Melanie Bruce is a marketing professor and entrepreneur who works with PhD’s and sustainable businesses in her sidehustles
Melanie Bruce wears many hats as a marketing professor and as an entrepreneur with multiple businesses. In the final academic interview of 2019, we chat about why that balance works well for Melanie, who says, “the research that I’m doing, the up-to-date knowledge that I’m gaining, that I’m keeping up-to-date from my academic position, that helps me be a better entrepreneur.”
Thank you so much for joining me for this season of The Social Academic. 12 interviews and 13 articles, it’s been an amazing year. And, I’m so excited for next season.
I first connected with Dr. Melanie Bruce through her blog, The Leveraged PhD, and am a fan of her Instagram (especially the social media challenges!).
I sent her a direct message admiring her new logo. And when we happened to be online at the same time, I jumped on the chance to ask her to be on The Social Academic.
I’m so glad she said yes, because this conversation about Instagram, about how much of ourselves to share online, and what it’s like to run a social media challenge was so much fun.
In this chat, we talk about why Instagram is Melanie’s favorite platform. And, why resonating with just one person is so rewarding.
It’s all on this episode of The Social Academic.
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Meet Melanie Bruce of The Leveraged PhD
Jennifer: Hello everyone. Today we are here with Melanie Bruce of The Leveraged PhD.
Hi Melanie, how are you today?
Melanie: Hi Jennifer. I’m great.
Jennifer: Great. All right, so Melanie, you’re a marketing professor that’s on the path to being an entrepreneur. Tell me a little bit about you.
Melanie: That’s right. So I am currently working full time as a professor of marketing in the United States.
And I have a few side projects actually. So I guess I would call myself an entrepreneur on the path to being a full time entrepreneur.
Jennifer: Oh, I like that.
Melanie: So you and I first connected through my blog, The Leveraged PhD, and that’s where I share my journey on leaving academia.
But I also have what I call my main side hustle, which is my service based business. And that’s where I help sustainable businesses who want to make a bigger impact.
I provide them with actionable advice and accountability to help them overcome the frustrations, and there’s just the overwhelm of, of starting up a business that is making a difference in the world.
Jennifer: And so by sustainable, you mean sustainable for the earth, is that right?
Melanie: Yeah. So my business is actually the Ecopreneur Coach. And so I work with eco-focused businesses. Businesses that want to have a positive impact on the ecological environment.
Jennifer: Well, I love that. I’m trying to run a green business myself, so I am all about sustainability and doing what we can to make this earth better.
Melanie: Yeah. I really got into it because as a marketing professor and having worked in industry, I just saw the impact that negative marketing and greenwashing can have. And that this was a way I could use the talents and the expertise that I have in a way that can build a world that I would like to continue to live in.
Jennifer: I love that. So the business side, the coaching, it’s also about creating a better world and you’re helping people do that by helping their businesses be more sustainable and more successful.
Melanie: That’s right. So I figure if I can help them make a big impact, that’s me having my impact. I’m just doing it through multiple different businesses, and multiple different products and services that the people are creating. It’s really exciting.
I actually do have a third little project as well. I’m working on bringing a product to market and you’ll have to keep following me along to to learn more about that because yes, we will go in the development stage.
Jennifer: Yes, we will keep following. Well we are going to be waiting and we’re excited for hearing more about it.
‘My business helps me be a better teacher because I have real life data. I have examples to share with my students’
Jennifer: So I’d love to hear what it’s like to teach and have a business at the same time. That must be a balancing act.
Melanie: Yeah. It’s also a balance that works really well because my business helps me to be a better teacher because I have real life live data.
I have examples to share with my students because I’m teaching them how to do marketing and how to, how to run businesses. That’s a really great benefit.
And then on the other side, the research that I’m doing, the up-to-date knowledge that I’m gaining, that I’m keeping up to date from my academic position, that helps me be a better entrepreneur.
So while yeah, there’s a lot of balancing in time, there is so much overlap where I’m not–it’s not that there are two very separate things. They both feed and help each other along the way.
