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Outside Academia, Volume 2: Loren Mayor

Posted By Sara B. Thiel, University of Pittsburgh, Monday, September 22, 2014
Updated: Monday, September 29, 2014

Outside Academia Volume 2:

Loren Mayor

Interview conducted and transcribed by Rita Kompelmakher, PhD Candidate at the University of Minnesota, September 2014.

Loren Mayor received a PhD in Theater History from Northwestern University in 1999. She taught at the New School for Social Research and served as Visiting Assistant Professor at Northwestern prior to joining the business-consulting firm McKinsey & Company in 2000. For the past ten years she has held executive level positions at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), and National Public Radio (NPR). She currently holds the position of Senior Vice President of Strategy for NPR in Washington D.C.

At NPR Loren is part of the senior leadership team and in charge of working with the CEO and Board of Directors to chart the strategic vision for the organization. Part of her job involves research analysis and meetings with department heads at NPR to discuss operational activities that feed into that larger strategy. The other part of her job consists of acting as an internal consultant for the company on longer-term projects that align with NPR’s strategy. In our interview, I ask Loren to describe what her typical day looks like at NPR. She answers: “I am literally in meetings with colleagues in my company or industry from the minute I get here until the minute I leave.” She shares that following our call she has one meeting to analyze radio program pricing and another meeting to discuss the implementation of a new software system for the company. Prior to our interview she met with the senior team to discuss the upcoming fiscal year and to clarify strategy, metrics and deliverables.

While terminology such as ‘metrics’ and ‘deliverables’ might seem odd for a Theater PhD, Loren explains that many of the skills she needs on the job she acquired in graduate school. In our interview she aptly code-switches between business-world lingo and academic lingo, mentioning that when she prepares for meetings she is leading she relies on deep reading and critical skills in order to convey complex technical information in a way that will resonate with all audiences, no matter what their backgrounds. These are skills she honed in graduate school. She reminisces that one of the things she loved most about teaching was crafting a lesson plan that would organically bring students to an “aha moment” in class, adding, in parallel, “I strive for that in conversations I am leading in the corporate world.”

Even though her teaching experience became a significant asset in the corporate world, Loren acknowledges that she did have a “tiny half step up” from some of her colleagues in graduate school. Her dissertation examined the impact of the arts in economic redevelopment and her research analyzed trends in urban planning. She highlights that even in graduate school she was interested in the “macro-economic view of the world.” To support her graduate research she took classes at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern and she credits this with helping her acquire a “bit of (business) vocabulary” that proved useful later down the road. Additionally, after graduate school, she got involved in a civic initiative aimed at making the arts part of the city government’s planning agenda. However, even this work was inadequate preparation to make the switch from academic to media executive.

Loren’s transition from academic to media executive required an additional step. While holding a position at Northwestern she heard from friends about a recruitment opportunity at McKinsey & Company, a leading consulting firm. McKinsey & Company recruited “non-traditional candidates” and required recruits without an MBA to go through a three-week “mini-MBA” program that included courses in macro- and microeconomics, marketing, and strategy. McKinsey served as a “major training ground” for Loren. She describes her three years with the firm as a “trial by fire” that was “very rigorous and quantitative” and allowed her to hone the analytical skills needed for her career.

Bearing in mind that Loren spoke very fondly of teaching, I feel compelled to ask why she pursued the job at McKinsey & Company in the first place. She responds that in her career the “through line has always been a desire to make an impact” whether in academia or elsewhere. She described this impact as the ability to personally exert influence on activities in the world and to see a change in how things work. Although Loren saw the influence of her teaching in the classroom, at some point she started to wonder: “Am I having enough of an impact?” The bureaucratic aspects of the university frequently made it difficult to get things done. With the McKinsey offer she saw an opportunity to work with major companies that were making an impact in the world. On her current job she makes decisions every day and these decisions are implemented: “Things change and I love that.” This desire for impact also constituted one of the major reasons Loren left McKinsey & Company and went “in-house” to work for a public media company, explaining that working as a consultant did not permit her to “see the implementation process through from start to finish” as her current job now allows.

Loren confides that the transition from professor to analyst was not necessarily an easy one: “I went from being the expert in the classroom to someone pretty junior in a big system where I was fairly unprepared. That was a big change.”

