Job Profile: Dr. Kathryn Allan, Copyeditor and Independent Scholar

Posted on November 14th, 2012 by najblog1.
Categories: Alum Profiles.

Kathryn Allan, PhD: Writer, Editor, Coach, Scholar.

This interview is part of a series that department publicity RA PhebeAnn Wolframe will be conducting with McMaster English and Cultural Studies Department alumni who are working in non-academic settings. These interviews are designed to give a brief overview of some of the careers English & CS grads might pursue. If you are an English & CS MA or PhD alumnus in a non-academic career, Phebe would like to hear from you at wolfrapm [at] mcmaster [dot] ca.

Today we are profiling Kathryn Allan, a 2010 graduate of McMaster University’s Department of English and Cultural Studies PhD program. Her career is diverse, straddling the line between academic and non-academic work. Kathryn owns her own business, Academic Editing in Canada, which offers copy writing, copy editing and dissertation coaching. Kathryn is also an independent scholar.


P: When did you decide to pursue a career outside of the tenure-track job stream?

K: I went into the PhD feeling unsure as to whether or not I was on the right professional track. I told myself that I would only try for a tenure-track job if I was able to do it on my own terms. I was acutely aware of the inequalities of graduate funding (and the opportunities opened/closed by having/not having external funding) and the grim realities of the academic job market. After becoming ill and developing chronic pain issues during my 2nd year, I made the decision to leave academia at the completion of my degree.

P: Why did you choose to become an independent scholar, freelance writer/editor and dissertation coach? Did you decide to combine all of these things from the outset, or did you keep adding new “trades” to your portfolio as you developed your career?

K: Like so many other PhDs, I left grad school without a clear plan as to what I was going to do next. Honestly, I was too burnt out – physically, mentally, and emotionally – to think about the future. It took me at least 6 months to clear my head. I knew that I wanted to work at home at a job of my own creation, so I launched Academic Editing Canada with a mind to attracting ESL clients. As it turned out, my first clients were native-English speaking PhD and MA students needing copyediting/proofreading of their theses. I loved editing theses right away! Each thesis is like a crash course in whatever particular subject the student has researched. I then began to focus on attracting similar clients, while networking in the local business community to bring in work from there as well.

The dissertation coaching side of the business came to me. I had several requests for coaching and writing instruction at the PhD level, and I found that work incredibly satisfying. The one thing that I was missing from academia was the access to teaching – academic coaching fulfills my desire to work one-on-one with people. As of now, I am working on a new business plan that will hopefully increase this side of my career portfolio.

As for the independent scholarship, well that’s a whole other bag of worms. I have two motivations:
First, the realization that I still wanted to continue my research and writing interests (in science fiction) came as a surprise. There was a whole lot of soul searching going on – after all, any scholarly work that I do is unpaid (and in fact, often costs me money to pursue it). But I knew that I wouldn’t be happy in life if I left that part of myself – the part that loves investigating, theorizing, and critiquing literary and film works – behind in grad school. So I decided to carry on with the research plans I outlined at the end of my dissertation … plus branching out into any other area that interests me. As an independent scholar, I can study pretty much whatever I want and this is an incredibly liberating feeling.
Second, as an independent scholar, I can continue to advocate for changing the way in which universities run their graduate programs. I am absolutely appalled by the way a significant number of graduate students are exploited for their labour and finances. Very few grads are actually prepared for job market that awaits them at the end of their degrees. As an independent scholar, I am keeping one foot in the door so that I can keep the conversation going about the need for radical change in higher education. I’m still developing myself as an independent scholar, and I would suggest that anyone interested in finding out more about what I’m doing and why to go to my blog, Bleeding Chrome. [Bleeding Chrome is also the title of Kathryn’s dissertation -PW]

P: What do you like most about your work?

K: Just about everything! I wrote a post earlier this year called, “How I Quit University and Got the Academic Job I Always Wanted” that outlines all of things I like about my portfolio career. Basically, I have taken all the parts of academic work that I like (writing, researching, editing, and mentoring) and made them into my job.

P: What are some of the drawbacks to your work (or things you like least)?

K: The only real drawback to my work is that it costs me money to be an independent scholar. It’s a financial sacrifice I’m willing to make, however, because the satisfaction that I get from the work out weighs any negatives. Since my work is largely within my control, I always have the opportunity to change direction when necessary.

P: How do you balance between your academic work as an independent scholar, your work as a writer, editor and dissertation coach, and your other commitments and interests outside of work (aka “having a life”)?

K: This is the beauty of my portfolio career – I’m in charge of my time. I’ve had to learn how to not overbook myself (when it comes to client work), but I certainly have a much more manageable and pleasant work schedule now than I did as a graduate student. When I don’t have client work scheduled, I do scholarship. If I am particularly busy with paid client work, then I am also careful to carve out time for my scholarship – both kinds of work are equally important to me. I go to science fiction cons (both academic and fan-driven) throughout the year as well.

P: What advice do you have for recent MA or PhD graduates who may be interested in becoming independent scholars and/or starting their own editing, writing and/or coaching businesses?

K: Again, I’ve written a number of blog posts giving advice on how to go about this type of portfolio career, but I will say this here – it is not easy work that will net you a tenure-track income. Not everyone can work on their own. Working as an sole proprietor is a lot different than working within an institution where every course of action is already set out for you. If you are going to start of your own business, you need to network, network, and network some more. You need to be self-motivated, organized, and able to meet deadlines without pause. Liz Koblyk actually interviewed me back in October about “Creating Your Own Work” if you are interested in reading more.


Sincere thanks for Kathryn for giving us an interview, and for providing the useful job resources embedded in it. Kathryn has also graciously agreed to be available by email to current students and recent graduates who have further questions about her career. In addition to checking out her blog for more information (highly recommended!), you can contact Kathryn at editor [at] academicediting [dot] ca. You can also follow her on Twitter @BleedingChrome

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Non-Academic Jobs Resources for English and CSCT » Job Profile: Ailsa Kay, Author, College Instructor and Grant Writer

Pingback on January 29th, 2013.

[…] interview is with Dr. Ailsa Kay. Like our previous interviewee Kathryn Allan, Ailsa has a “portfolio career”: that is, her career is made up of several different […]

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