Switching Careers with a Little Help from Your Friends with Dr. Dawn Graham

Dr. Dawn Graham is a career switch coach, TEDx Speaker, LinkedIn Learning Instructor and Host of the popular call-in show “Dr. Dawn on Careers” on SiriusXM Radio (channel 132). She is also a regular contributor to Forbes.com under the leadership channel, and the Career Director for the Executive MBA Program at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

Her latest book “Switchers: How Smart Professionals Change Careers and Seize Success” combines her experience as a Career Coach, Licensed Psychologist, and former Corporate Recruiter to give career switchers the strategies to break through obstacles and land the job they want.



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

  • The benefit of waiting to pursue a doctoral degree
  •  Your need a map to get where you want to go
  • Overcoming the false summits of the doctoral process
  • What will you sacrifice to earn your doctoral degree?
  • Switching careers with your doctoral degree
  • How to network in 2021

In this episode…

Congratulations, Dr. You! Now what? For many new doctoral graduates, what comes next is switches careers. Dr. Dawn Graham is here to help.

In this episode of An Unconventional Life, Dr. Dawn Graham shares the story of her doctoral journey with Dr. Russell Strickland. She discusses the value of waiting to pursue a doctoral degree, the importance of mapping out your route, and the need to remain committed to the process despite the many false summits in will encounter on the way to graduation. The author of Switchers also shares her top strategy for finding the right career fit for you and your new credential.

It is not uncommon for people to have ten or more distinct careers throughout their lifetime. Isn’t time that we all learned how to make the Switch smoothly without great mountains of stress and frustration?

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 www.dissertationdone.com/done 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 www.dissertationdone.com/book and let me know that you’d like to talk about Expanding Your Authority.

Visit www.dissertationdone.com 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 podcast. I’m your host, Dr. Russell Strickland, the founder and CEO of Dissertation Done and Expand Your Authority today. I have with me Dr. Dawn Graham. She is a career switch coach. She’s a TEDx speaker, a LinkedIn  learning instructor and host of a popular call in show, Dr. Dawn on Careers on Sirius XM Satellite Radio, which is Channel 132. She’s also a regular contributor to Forbes and the career director for the executive MBA program at Wharton in UPenn. And you can see her latest book is Switchers: How Smart Professionals Change Careers and Seize Success. And it combines her experience as a career coach, a licensed psychologist, and a former corporate recruiter to give career switchers the strategies to break through obstacles and land the job they want. So that’s amazingly cool. Dr. Graham, thank you so much for being here today.


Dr. Dawn Graham [00:01:25] Thank you. I appreciate you having me.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:01:28] Oh, you are so welcome. Let everybody know that today’s episode is being brought to you by Dissertation Done. At Dissertation Done we help adult doctoral students to get through the dissertation process and graduate as soon as possible. So whether you are approaching the dissertation process and you’d like to proactively go out there and get that guidance and support that all the strongest executives and entrepreneurs know that they need, or you’re in the middle of the dissertation process and you feel slowed, stalled or just plain stuff. Reach out to us at DissertationDone.com/done. We’ll see if your if our Fast-Track Your Dissertation Coaching Program is a good fit for you and see if we can get you to graduation in less than a year. On the flip side, if you’ve already finished all that and you’re interested in being an expert, like a lot of what we’re going to be talking with Dr. Graham about today, you want to be a coach, a consultant, counselor, something along those lines, then the best way to do that is to not only have the first name doctor, but also have literally written the book on your area of expertise. And we can take you from a blank page to a published author in less time than you thought possible. So reach out to us there at DissertationDone.com/book. That’s DissertationDone.com/book and we’ll look forward to helping you with that. So again, Dr. Graham, thank you so much and welcome today.


Dr. Dawn Graham [00:02:46] Thank you for having me. Happy to be here.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:02:48] All right. Well, tell me, how is it that you’ve got into this notion of pursuing a doctoral degree in the first place? There’s there’s not too many of us out there. And it’s a little bit of a strange decision to go out there and pursue that doctoral degree. What was your motivation for doing that?