I ask Loren to address the accusation of ‘selling out’ in regards to her new career since the transition to a nonacademic career entails not just a transfer of skills, but also a re-evaluation of principles that can emotionally and intellectually bind academics to a certain way of life. Loren responds that “you can turn corporate America into some big boogeyman,” but that she has “been in the public media for a decade” and found places with a strong sense of mission and meaningful work. “It’s about making a civil society. This company [NPR] sends reporters into Iraq and tells people about the Ebola crisis.” In describing her role in the company she says that “yes, I look at a lot of spreadsheets, but I feel that the work I contribute to makes this country better.” When she came to NPR the company was in a budget deficit and during her leadership this month they “are passing a balanced budget for the next year.” She sees this as one of her proudest moments on the job. Additionally, Loren touches on some myths about non-academic careers such as the fear of losing one’s sense of self and intellectual community. Although she concedes that “right after I left academia I felt a part of me was not getting expressed,” she now finds that her life “feels well integrated.” She sees commonalities between her new job and many of the things that made her love academia, especially “being with people and problem solving.” “I have a very intellectually satisfying job. I come home every day pretty energized by the things that got done.”

Academia positively influenced Loren’s sense of fulfillment and success in the media industry. “Pure passion” led her to pursue a degree in Theater History where she fostered her fascination with “how cultures craft stories about themselves.” She believes her ability to exercise her passion and to understand cultures made a difference in her new career. When she interviewed for McKinsey & Company she received feedback that they were impressed by her “passion and joy” for the things she was doing in her life. Her ability to speak in expert fashion in front of small and large groups of people has also been an asset.  “Public speaking is not a skill that all business professionals are trained in,” she says.  “Being in front of a classroom every week hones your ability to be a good communicator.” The training she received in academia as a professor –that required the crafting of new courses every 10 weeks –made it possible for her to “parachute into a foreign culture” at her consulting job and “process a tremendous amount of information in a very short time frame.” Although lacking the traditional MBA training of many of her colleagues at McKinsey, Loren felt that the wealth of experience she brought from academia made her stand out from “everyone else coming off the queue.”

I ask Loren to reflect on the most important factors that made possible her transition from academia to a non-academic career. She told me that she had a positive role model of someone who started in academia but did not end up there: her mother, who received a PhD in American Studies and left academia to work in non-profit management. In graduate school “everything is leading you toward being an academic. They do not bring in professionals who have the degree and do something else.” This sort of mentality can frequently make graduate students feel like only one path is available to them, but perhaps because of her mother’s influence Loren did not regard academia as her only option. “I never assumed I would end up in academia; I assumed I would start there.”

Toward the end of our conversation I ask Loren if she has any advice for graduate students who are considering non-academic careers. Although a “strong advocate” for the idea that “if you follow your passion good things will come,” she also believes in her mother’s motto that “chance favors the well-prepared mind.” Reflecting on the classes she took at the Kellogg Business School while pursuing a PhD, she suggests that taking classes in other departments will “give credibility to why you are interested in this new thing.” She advises graduate students to take advantage of the campus to gain information about things of interest to them: “Find a professor, find a graduate student and talk to them.” These are things that you can potentially “talk to prospective employers about and add as a line in your resume.” Similarly, she believes it is important to “build out your network and meet people from different [non-academic] backgrounds.” For the most part “people are thrilled to talk about themselves” and it is “a whole lot easier to have a conversation” than to “approach someone when you need a job.”

Since Loren has experienced a professional life in both worlds, academic and corporate, I ask if she would hire a PhD in Theater and Performance Studies. She replies, “Yes.”  The skills one gets in a PhD program, “everything from rigorous analysis, good writing skills, and, in theory, good communication skills if you have also been teaching,” are all capabilities she wants in a colleague. The degree also demonstrates to her one’s ability to finish a task, since it is a “mountain to get a PhD.” When she meets with people who have started a program and didn’t finish it, she underscores that it is “their misfortune to talk to her” because one of the qualities she respects most in her colleagues is perseverance – “that you can start it and finish it.”




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Outside Academia, Volume 1: Ken Cerniglia

Posted By Sara B. Thiel, University of Pittsburgh, Tuesday, August 19, 2014
Updated: Monday, September 22, 2014

Please take the opportunity to peruse the first installment of New Paradigms in Graduate Education's newest initiative: Outside Academia, a series of profiles on PhDs in Theatre and Performance Studies who work outside the academy. 

Outside Academia

Volume 1


Ken Cerniglia


Interview conducted on July 22, 2014 and transcribed by Amanda Boyle, PhD Student at the University of Kansas.


