and you have to do it that this way as well.


Dr. Sarabeth Berk [00:10:30]

That that was my life. I had a day job once I was dissertating and from, I don’t know, six, seven o’clock at night to at least 10 or 11. I was on my laptop writing, so I was committing nighttimes and weekends.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:10:43]

And that’s what you got to do to be had to plan all the time and make it work. And then the other thing you mentioned that’s very important is you have to have other people around you that know what you’re doing and can be helpful in supporting you in that process. Whether they’re right where you are right now, maybe they’re ahead of you, possibly even behind you. All of that’s important. But they have to know something about the journey in order to really emotionally support you through this process.


Dr. Sarabeth Berk [00:11:09]

I completely agree.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:11:12]

So were there any particular obviously the results speak for themselves, but I’ll still ask, were there any particular challenges going through the dissertation process, anything that where you got stopped, stuck or or stalled out?


Dr. Sarabeth Berk [00:11:26]

Absolutely. I mean, I probably wanted to drop out of the program three or four times. I need statistics class hard or because I hit a problem with the committee or whatever, or just my own burnout. You know, there’s just the energy. So the challenging part, I think, first of all, just picking your topic. And then second was understanding research methodologies. I didn’t get that you could kind of customize. I thought I was just doing this or that. And so kind of just logically getting my brain wrapped around what is the methodology and then figuring out the themes and the implications from the data. Writing the data, and I wrote chapters that were sort of key studies and some other interesting processes. But seeing what the bigger meaning was is really hard for me. But once it clicked, I had all these AHA’s.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:12:21]

And that’s that’s why I tell students not to do qualitative studies, because that is because I think of it. I think it’s much harder. I mean, it’s to me, it’s working smarter versus working harder. It conceptually, the statistical thing is is difficult for some people, but just the work you have to do on the qualitative side, there’s a lot that you have to do. And when folks go into the qualitative side saying, hey, I’m just going to talk to people I love talking to people. That’s just the start, that’s the tip of the iceberg.


Dr. Sarabeth Berk [00:12:50]

I think that’s where I thrive. So I’m a qualitative researcher and getting through one cycle is for me. You’ve never done it before. You don’t know what it looks like to do word analysis and use these software programs that are matching patterns.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:13:07]

To get all of your participants lined up and to get the interviews done and to do whatever you need to do to collect that data. Still, finishing in a year is just amazing. That’s that’s really something that takes a long time to do that.


Dr. Sarabeth Berk [00:13:19]

My tip there is scope. I think most students get in over their head. They want to do a giant thousand-person study. And that’s just that is going to take years. Yeah, I scoped mine really tight. I had five case study participants that I was focused on for a duration of time. I think it was like six to 10 weeks. And I just that was data collection. So yeah.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:13:43]

Yeah, definitely trying to at least define a scope so that your committee doesn’t encourage you to do more things is important because scope creep happens a lot in dissertations as well. You have to watch. Watch out for that.


Dr. Sarabeth Berk [00:13:58]

And you you need to enjoy the process, you need to do things that don’t just work all the time. I really looked forward to I was doing site visits and observations and collecting data from different angles because it was qualitative. And so I really enjoyed going and spending an hour with someone and getting their story. And then the hard part was how to get transcripts and what do I do with my field notes that I enjoyed the process of meeting them.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:14:24]

And that is important to have something you always want to have something to look forward to and something that you you can enjoy doing it. I still have to be careful about being passionate about what you’re doing with the dissertation, because that can make you intractable. You need to be flexible to to do what your committee wants you to do to an extent. So they will approve it. But at the same time, it has to be something that you can have that commitment to to to putting in the time and getting done.


Dr. Sarabeth Berk [00:14:50]

Oh, yeah. Yeah.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:14:52]

So tell me about the end of the process for getting prepared for the defense and what was that like?


Dr. Sarabeth Berk [00:14:59]

In my head, it’s anticlimactic. I’m honestly having a total memory loss. I think I blacked out magic.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:15:07]

But what was the end of the defense like? What did they do at the end of the defense? Do you remember that?


Dr. Sarabeth Berk [00:15:12]

Um, it was the committee, it was a couple of hours in a closed room. I give a presentation. They asked me a bunch of questions and then they said, you know, pass provisions or fail.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:15:23]



Dr. Sarabeth Berk [00:15:24]

I had a few revisions, nothing major.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:15:26]

They’re supposed to say “Congratulations, Dr. Berk!” Did they not do that for you?


