Diana FilarOctober 6, 2022

Anna Valcour | Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Diana Filar ’21 currently works as an Assistant Professor of English at the United States Merchant Marine Academy. Previously, she worked as the Department Administrator in the Dean of Arts and Sciences office at Brandeis. During her graduate studies in the English department, Diana was awarded a Connected PhD grant to fund her work at the International Institute of New England (an immigrant and refugee nonprofit) where she worked with the grant writing and research team. She gave a Connected PhD interview at the time; we're catching up with her now to get additional perspective.

What skills did you learn from the Connected PhD that you use in your current role?

 I think the biggest aspect was teamwork. During my Connected PhD internship, our team actively wrote grants together; we were individually responsible for separate parts, and then I would look over the proposal for continuity and write a summatory overview. It was a very collaborative effort – as opposed to my doctoral work, which was primarily solitary or a one-on-one mentorship with my advisor. The other skill I learned was deadline orientation. When I was working there, it was the summer of 2020, so there were a lot of grants that just came up. Because it was a refugee organization, we were responding to specific needs within the community, like funding underprivileged people affected by Covid or funding workers in specific industries. It was a fast-paced ‘get up and go’ style that combined working with a team and working with deadlines. While graduate programs generally have more flexibility with deadlines, my experience with IINE did not. You had to delegate quickly. Another thing that was a direct crossover was a documentation and organization project that I worked on at IINE. I sorted out and renamed a lot of files so things would be more easily accessible and uniform. Turns out, we needed that at my current job, too, and so I could really transfer those skills!

How did your past experience with IINE inspire you to pursue work outside of academia?

After graduation, I applied to nonprofit-based roles and administrative roles. I had experience in grant writing, documentation, and administrative work. Even before the Connected PhD I did a lot of administrative work, and I think my Connected PhD experience at IINE just shored that up as a potential avenue. It opened possibilities in that sector.

Looking back, what was your favorite part of this experience? 

I think the best part of any job is the people you meet, and the connections you keep. I made a couple of very good friends and had several close working relationships. One of the people I worked with and befriended had gotten her PhD in Religious Studies. It was very reassuring to find people with PhDs in all kinds of industries, not just academia. She became a close friend and mentor. During the pandemic, people were grasping for connection. One of the higher ups lived around the corner from me, so we went on Covid walks together. The Connected PhD opened my horizons regarding networking and forging connections through work. So, when down the line I needed a reference, I could call on those individuals – and did.

What advice do you have for current students as they propose Connected PhD projects? And what advice do you have for them moving forward once they’ve completed their projects and/or graduate?

People after me have used the Connected PhD to gain skills at Brandeis, which I think is super valuable; however, if they can use it to get out of Brandeis, the possibility for network building is great. My internship with IINE really worked out because it was also tied into my research in immigrant literature. It took my studies from the theoretical realm into the practical realm. Also, I have a desire to make an impact beyond teaching diverse literature to students. Find that part of your research that you are passionate about and consider how you can utilize those skills and knowledges in various other industries. Now, I’m not encouraging everyone to turn everything they like into a job, but if you have another interest that you want to pursue or can imagine ‘oh in another life I would have been x,’ then consider how you may be able to leverage it.