Jennifer: Oh, I really like that. I was just talking with Dr. Norman Eng yesterday actually. He’s my other December feature and he is also balancing both worlds and he says that works really well for him. It’s like it’s a natural breakdown of his day. And it sounds like it also is working really well for you.
Melanie: Yeah, of course. There’s challenges, trying to balance it all, especially throwing family into the mix and having that downtime and making sure that I’m present during that time.
But I’m really structured in my days and I create a lot of lists. That’s how I make sure I’m doing everything that I need to do.
And I create a schedule around the time that works best for me. So for me that means very early mornings that by the time I get to class and teach at 8:00 AM I’m ready for my lunch cause I’ve been up for so long.
But I have the flexibility in my academic position to be able to work early or to work late. And that works really well.
I organize my time and batch my content.
And I also give myself some grace. Because building a business would obviously be a lot faster if I didn’t have a second job, or a main job. But that’s, you know, I’m getting all the benefits from this. I’m able to build my business slowly.
So I give myself some grace as well and try and make myself slow down a little bit. Because as many PhDs, I’m a high achiever and I want to get where I want to get to.
Jennifer: That’s a healthy approach.
Melanie: So, it’s helped that I’m trying. It’s a process. It’s something that I, that I do struggle with and I have to tell myself and my husband has to tell me to just slow down a little bit.
And I do schedule downtime and I make sure that I have that. So I don’t work on Friday afternoons and on the weekends I only work when my son naps. So if he’s awake, there is no work.
Jennifer: Oh, I like that.
Jennifer: What a nice way to really balance everything and try and find a way that works for you, works for your family and really just keeps you doing the things that you want to do.
Melanie: Yeah, absolutely.
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On social media, Melanie shares things ‘I think I need to hear right now, or that I wish I’d known 10 years ago when I was starting my PhD’
Jennifer: Now you use social media to share all sorts of things like your work life, advice, some awesome blog posts, and you post often almost every day. How do you decide what to share on social media?
Melanie: Really it has been an evolution. I’ve been particularly on The Leveraged PhD, I’ve been doing it for quite some time, so I try and share things that I think that my followers would be interested in.
I share things that I need to hear right now or that I wish that I had known 10 years ago when I was starting my PhD.
Just anything that I think will have value to anybody.
And even if it’s just that one person, sometimes I’ll share something that I think is really important to share because I know that there may, there might only be one person who, who needs to hear that today or needs to think about it from a different perspective.
And I don’t really care if it gets the likes, or the shares, or follows. But if it makes an impact for one person, then that’s success. That means I’ll share more of that type of content.
Jennifer: Oh, I love that so much. And you know, I think it gets really easy to get bogged down in things like how many people have read a blog post, but understanding that it’s about that one reader.
And like remembering that that is a real person whose life you could essentially change with that information. I think that can be really valuable and rewarding.
Melanie: Yeah, absolutely. And that’s something that as a marketing professor we talk about with your target market, you want to be talking, thinking about them and talking to them as if they are an individual.
So I try and take that back to my content creation, my blog posts that I’m writing. Just thinking about…
What do I need to here today?
Or what did I need to hear three years ago?
What do I wish that someone else was talking about or sharing?
And then I share that.
Melanie joined social media to stay in touch with people she met while on exchange in London, ‘It’s always been about connection for me’
Jennifer: When did you start using social media?
Melanie: Well, I can’t actually remember when it was because I was in London. I was on an exchange and I wanted to stay connected with all the amazing people that I was meeting. It was back in 2006 Facebook was just kind of coming around. I technically did. I technically did have a MySpace before that, but I can’t remember a lot about that.
I was quite young then, but Facebook was really when I meaningfully got onto social media and it’s always been about connection for me. It was connection back then. I wanted to connect with people that I’d met from around the world and knew I wanted to continue to connect with.
Even today, years later I still connect with people who I did meet and originally went on online to connect with and I met up with with them.
You know, now that I live in the United States, I met up with some of the Americans that I’ve met and it was 10-12 years since we’d seen each other, but social media allows us to keep that connection.