Dr. Dawn Graham [00:03:03] So I think there were a couple of things I I love to learn. And I think a lot of people who pursue their doctorate really enjoy learning and getting deep knowledge in a certain area. So I think I think first and foremost, that was kind of a core value that I had. And the reason I went back and got my degree to become a licensed psychologist is because I worked primarily in business settings my entire career. And it became apparent to me early on that a lot of business is about relationships. It’s about how people interact. It’s how groups work together to create new ideas and execute new ideas. And I started out my career as a recruiter and I also did market research. And again, all of these things are very behavioral when it comes to you, to the process of business. And so I did my master’s degree in more of that applied organizational area. And when I was thinking about going back to school four years later, I really struggled with should I go the organizational route or should I go? Was something more in line with counseling, psychology and counseling psychology. Because of that aspect of interactions in business,


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:04:21] We actually have a lot of folks who were getting their degrees in psychology that work with a Dissertation Done. And it’s amazing the array of things that you can do with that degree. So it’s it’s a really, really cool and interesting degree. How did how did the process go once you decided that you’re going to go to school and get that degree in counseling psychology, what was the process like for you getting back into school and going through those doctoral level classes?


Dr. Dawn Graham [00:04:47] So I think it was a little bit older because I had taken four years to work between my undergrad and my masters, and then I did my Masters at night. So I was continuing to work. And then after I had gotten that, I took another four years to to work full time before deciding to go back. So I think that was actually one of the most helpful parts of the process. I as an undergrad, I knew I wanted to get more education, but I had a very wise faculty member tell me, you know what, before you just dove in, get some work experience, figure out what you like to do, what you don’t like to do, if what you want to do is really what it’s cracked up to be. And that was great because I would I was very happy. One of the older students, because I felt really certain that this is the path for me, so when I decided to get my doctorate, I, I went through that process of which degree should I get? Which degree is going to add to, to my knowledge base, which degree is going to give me options in different areas that interest me? I did some informational interviews and then I, I’ve researched schools and picked six that we’re focused on counseling psychology, but had a career or business aspect to it, or a faculty member or more faculty members doing research in areas like dynamics and other things that would happen in the workplace. Because, I mean, that was where I wanted to specialize and apply my knowledge. So I picked these six schools. I went through the application process and interviews and here we are.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:06:25] So as you went through the classes and then onto the onto the the dissertation, what was that experience like for you actually picking your work and getting started on it?


Dr. Dawn Graham [00:06:42] Yeah. So I think for me, I you know, when you have worked for a while and you’re used to a certain income level, living off the loans and going to school full time was probably one of the biggest parts of the adjustment for me is it’s certainly financially was a very difficult thing to do. And so because of that, I think one of the things that was important to me was to stay on task and move through the process as efficiently as possible. So so I very much from day one started to dissect and understand what I would need to do to achieve those goals so that I could get back to the workforce and back to earning money in the way I had been used to. So that wasn’t a really that was really what drove me. And I made sure that I I researched internships early. I researched all of that process. And I know that you can’t always predict what’s going to happen. But I think the more you can understand the program and what what’s a prerequisite to what and what’s coming up and when the comprehensive exams are and setting aside to prepare for those, you’re going to be much more successful because as as a lot of people have said, getting a PhD, sometimes just learning to go through all those steps and all of the requirements and check all the boxes, that in and of itself is another, because there’s so many different things that are required, especially when you’re you’re doing a clinical Ph.D. because you have to do practicum hours and intern internships and clinic hours and and other things that maybe some other programs don’t have. So you really have to know what those requirements are. So you don’t get to the end and realize, wow, I missed a big one.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:08:26] Yeah, it’s it’s tough. And sometimes they don’t have a guide really helping you figure out how all those pieces fit together. I know recently we sat down to plan out. My son’s a freshman in high school and we sat down to plan out what classes you can register for for next year. And very quickly we figured out we’ve got to figure out the entire rest of your high school career now that we get all the pieces in place and don’t miss something. And it was I kind of knew that from my previous educational experience, but I just wasn’t quite expecting it. Like my my son’s in high school when he’s growing up. But there’s a little bit of a disconnect there. But know we had to get everything planned out. I’ll tell you another thing that you said really would resonate, I think, with a lot of our audience. And that is this notion of, hey, I’ve got to get through this thing and get finished. Right. This is the financial thing is killing me. A lot of our students are going to school full time while working full time. So they have that benefit. But, yeah, getting that getting out and getting that degree, putting it to use is such a big motivator to actually finish the thing quickly. Were there any kind of tips or hacks or anything like that that you picked up along the way to help you get through the process quickly?


