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Classicist to Creative Strategist

January 18, 2018

The literature and rhetoric of ancient Greece and Rome might seem worlds away from the high-tech world of digital marketing, but that doesn’t mean the Classics have nothing to tell us about contemporary business problems. Just ask Michael Zimm (Ph.D. 2016), Creative Strategist at Digital Surgeons, a rapidly expanding digital marketing agency with its headquarters in New Haven and offices in New York and Vancouver. While Zimm wrote his dissertation at Yale on the limits of free speech in Athenian democracy, these days he creates marketing content, designs keynote decks, and produces search engine optimization reports.

I originally chose Yale for my doctorate because it has one of the best research ecosystems in the world. The funding was great, and I was able to focus on my studies—I was able to focus on what I was passionate about,” Zimm said. “But I also realized that so many of the skills I had acquired and developed while in graduate school have these wide-ranging applications I hadn’t even foreseen.”

While initially focused on a career in academia, Zimm eventually began to explore non-academic careers in his sixth year of studying. During his job search, he struggled to get a foot in the door and make contact with hiring managers in the industries he was considering. But after a conversation with the leadership at Digital Surgeons, he was able to demonstrate the value of his skills and perspective to a tech startup.

Especially in the humanities, there is the perception that our skills don't have value in the tech world. But I have learned from experience that the writing skills I honed over the course of graduate school have tremendous value and application at a tech company. Though I do not code, I enjoy writing, whether it’s copy for a website, an article, or a client report. Also, the ability to do in depth research is a terrific skill that can be parlayed in many industries. The detailed level of research that goes into a Ph.D. is uncanny. I now use that same skill set at Digital Surgeons. Liberal arts graduate students should be aware of how valuable that skill truly is.”

Indeed, as far as Zimm is concerned, he’s still a scholar of the liberal arts in many respects—he’s simply working in a new environment. For example, the experience of teaching Yale undergraduates carries over to presenting any kind of new information. He’s also an eager evangelist for the possibilities of the liberal arts Ph.D. beyond the university, authoring or co-authoring articles aimed at both academic and tech audiences on the value of the humanities in the twenty-first century.

The truth is that there aren't many liberal arts Ph.D.’s working in the tech world,” Zimm said. “But doesn't that mean that we are unique in that environment? As an academic, it took me time to adjust to the frenetic pace of a start-up since academic research proceeds at a slower speed. However, the ability to research something in-depth, to really become an expert on something—that’s very rare in the corporate world. And that’s an ability I developed as a Ph.D. student.”

By Sean Blink, Website and Social Media Fellow