Jennifer: That’s great.
Melanie: And circle back around and just see where we were at and how much we’d all changed and the different paths that we had taken. It’s quite amazing.
Jennifer: Yeah, social media can really keep us connected even if there’s like long periods of time in between when we actually talk. Just having that person in our periphery can really make a difference.
Melanie: Yeah, just keeping up with the random things that are going on in their life. Even if we don’t connect and comment and be talking to them all the time and a couple years can go by and we connect.
I just connected with some friends from back home, but I hadn’t talked to and the last time I’d send one message was six years ago that I had written to her. So this, it’s amazing that we can keep these connections alive over all that time.
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Instagram is Melanie’s favorite social media platform, ‘it’s structured, but you can still be creative’
Jennifer: Now, what’s your favorite social media platform?
Melanie: Instagram is definitely my favorite.
Jennifer: Instagram is mine, yeah.
Melanie: It’s visual. It’s structured, but you can still be creative. I just love it.
I feel like I have such meaningful connections with people through Instagram. With the stories you get to share a little bit of your life and it’s less structured, a little less social media polish to it. It’s a lot more fun for me personally.
Jennifer: Yeah, no, I agree. Instagram is also my favorite platform, but I like what you said about there being “less social media polish” and that’s something that I feel like not everyone realizes about Instagram. Like you can just pop on and record a video of yourself.
You don’t need to go out of your way to make it branded or pretty necessarily. Not for everyone.
Melanie: Yeah, it’s really easy to take it in either direction. You can be much more polished and you can be really formal about it. But you can also go in the opposite direction and be completely informal and you’re going to attract different people and connections.
And so it just depends on your personality. You can take it where you want to take it.
Social media challenges for academics
Jennifer: Exactly. Now you posted some pretty awesome social media challenges. What’s that like?
Melanie: Oh yes. So much fun but a little bit hectic as well. They continue growing and getting bigger and bigger and I’m going to continue to do these because it’s so amazing to see all the connections.
People from all across the world connecting on academic matters because they’re studying something similar but in different disciplines, or social because they have the same hobbies.
So there’s just this web of connections being made through it. And I love off to the challenges to see the people who connected during the challenge, still communicating and still connecting with each other.
I just, it just brings me so much joy to see that I had a pod and bringing these people together. Because academia can be so isolating and so lonely.
Jennifer: It can be, but it sounds like the social media challenges really help connect people globally with shared interests, which I love.
Melanie: Yeah. It was interesting when I first started doing the challenges because we had this, each day is a different prompt and so we’d have this 24 hours of people doing the prompt and the next one starting.
And it was just so much fun to see how it just rolled out across the world with different people in different time zones and different places sharing their perspective on whatever prompt we had that day.
Jennifer: I really enjoy that and I, I liked watching the social media at the last one that you held on Instagram.
I was in there like checking out all of the posts because people were so specific with what they were sharing, I could really connect with them. And that’s the beauty of having that prompt and having that like formal challenge. I love it.
Melanie: Yeah. And it also takes away a lot of the pressure for people who are starting out on Instagram or on Twitter. I mean we’ve, we expanded last time we went on any platform at all.
But it really does allow you to take away the pressure of what do I post? What is going to be a value? You get the prompt and you think, what can I create around that? And everyone’s doing it. Everyone’s in on it.
And then you get to go and see what other people are posting for the same in different perspectives, different ways that people see a prompt.
And even myself, because I did it as well and I kind of, with all the prompts and then I was going through going, Oh, I didn’t even think about what I was going to write for this. What direction am I going to take this?
Originally when I made it a month ago, I think of one thing. And then when that day came, I was like, I’m posting something totally different. I’m going to share what I’m doing today, or this has come up. Well, this has changed.
Jennifer: So it became creative for you as well. Like you were creating new content based on your own prompts.
Melanie: Absolutely. Yes, it was. And it’s, I think it’s important to do your own, to do your own challenges or whatever it is that you’re trying to do because you just get such a different perspective.