Dr. Dawn Graham [00:09:39] I think for me, I was always mapping things out, always making sure I went back to the handbook and made sure that what I was doing made sense. And I certainly worked with advisors, my program. There were six doctoral students in my program, so we were able to connect and be very close. And that way we can bounce things off of each other and make sure we were on the right path. But but I do think that being organized is one of the things that was most helpful to me, because there’s always something to do and there’s always something you need to do before it. And there’s always something that’s only offered once a year. And if you miss it now, it puts you back a year. And I think you really do have to rely on your organizational skills to be able to anticipate that. Otherwise, it’s very easy to kind of get behind in the process, and so I think that to me was probably one of the things I didn’t expect, but it was one of the things that I had to work really hard to keep up with.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:10:44] Two points about what you said there. Number one, when you talk about organization, that reminds me a lot of our our philosophy with our students is when you’re working on your dissertation, the first thing we have to do is figure out exactly what are you going to be doing for your dissertation, not what the topic is or the research question or anything, but how we put boots on the ground. How are you going to get this thing done? And if we can plan that out, forget about the dissertation, but just plan out that project first. They feel a lot better about knowing where they’re going. And it speaks to the organizational component of really knowing how everything fits in, because then the prerequisites and the what comes first and what needs to come next, they make a lot more sense. And then the other thing that you said, it’s been hugely, hugely important is you had a cohort where everybody could lean on each other. And for folks out there who aren’t blessed with a cohort like that, which I know is most folks find one, find a group of people that you can kind of lean on, whether it’s folks who are going through this right now, whether it’s people who’ve been through it before. Selfishly, I can tell you we do that for our students. But there’s a lot of ways of getting that. You need that support to keep you sane, to keep to to make you feel normal, because one percent of the population earns a doctoral degree chances that you’re going to find those people just by bumping into them on the street or pretty low. You need to connect with these people intentionally so that you can feel like what you’re doing is normal and not that you’re the only oddball out there doing it. That’s a big psychological advantage. When you we know that other people are doing it. They’re going through the same struggles you are.


Dr. Dawn Graham [00:12:09] Yeah, I would agree and that that is something that I mean, I had friends who are doing doctoral degrees in other schools and other programs and we would talk and then all of those things just to get that support. Because when I was in my early thirties and a lot of people at that stage were getting married or having kids, and here I am living off of the dollar store and trying to work overnights just to earn some money while I’m going to school during the day. It was a very different lifestyle, I think, than a lot of people in my my core world were living. So it was very important to get that support.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:12:45] Yeah, absolutely. You mentioned about being able to lean on each other and everything. The phrase I use with students is you need to find someone to celebrate with and commiserate with and hopefully to the same person. They’ll really know what the celebrations mean, but they’ll also understand why you’re you’re you’re bummed about the times, because that’s going to happen quite a bit. Well, so you got through and you made it through to the other side. What’s next after after you graduate? What’s. Well, actually, how long would it take you to come to terms with the name Dr. Graham? What was that like?


Dr. Dawn Graham [00:13:16] Well, you know, it’s funny because I. I don’t really go by that normally. It’s always the quote unquote stage name for the Edgartown, but I’m proud of it. And I think anybody who who spends the time and discipline earning a degree like that, because it is hard I mean, it’s hard from the sense of of sticking it out. It’s hard from the sense of being self-motivated. I mean, yes, you have to take certain classes, but when it comes to the dissertation or internships or practicum hours or supervision hours, in my case and all this stuff, nobody’s nobody’s forcing you to do any of that. At the end of the day, you have to document and I mean, I had to to document clients and transcribe my sessions and hand all the stuff. I mean, there’s so many requirements we to volunteer at our clinic a couple of terms. And and these were all extras. These are all outside of class things that we were expected to do. And and no one’s going to I mean, you don’t have to complete your sorry at your degree or your dissertation. Usually you have a specified period of time, up to 10 years. So no one’s telling you you have to do it this year, you’re getting behind or any of that. So I think anyone who’s gone through that process and has succeeded in the end has a lot of of self motivation, self discipline, organizational skills and maybe a little PTSD coming out on the other side.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:14:52] Most people have a little PTSD.


