Seven years ago, I went over to the Dark Side.
Desperate to leave the design job I was in at the time, I saw a writing-centric public-relations position at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy and thought to myself, “I used to write. I can do that again if it means getting out of here.” I dug out some dated writing samples (it had been six years since I wrote regularly for work), applied, and, somewhat to my surprise, got the job.
As a former journalist, part of me couldn’t help but feel a little dirty at the time about making that career move. Journalists frequently refer to public relations as the Dark Side or the black arts, and only half-jokingly at best. For many in journalism, joining the ranks of the spin masters is akin to selling your soul to the devil. Even as a former journalist, I couldn’t shake that slightly icky feeling at the time.
The last seven years have showed me how wrong that perception can be. On my first day on the job, I asked my boss what basic rules I should always bear in mind as I embarked on my PR career. The first thing he said was, “Never lie.”
That was not what I expected to hear, but then again, I never expected that I would come to like the job so much that I would still be there seven years later. If I felt the job forced me to compromise my ethics, I would have left long ago, so it obviously hasn’t. Of course, I know that not every PR job is like that, but before I took that job, I didn’t know that it was possible for any PR job to be like that.
I’ve spent the last seven years learning, transforming, and enjoying that job. It has become the longest stint of my career. I grew professionally, developed new skills, earned a new degree on the side, found my true professional passion (storytelling, in whatever form is best suited to tell the story), and discovered new opportunities to use my skills that I had never considered before. And I’ve had a good time and been able to have a life outside of work while doing all that. In short, it is probably the best job I’ve ever had.
Which makes this next part bittersweet.
Soon, I’ll be leaving the best job I’ve ever had and going over to another Dark Side. Starting in March, I’ll be the senior public affairs officer for The Graduate School at Duke.
Yes, that Duke. The Duke that I, a loyal UNC alum, have been cheering against since high school. Ick.
Of course, the pragmatic adult in me realizes that basketball rivalry aside, there is actually much that is good about Duke. I can never bring myself to root for its basketball team, but I have no problem promoting its strong academic programs. Fortunately for Duke and me, my new job only involves the latter, not the former.
Considering what happened the last time I went over to a Dark Side, I’m eager to see what awaits me this time. When I do go, however, there are a few things I will miss about my current job.
- The UNC campus: There is a reason I go for a stroll at lunch time almost every day. I’ll miss the tranquility at the end of McCauley Street, the sea of rhododendrons around the Old Well in summer, the red and orange fallen leaves dancing in the autumn breeze as you walk down Pittsboro Street, and the energetic vibe around the Pit. I wouldn’t, however, miss tripping on the bricks.
- Science communication: A storyteller wants great stories and worthwhile reasons to tell them. For me, science is one of only a few fields where you can truly find both, and it is a field where there is a critical need for better communication with the public. While I’m leaving that field for the time being, my interest and passion for the work will always remain.
- My boss: Hopefully this wouldn’t come off as brown-nosing, since I’m leaving my job and thus stand to gain nothing from it. In my experience, whether an organization is a good place to work has less to do with its culture and more to do with your direct supervisor. At the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy, I had the good fortune to work with David Etchison, the best boss I’ve ever had. I’ve learned much from him over the last seven years, whether it’s communications or home improvement. Whatever good work I did at the pharmacy school, a big chunk of the credit goes to David for putting me in a position to succeed.
I’ll stop the drip of sentimentality here. It’s on to more pressing concerns, like finding a non-blue hat to wear on my lunchtime strolls.