And I connected with, with many people in the same way that my followers and the people doing the challenge did. I was in it as well and I was doing it and getting those connections and building my network and just meeting amazing people around the world.
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Testing the boundaries of privacy and going public from anonymous on social media
Jennifer: Now, how do you balance the personal and professional online?
Melanie: Yeah. This one’s a tough one. It’s, it really is a balance. It’s different for everyone and trying to find that? Is hard.
For me, it just came by testing the boundaries, seeing what I was and wasn’t comfortable with, with sharing. I share a lot because over time I realized that’s what resonates with people. People want to connect with you as a person. When I started my blog and my social media, I did it anonymously.
And over time I realized that people wanted to connect with me, not with anonymous content. And so finding that balance between sharing personal content and professional content. It’s tough.
And especially at the moment I’m in a position where it’s okay for me to share that I’m leaving academia because I quit my tenure track position and I’m now in a visiting position. So my employer knows that I’m leaving, so I don’t need to be careful about not posting that sort of stuff.
Whereas a lot of people who aren’t really sure about the direction they’re going to go in aren’t going to be sharing that sort of stuff because you know, you don’t want to burn any bridges. And you don’t want to be putting things out there that are gonna harm your professional life and your professional career.
So I do have that slightly unique position of being able to share it. But at the same time I am careful about, yeah, not burning bridges and not putting up information that I feel like could harm my professional because it stays around. It’s around forever.
I also don’t share a lot about my family. I am open about having a family and the balance that I go through. And I do share some pictures of my family, but not very often.
You know, it’s important for me that they have their privacy and that they can choose what they they share rather than me sharing all that.
But I did talk about the balance and how I get to work. Somebody did write to me and like, Oh my gosh, I can’t believe you have a child as well with everything that you’re doing. How does that work?
So I shared some information about, that I just get up really early before my son gets up. And I do a lot of work during his nap. And I have learned that that works really well for me because I know that if I don’t get it done, he’s going to be awake, and that I won’t get it done.
Jennifer: Right. So it sounds like you found a way to balance and it’s changed over time.
Like when you left your tenure track position, you changed from being anonymous to showing your face and your name and being more out there and personal. Is that right?
Melanie: Yeah, that’s right.
And I did really see a change in, in people connecting with me and the number of followers that I was gaining. Because yeah, it wasn’t so much this, who is this person who’s writing this? But this is a real person going through this real process and I can connect with them because I’m like them like this or like them like that.
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Social media is about being social, check out these tips for new faculty and academics joining Instagram
Jennifer: What advice would you give to new faculty, new academics who are joining Instagram?
Melanie: Well obviously there’s lots of advice that you can very easily read online about how often to post and all that sort of stuff. But I really think it’s about remembering why you want to be on there. It’s about building a presence, building a network, and that’s all about connecting with others.
A lot of people forget that social media is about being social. So search hashtags and interact with content that resonates with you. Leave meaningful comments, share valuable insights. It is about creating those connections.
And it’s very easy to get caught up in, Oh, I don’t have as many followers as somebody. Or, people aren’t liking my posts.
And if you strip that away and just remember that it is about having meaningful connections with people.
And one meaningful connection is better than a hundred followers who, who don’t connect with you or, you don’t know, you don’t have any connection with it all.
Jennifer: And that goes back to your one reader for the blog posts, like one person.
If one person can connect with this and it resonates with them, then that’s what matters. And that can be true for social media as well it sounds like.
Melanie: Yeah, and of course there is the ability to connect with way more people and have an impact on much bigger people.
That’s that’s why most people do join social media, and particularly academics because they want to share their work and their research and their knowledge with that greater group of people.
And that comes, but at the start you’ve just got to focus on on the connections to start with and it builds over time if you are creating that value.
A personal brand is what other people think and say about you, why branding is important for academics like you
Now you have a course that’s all about establishing your personal brand and that’s geared towards PhD students, early career researchers and AltAc’s.
What is personal branding and why is it important for academics?
Melanie: I’m so glad that you asked this question because often people, there’s a lot of myths around what personal branding is.
