Sarah Lindsley (Ph.D., 2011) completed her History Ph.D. in twentieth century American history with a focus on gender, sexuality and race. Today, she is a Senior Equal Opportunity Specialist at the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, within the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Her successful trajectory from doctoral student to public sector professional, illustrates one of the many diverse career paths open to History graduates.
In her current position, she works overseeing HUD grantees’ compliance with federal non-discrimination laws and regulations. She explains that while many of her colleagues come from legal or government backgrounds, she is not the only history Ph.D. in her department.
“I think that most people who are trained as historians have skills that translate well into jobs like mine that are part of the legal field—including reading complex texts (such as laws and regulations), finding and analyzing evidence, and writing solid evidence-based arguments.”
However, it was not these skills alone that prepared her for her current role. She explains that students looking to branch out to public sector careers following their History Ph.D. should be proactive about building complementary skill sets during their graduate studies. She notes that in her particular agency “so-called ‘hard’ social science skills like GIS-mapping and statistics are in-demand.” Beyond that, she suggests, “courses in public administration, public policy, etc. would also be valuable.”
Dr. Lindsley’s path to her current career at the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity began when she earned a spot as a finalist in the Presidential Management Fellowship (PMF) program. The program provides two-year fellowships in federal agencies that often lead to permanent positions. Dr. Lindsley completed her fellowship from 2011-2013 and has been working for HUD as a regular federal employee since then.
For current History graduate students looking to follow a similar career path, she has this to say:
“My best advice to history Ph.D. (or master’s) students who are looking at careers outside academia is to be open-minded, and talk to people in a variety of fields that you think you might be interested in. If you’ve made it to the Master’s, A.B.D. or Ph.D. stage, you have transferable writing, research, and probably also teaching skills that you can use in a variety of fields and sectors. Take pride of what you have accomplished within academia and be confident that you have value to contribute to the world beyond academia! Your path may not be obvious or straightforward, but you can still have a rich and rewarding career.”
While her path to the public sector via a History Ph.D. has been somewhat circuitous, she has no regrets. She stresses that “there is an intrinsic value to an advanced degree in history that goes beyond career path. I feel like I am a much more informed citizen, that I have more to contribute to the world, and that I have been personally enriched by the experience.” That contribution to the world goes beyond the finely honed research, writing, and critical thinking skills that History Ph.D.’s are known to offer. Dr. Lindsley’s own specialization included a focus on race in U.S. history, a background that offers her insight into the context within which her current work matters.
"At HUD, for example, we are currently still working on developing and implementing policies to address institutionalized racism in the form of patterns of racial segregation and neighborhood disinvestment--really trying to reverse the historical legacy of HUD and the federal government actively promoting and/or tacitly endorsing these patterns. This is really challenging work and I've tried to bring my full perspective to the table when I've had opportunities to shape the direction of our policies.”
Ultimately, Dr. Lindsley argues, “there is inherent value in having people with deep historical knowledge working in the public sector.”
We couldn’t agree more.