Dr. Dawn Graham [00:14:54] Yeah, but I think I think for me, you know, you do you have so many milestones and I might call them even like the negative terminology I might use this false summits because, you know, as a psychologist, you have to pass your first year comps and then you have to get so many practicum hours and you have to pass your full comps and then you kind of have to do all of these things. You can do it at your own pace, but you have to do them before you get to the next level and then you have to finish your clinic hours and your your supervision hours and all this stuff. So. You feel like you’re accomplishing things because of all these milestones, like proof I passed my comps, now I can move on to the next thing or I pass my dissertation. Proposal like that in and of itself is a huge celebration because it’s such a hard thing to do. I got my dissertation committee to sign off on the next step. That’s huge. I finished a chapter. So there’s so many big pieces that you’re you’re kind of feeling accomplished along the way. So when you finally like, I think the funniest thing is I think the dissertation proposal was so much more of a joyous event than even the dissertation defense, because by the time you get to your defense, if you have a good committee, it’s really more of a you know, you’re going to pass. I mean, by that point, you should be very, very, very prepared to pass it. And if you’re not, that’s that’s something that is unfortunate with your dissertation committee.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:16:26] But all the time, it’s a coronation. It’s not really a defense anymore. So it’s still a defense. It used to literally be a defense like that. It would be trying to knock you down. You do whatever they can to destroy you. And if you can stand up to that, then they’re like, OK, welcome to the club. And if you can’t, then they win.


Dr. Dawn Graham [00:16:45] I think, like they do that in the proposal stage now. They really and yeah, I got that in the proposal stage because it’s like why should I embark on a year of work if the proposal isn’t solid. So I so we still get that it just in a different part of it. So by the time you get to your defense, you’ve been beat up for the last year. So they’re like, OK, we’ll ask you some questions, but we’ve really asked you most of these before. But then as a psychologist, I had to do an internship for a full year, two thousand hours of an accredited internship. So that process in and of itself was incredibly stressful to apply to and to get find one and get accepted. And then you’re doing that. So you’re technically not graduated, even though you might have done your dissertation or you might have done all of your coursework and your comps. So. So you’re working full time. In my case, it was at the University of Pennsylvania, this counseling center, and nine to five full time job for a year. And then then once you get signed off on all these supervision hours and you have to have so many group supervision hours and so many individual ones and so much of this and that. And again, you have to track all of this. And it’s not like they might today give you some kind of system to do that, but not back in my day. So you had to keep keep records of all of this and submit it and make sure you were doing the right thing in the right amount of hours in the right places, and then you can graduate. But then as a psychologist, I had to do an additional two thousand hours of supervised work experience to even be eligible to take the E triple P and the state licensure exam. So so my point about saying this summit is that you constantly think, oh, I made it, but then you’re like, well, I didn’t make it. I made it here and then I made it. But no, I didn’t make it yet. So so it is a it is a process where, you know, you have to maintain your stamina because just when you think I made it, I know I have another another two thousand hours I have to do so.


Dr. Russell Strickland [00:18:49] There’s always another big thing. But that I think it also builds. You mentioned stamina, but it also helps to build some confidence because all of these, what you call false summits, they are real events and real things that you can that you’ve accomplished. And yes, there’s another thing to do. It kind of that’s always true in life. It would be nice if the you know, if you got the big degree a little sooner in the process, because that’s that’s the real thank you. That’s the real thing that you’re going after your goal. But even if you graduate, there’s always the next thing. I see you got your book there behind you. I’m sure that was a big accomplishment as well, right?


Dr. Dawn Graham [00:19:27] Yeah, it was a similar process. Again, nobody is nobody’s forcing you to do it. You don’t really have hard and fast deadlines, the deadlines you set for yourself. And it’s really easy as humans to get distracted by just about anything when when you have to write a chapter. So so it is that discipline, that stamina, that that drive of of really believing in yourself and that you can do this and sacrifice. I mean, I think anybody who’s gotten a doctoral degree will tell you they sacrifice. They couldn’t go to somebody’s wedding because it was in another town and they didn’t have the money or the time. It was exam time or, you know, they I mean, insert sacrifice here. But I think I think we’ve all had to sacrifice to do that. And you have to you have to be honest with yourself about that, because for some people, maybe that’s worth it. For others, you may decide, you know, what what this is going to get me or where this is going to get me isn’t isn’t worth giving up time with my family or my. My friends, big events in their life or the owning house or whatever it is that’s important to you, and that’s OK, but I think that is something that we all need to evaluate before we dove into a project like this.

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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.