Ken Cerniglia is the Dramaturg and Literary Manager at Disney Theatrical Group in New York City.  He is also the Artistic Director at Two Turns Theatre Company, the Co-Chair for the American Theatre Archive Project, and on the board of Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas (LMDA). 


Ken received a BA in Psychology and Theatre in 1995 from the University of California, San Diego.  He then went on to earn a MA in Theatre History and Criticism in 1998 from The Catholic University of America.  Ken also earned a PhD in Theatre History and Criticism in 2001 from the University of Washington. His dissertation focused on race theory, casting, and the performance of ethnicity in nineteenth-century popular theatre, and the effect of these concepts on American identity formation.  “My programs [MA and PhD] were about scholarship and how to be a scholar,” said Ken, but he got involved in production when possible. 


As his focus was on research and writing, I asked Ken if while in school he knew that he wanted to work outside of academia.  Ken answered, “I liked research and I liked teaching.  I’ve always liked school and the university.  I felt very comfortable in the university.  I stayed active in production and really enjoyed that as well.  But I also knew there were other things to do.”  Ken explained, “ My professors were training us to do what they did – be scholars.”  He also acknowledged that the university does not always allow for professors to be able to teach, research, write, publish, conference, and work outside the academy.  “You just can’t do everything at once,” he said.  Ken recognized that he was gaining a skill set that he could use outside of the academy.  He said, “I never had it in my head that I would only teach.”  While many of Ken’s professors did not have much experience outside the academy, “they were open” to the idea of him finding work elsewhere.  “They didn’t have the experience to support that in any kind of direct way.  But I had support from mentors when I found a job outside” the university system. 


Although Ken now works outside of the academy he did hold two adjunct teaching positions after completing the PhD.  During 2001-2003, Ken worked at Cornish College of the Arts, a conservatory that focused on BFA students in acting, stage management, theatre history, and design.  He said that working there was “thrilling.”  He was able to teach theatre history through dramaturgy while “igniting curiosity and encouraging critical thinking.”  During that time, he also taught at University of Puget Sound, a liberal arts college where he mostly worked with BA students.  There he taught theatre survey classes, which allowed for him and his students to engage in critical discussion.  Ken explained, “But it was semester to semester.  Not full-time work.  You are trying to make a living, which is hard, but people do it.  I loved it.” 


            Ken took the first major step towards non-academic work while attending the LMDA Conference in 2003.  While there, Ken ran into a former colleague from La Jolla Playhouse (where Ken had worked while attending UCSD) who had been working as a dramaturg with Disney Feature Animation and the Disney Parks and had just moved to New York to work in the theatre business unit.  “He told me that Disney Theatrical Group ( was looking for an Associate Dramaturg in Creative Development to help develop new stage musicals. He encouraged me to apply… but I had no interest.  I was in New York later that summer for the ATHE conference, and he asked me to come by the office to meet some people… which turned out to be an application and interview.  I got the job.”  Ken had friends in New York City and now a job, so he made the move.  One of the things that intrigued Ken to take the plunge was Julie Taymor’s production of The Lion King (1997).  It has “international roots, and I would be working with a global entertainment company on a production that was artistically and commercially successful.”  Since then, he has worked on dozens of projects, most recently the Tony Award-winning productions of Newsies, Peter and the Starcatcher, and Aladdin.  Ken added, “I thought I’d do this for a couple years and keep applying for a university jobs.  But it’s been almost eleven years and I still love it.” 


Ken also works as the Artist Director for Two Turns Theatre Company, which ( creates “intimate theatre in unique spaces with a historical bent,” explained Ken.  The company was formed to produce Jeffrey Hatcher’s stage adaptation of The Turn of the Screw in the Merchant’s House Museum in New York.  The company is planning to remount the production in Louisville next year and is in early development on a few other projects. 


Ken is an active member of several professional and academic organizations, including LMDA, ASTR, ATHE, and IFTR, where his is a Historiography Working Group member (and former convener) and recently attended the conference in Coventry, UK.  “I’ve been attending conferences for over fifteen years now, so I know people. I have friends there, and I care about them and about their work.  Sometimes I bring something I’m working on, sometimes not.  For me, it’s about staying active in other people’s scholarship, which allows for me to stay ‘ready’ for going back to university if I decide to pursue it.  It’s about keeping doors and relationships open,” explained Ken.  He still reads widely and enjoys opportunities to visit universities and engage with students.  This past spring, Ken visited the University of Kansas as a Guest Scholar.  Conferences and guest speaking engagements allow for Ken to “keep networking.  And it’s good for me to take a break from my job.  It allows me to recharge and come back refreshed.”


