Ep 10: Navigating culture shock in a new career: Mieka Polanco

Mieka Polanco holds a Ph.D. in Cultural Anthropology, and has recently transitioned from academia to international development. As an academic, Dr. Mieka Polanco wrote and taught about punishment, juvenile justice, and mass incarceration. In development, she focuses on social disparities, and ensuring that aid programming is attentive to marginalized and vulnerable populations.

In this episode, Mieka shares how a professional fellowship at a government organization served as a stepping stone to test the waters for a bigger career change. When Mieka made the transition from academia into government work, she was shocked by the differences in the professional culture and was often accused by colleagues as being too academic. We discuss how she learned to negotiate with different stakeholders and found space to practice honest, rigorous research.

Mieka reveals how working with people outside of academia opened her up to diverse backgrounds and perspectives. This exposure pushed her to become mentally sharper about her research and allowed her to become more flexible in her ideas.

We also explore how hobbies can grow into a flourishing side business. Mieka discusses how she developed her soap-making side-hustle while holding down her a full time, tenure-track position. Mieka is an example of creating professional options and following her interests and changing career-life needs. 

Resources Discussed:


AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowships



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