Political scientists pursue wide-ranging and diverse career paths. This interview series, developed by the APSA Professional Development Program, highlights the many different ways political scientists carry their skills and expertise into the workforce. For more information, including resources on career options outside of academia, visit APSA’s career page.
Jodi Bruhn is the Director of Stratéjuste Consulting, based in Ottawa, Canada. Jodi is a published policy researcher, author and facilitator specializing in governance and indigenous/Crown relations. Before joining Stratéjuste in 2012, Jodi served as research manager at Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada and as lead analyst to the Standing Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, Parliament of Canada. From 2007 to 2009, she was senior researcher at the Institute on Governance.
Originally from the Canadian Prairies, Jodi holds a PhD (University of Notre Dame), MA (University of Calgary), and BA (University of Saskatchewan) in political science. She also studied political philosophy at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich.
What did you study in graduate school? Can you say a bit about your research?
Bruhn: I studied political science. My main field was political theory. My second area was Canadian government and institutions for my Masters (in Canada) and American government and institutions for my PhD. My research was heavily theoretical. My dissertation brought early twentieth-century theories of myth to bear on three creation stories (in ancient Mesopotamia, ancient Israel and Romantic Germany), with a view to discerning the role of creation stories in forming political communities.
I also had a lighter research project. Together with my former MA advisor, I interviewed former students and colleagues of the German-American political philosopher Eric Voegelin to create a kind of anecdotal biography of our subject. This later became a book. That project brought me to Germany as I was completing my PhD.
What was your first post-PhD job? What did you do in this position?
Bruhn: I had my son as I was finishing my PhD, so my first post-PhD job had to work well with that. Working from home, I translated several books and articles from German and served as a freelance editor in English. I knew most of my clients from my time in graduate school. The works I translated or edited were in areas related to my own research. This job was convenient at the time, as I was living in Germany, with limited opportunities for academic work.
What do you do now and what is a typical day like?
Bruhn: I am now a private consultant, leading a small firm based in Ottawa, Canada. My expertise is in indigenous policy issues, with a very pragmatic focus on how to reform the indigenous/Crown relationship. We have a range of clients including indigenous governments and organizations as well as federal and provincial government departments. I sometimes collaborate with academics on projects.
A typical day involves exchanges with clients and other contacts, followed by work on substantive projects. At the conclusion of most projects, I present the results at a meeting with my client or at a formal conference. My projects are usually research papers, but also can include such practical documents as governance manuals, policies and strategic plans.
The rhythm of the work reminds me in some ways of graduate school. For most of the year I am very busy; throughout the summer I usually have some time off.
Why and when did you choose to pursue a career outside the academy?
Bruhn: My decision to pursue a career outside the academy was less a decision than a de facto situation. For personal reasons, I decided to remain in Europe after I completed my PhD. By the time I returned to North America I had “lost” five years when others in my cohort had secured tenure track positions. This was in the early 2000s and the job market was already tightening up.
I wouldn’t say that I planned an alternative career; rather I took opportunities to support my family as they arose. After we returned to Canada, I worked as a research analyst with the federal government and the Parliament of Canada. These positions were invaluable to gaining the experience and contracts required for my current consulting work.
How has your doctoral training helped you in your career?
Bruhn: Fifteen years later, I am pleased that things turned out as they did. I have had fruitful collaborations with academics, but am no longer one myself. I have developed a different approach to political and institutional questions. That said, my doctoral training has been a great help for my current work. I often think that my work is applied political science: my job brings my theoretical training and experience to bear on pressing practical questions that are important to my clients—in some cases also for the future of my country.
The pace of work is much faster than in academia, but I still have a sense of the rigour that high quality research requires. My doctoral training also sharpened my analytical skills, which I use in approaching questions. Finally, my training taught me what it means to be a good mentor. I had some excellent mentors in graduate school. My professors set a standard which I have seen met only rarely outside the academy.
Do you have any advice for PhD students considering a career outside the academy?
Bruhn: My advice is, first of all, not to fear even the thought of it. The alternatives might not always be clear, but there are many opportunities—and many rewarding uses to which a political science PhD can put his or her training. Whether you end up in government, at a think tank, or in the non-profit or private sector might depend largely on your personal temperament and career expectations. But the opportunities are there. Related to this, I would advise people to enjoy the PhD experience for what it is: a rare opportunity to study a topic of your choosing in an intellectually rich environment, with the time and mentoring to pursue that topic to its depths. Had I known at the outset that I would be leaving academia, I might have savoured that experience more.
Why have you continued to be a member of APSA?
Bruhn: I continue to be a member of APSA because the annual conference allows me to stay in contact with former colleagues in political theory and with the kinds of questions that interested me as a graduate student. Beyond this, some of the APSR articles and APSA panels interest me as a political scientist. This I remain whether I am in the academy or outside it.