When Jessica Lancia completed a PhD in history in the summer of 2015, she chose a career path outside academia. She is now the COO of a company she cofounded, DocketLogic. Dr. Lancia recently talked to the blog about her experiences in the history graduate program and her career moves. Red below, and take a look at her company at http://www.docketlogic.com/
How did you end up in the PhD program at UF and what was the focus of your studies and work?
I left my job as an archivist at the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2009 to work with Louise Newman. My dissertation focused on transnational women’s activism in the 1970s. I was drawn to the program at UF because of the opportunities for intellectual engagement and my idea of what it would be like to be a history professor. I enjoyed my experience in archives but was tired of the 9-5. Being a professor looked like a pretty good life.
Did you come to UF intending to follow the traditional track into a teaching position?
Yes. My initial goal was to secure a tenure track position in a small liberal arts college.
How did you end up steering into the legal profession? As a historian might ask, what were the push and pull factors involved in this professional direction?
As a historian would respond, the answer is complex, but there were several influencing factors. Initially, I followed an opportunity to get extra income. I found it difficult to live on the graduate student stipend, and started helping a patent attorney doing a few hours of docketing and data entry as I was working on my dissertation. As I gained knowledge and experience, I was promoted—first to manage the firm’s docketing department, then to direct the operations of the company. Eventually, as my degree was nearing completion, I found myself at a fork in the road: pursue a career in academia or go into business. I decided to defer my academic pursuits to start a company with the managing partner of the law firm I was directing. Deciding to leave academia was, in the end, not a difficult decision to make. There were many things I enjoyed about being in the history department and in academia in general, but the prospects for satisfying employment were low, and after such a big investment of time and energy, I wanted to have surer prospects for a successful career. On the other hand, the idea of going into business and trying my hand at something so different was thrilling, if terrifying. And I came to love the world of patents and intellectual property because of the intellectual component. The feeling of being on the cutting edge of developments that have the potential to change the world led me to decide that, at the very least, I would give it my best shot.
How did your training and experience at UF prepare you for work outside academia?
Being a successful academic requires many characteristics that cross-over in business: discipline, commitment, flexibility, and patience. I certainly honed these traits at UF. In addition, training as a historian requires you to implement systems that help you manage your time and increase your productivity. You have to learn to operate under stressful conditions and to trust in your own intelligence and problem-solving abilities. Managing a patent law firm successfully requires all of these elements as well.
You are now on the ground floor of a start-up company serving as the COO. Can you introduce us to your company and your position in it, and tell us where you would like the company go?
Docketlogic provides virtual docketing and paralegal assistance services to intellectual property and patent law firms and corporations. As COO, I am responsible for day-to-day development and operations and the overall vision of the company. I oversee the workflow of our team of paralegal and docketing clerks, which are spread out between the United States and Europe. Right now, though, most of my time is spent growing the company by developing relationships with potential business partners and clients. My goal is to grow Docketlogic into the premier boutique paralegal assistance service company in the United States, and I am hopeful and optimistic.
Do you have advice for current PhD students who may be looking at a professional future outside academia? If you were in the PhD program now and knew you’d end up where you have, would you approach your studies differently?
Three pieces of advice come to mind: 1) Say yes to opportunities when they arise, even if you don’t see how they fit in with your plans just yet. 2) Be willing to try something completely outside of your comfort zone. 3) Never undervalue yourself. If I were to do it over again, I don’t think I would do much differently. I think I did the best I could with the resources and skills that I had at the time, and I’m OK with that.