Dr. Sarabeth Berk [00:15:34]

Oh, I’m in such academic mode. Like, it was rigorous. It was right. All right.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:15:39]

That’s that’s that’s the big thing. That’s that’s what most people remember. Like, I don’t remember much my defense either. I remember that. And and that’s what I hear from so many people. It’s like the first time somebody said, congratulations, Dr. Me.


Dr. Sarabeth Berk [00:15:54]

I don’t remember that part.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:15:56]

Gosh. Oh, my gosh. I can’t believe they didn’t do that. Oh, well, there’s been good things that have happened since that. Right. Let’s talk about the book. So, More Than My Title. Yeah. What’s the title mean.


Dr. Sarabeth Berk [00:16:09]

I love it because it’s, it’s a play on words and yet it’s we are more than our job titles. So essentially my dissertation became a book and the book is now becoming a whole business. I was trying to figure out my topic for my dissertation and I went through I was someone who had probably one hundred ideas and I started even my first year trying to source and decide. But I was on that journey of being a doctoral student and being called a student, agai., I was going through this identity crisis. I didn’t know how to introduce myself publicly and I had to do networking for my day job. And they’d say, “What do you dp?” Saying, “I’m a student,” wasn’t appropriate because it was just such a period of time that I was in that identity. I didn’t want to use my former identity of being a teacher because I was moving on from that. I felt really lost.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:17:03]

See, the one I like for that is “FutureDoc.”.


Dr. Sarabeth Berk [00:17:08]

Oooo, yeah. You are a FutureDoc.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:17:08]

I’m not there yet, but see, because I think students are going through this at some point when you decided to pursue a doctoral degree sometime before that. You knew that you were a doctor like inside, that’s who you thought of your how you thought of yourself, you know, you wouldn’t call yourself that or anything, even even in your head. But that’s who you were, that there was an identity issue there. And I think identifying as. Yes, I am, I’m yeah. I don’t want to see a doctor in training or something, but a FutureDoc, I kind of like that. Because that’s what you’re doing, is you’re getting there.


Dr. Sarabeth Berk [00:17:44]

And it was it was a transformation. It’s a metamorphosis. It’s sensing that you can’t you can’t name it yet. So in that process of not knowing who I was or what I did, I was just starting to ask people about their identity and their profession and their job titles and realizing just because you’re called a professor or called a director of Blank, you are doing five or six or seven other things within that role. Right. So these titles are misnomers. They’re just abstract terms we’re using to label people and put them in boxes. So it’s kind of annoying, but also enlightening to have that realization like, oh, I’m not the only one feeling this weird struggle. I’m just calling it out.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:18:30]



Dr. Sarabeth Berk [00:18:30]

And then I use that to become the theme of my dissertation. The research question I was pursuing is like, who are we in our work? What is our professional identity? It’s more than our title. Right. And that became this very eye-opening revelation and awakening and brought it empowered me to finally be OK. Let me look at my own identity. I actually started as an artist. I went to art school for undergrad and grad. Then I went into education. I love design now and my doctor says I was really getting strong in research. We had these primary identities that were very important to me and I needed to use them all at the same time. I didn’t want to just get a job as a researcher or a job as a teacher. I needed the combination. And so what I found is that people are hybrids. It’s another segment of the workforce outside of just being an expert or a generalist. And yet you don’t talk about this idea of being hybrid. We have weird terms that describes it like, oh, I’m a jack of all trades or I’m a polymath or I am a gig worker. There’s these variations that none of them really talk about integration, which is the difference that you can have multiple identities integrating to create a whole new identity in that intersection. But that’s your value. That’s honestly your value prop. So that was where the dissertation got me started on that. And that idea hasn’t left me. I would keep talking about it. As I was having coffee meetings, I started using it in my own professional introduction saying I’m Sarabeth, You know, I’m the director of X, but I’m actually I think of myself as a hybrid and it’s because I’m a creative disruptor and just flowed. And people are like, oh, that’s so interesting. I think I’m a hybrid too. And I saw more resonance and I knew I needed to get that idea into a bigger market, into the workforce, because if I was doing this more and more, I was finding out a lot of people felt the same struggle. More than my title.

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Dr. Russell W. Strickland

RUSSELL STRICKLAND, Ph.D., has been referred to as a “rocket scientist turned management consultant.” In truth, he applies an eclectic body of work from astronomy and nuclear physics to dynamic inventory management to market research to each of his student engagements.