It’s really basic. It’s what other people think of you.
It’s what other people say about you.
So really you could sum it up as your personal brand is your reputation. Oh great.
Jennifer: Your personal brand is your reputation. I love it.
Melanie: And so that means that everybody has a personal brand, but most people don’t actively work on creating this, on building it.
And academia is so competitive and a personal brand can really help you stand out from the all the other candidates and all the other people that you’re going up against grants or if you want to build your speaking career on the side, if you want to be seen as an authority in your particular research area.
So personal branding is really just about putting a spotlight, it’s putting a spotlight on your achievements, on your abilities, on, on your capabilities and skills, showing people, this is who I am and this is what I can do.
Jennifer: Everyone already has a personal brand, so all academics have one, but they’re not necessarily creating or shaping it actively.
So by doing that they can get more benefits like building up speaking engagements and getting more recognition for their work. Does that sound right?
Melanie: Yeah. Yeah, that’s right. Because we all have that reputation is the some reputations that just a little bit weaker.
It’s like, do I know that person? Do I remember them? And that’s, that’s really what it is.
When you, when people hear your name, you want them to think “this is what I can do and this is how I can provide value for them.”
Social media is about connection and learning new things for this marketing professor and business owner
Jennifer: Now what do you enjoy most about social media?
What do you get out of it?
Melanie: I feel like I really kind of ran a roundabout way. I talked about this already.
It’s about the connections, but it also is about learning new things. That’s one of the other advantages of particularly the social media challenge where I’m trying to keep up with every single person’s posts and reading every single one for the whole 30 days. I take on so much information
Since starting The Leveraged PhD, I have learned so much about different disciplines way outside mine particularly, you know in the sciences where that’s such a different PhD process and such a different academic than a business career that what I’ve taken.
And as we’ve mentioned before, it can be isolating and it can feel quite lonely that you’re the only one on your journey or on your path. And social media really opens up networks and it creates those communities.
Jennifer: Wow. What a great response. And, I really love what you say about discovering new things in different fields.
That’s something that the social media challenge must really help inspire with what you’re reading and what you’re engaging with on a daily basis.
Melanie: Yes, absolutely.
Jennifer: Thank you so much for this conversation. Melanie. I had a great time talking to you.
Is there anything that you would like to add before we go?
Melanie: No, nothing to add.
Just that I, I really enjoyed sharing with you talking about social media.
It is a passion of mine. It’s something that I’ve, I really love doing and sharing and encouraging others to get the benefits that I get from it.
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A new season of academic interviews is coming in 2020
That’s it for The Social Academic this season. I’ll be back in January with new advice articles, like “Discover 10 highlights to include on your personal academic website in the new year.”
And, February marks the return of new interviews with faculty, researchers, and graduate students like you.
If you’re interested in appearing on The Social Academic, send me your pitch at email@example.com
In the meantime, be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss out on new posts, twice a month to help your academic life.
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Dr. Melanie Bruce is a marketing professor, entrepreneur, and business coach.
She is the founder of The Leveraged PhD, a hub for PhDs wanting to use their degree to its full potential. Melanie believes that as the world produces an increasing number of PhDs it is becoming increasingly important to develop a competitive advantage and stand out from the crowd. Her blog provides resources and inspiration to use your PhD to its full potential, whatever that path is.
Melanie is also a business and mindset coach for eco-minded entrepreneurs. Using her marketing knowledge and experience she helps sustainably focused businesses launch and scale.
Connect with Melanie @TheLeveragedPhD on
Jennifer van Alstyne is a Peruvian-American poet and public relations consultant. She founded The Academic Designer, LLC to help academics, researchers, and writers control their online presence and share their work with the world.
She holds a B.A. from Monmouth University in English, and an M.F.A. from Naropa University in Writing & Poetics where she was the Jack Kerouac Fellow. Jennifer also holds an M.A. from University of Louisiana at Lafayette in Literature and Cultural Studies where she was one of four master’s fellows and a finalist for the Outstanding Master’s Graduate Award.