In Ken’s role as Co-Chair of the American Theatre Archive Project (, he is helping ATAP become more integrated into the ASTR conference this year in Baltimore.  ATAP was “conceived as a way to bring together theatre scholars, archivists, and dramaturgs in order to help theatre companies archive their process and product in order to preserve their cultural legacy.”  Ken describes it as a “great project with big goals.  I’m very proud of it.  And I’m glad ASTR has taken it on.”  He explained that public service can and should be apart of our scholarship in ASTR.  “We should also be looking at the skills we are building and what we are offering to the world,” Ken noted.  ATAP provides ASTR scholars a great opportunity to work with theatre companies. “In a concrete way, we can get theatre scholarship out of an ivory tower and help theatre companies to think about their legacy.” 


Many of the ideas and skills that have allowed Ken to be so successful he acquired during his academic training, like “getting to know a subject within a deep historical context and then applying that knowledge prudently and practically to production.”  His academic work got him interested in the development process – how productions come to fruition.  At Disney Theatrical Group, Ken has become a kind of resident historian as well as archivist.  He said, “DTG is now twenty years old. And the Disney Company has a long history – ninety-one years now – so the historical training helps.”


With his many roles, balance is important in keeping Ken on track.  “Deep diving into a project means that other things are pushed to the side and email builds up. I don’t have a secret.  It is always a struggle to keep an eye on my calendar and keep up with family.  It’s modern life,” Ken said.  But somehow it all fits in.  He went on to say, “You get it done, you figure it out.”  Ken also explained that he has found a way to say yes to the things that interest him and that he’s getting batter at saying no to the things he doesn’t want to do, but mostly “it is a big soup of interesting creativity, which I find invigorating.  Then when I’ve checked that box, I move on.” 


When I asked Ken how current graduate students can market themselves for non-academic job, he suggested that graduate students should create a resume that is not an academic resume and to “focus on job skills – classes you’ve taught, projects you’ve finished, publications.”  Students will often realize skills you have gained, such as writing and project management.  He also said, “Look at your topic. It will most likely have some kind of relevance in the world.  Learn how to frame your work in the market place.  And know how to structure your skills and resume.”  Ken explained that when looking for jobs, it is important to recognize that your PhD may not need to be at the top of the resume.  He said, “My degree has an indirect benefit to the work I do here [at Disney Theatrical Group].  I’ve had other jobs where my specific education was more of a footnote.”


I asked Ken what advice he has to offer PhD students and candidates who are interested in pursuing a career outside of the academy.  “Keep an mind open and keep options open, which is difficult to do.  It’s hard.  This is what you are doing for now and it doesn’t mean that this is what your doing forever.  Finish it.  Finish your program, finish you dissertation.”  He also acknowledged, “You’ll have that degree forever, and no one can take it away from you.  It’s really good for you, and your life, to finish.”  In order to finish strong, graduate students have to pick something they are passionate about and think about what other things might they like to do and consider those options. “If you have time, spend it in internships or jobs in which you could be happy,” said Ken.  Writing this dissertation takes discipline and gives you transferable skills.  Lastly, he said, “Enter the job market and make connections beyond academia.” 


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Tags:  Alt-Ac  graduate students  new initiatives  New Paradigms 

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Call for Participants: Alt-Ac Profiles

Posted By Sara B. Thiel, University of Pittsburgh, Thursday, June 5, 2014

Call for Participants:


The New Paradigms in Graduate Education Committee is seeking participants in a new initiative to highlight additional career options for doctoral degree holders. New Paradigms seeks to develop a series of profiles on Ph.Ds. in theatre and performance studies who have either chosen a career outside of academia (in private and non-profit sectors), or a non-traditional route to faculty and non-faculty university positions. We are looking for three or four graduate students who are interested in seeking out and interviewing suitable candidates for these profiles. This is an excellent way to network and forge relationships!


Graduate students will be provided with a sample list of questions, as well as further instructions and recommendations as this initiative develops. These profiles will be disseminated via the ASTR email listserv, the New Paradigms in Graduate Education Facebook website, and other forms of social media. If you would like to suggest a Ph.D. who fits the above description, and/or are a graduate student interested in interviewing potential candidates, please contact the New Paradigms in Graduate Education graduate student representative: Sara Boland-Taylor at

Tags:  Graduate Student Assistance  graduate students  new initiatives  New Paradigms 

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