I’m anxious about how to start posting on LinkedIn. Or, I’ve never posted on LinkedIn before. Is this you?
Meet my featured interview guest, Dr. Gertrude Nonterah. She’s a LinkedIn expert, and host of The Bold PhD YouTube channel. This interview focuses on LinkedIn for PhDs and how opening up about Gertrude’s struggle finding a job with a PhD invited opportunity.
I’m Jennifer van Alstyne. Welcome to The Social Academic blog, podcast, and YouTube channel. I empower professors to feel confident when showing up online. Help more people know your name and your research when you build an online presence that works for you.
In this interview:
Meet Dr. Gertrude Nonterah
Jennifer: Hello, everyone. I am Jennifer van Alstyne and welcome to The Social Academic. I’m so excited to talk with you today about LinkedIn because my special featured interview guest, Dr. Gertrude Nonterah is amazing at LinkedIn. I mean literally the person that I recommend if you’re new to LinkedIn and you need to go follow someone to figure out what they’re doing and what’s working well. She’s the person.
Gertrude, Gee, I’m so excited for you to be here with me today. Would you mind introducing yourself to everyone?
Gertrude: Absolutely. Thank you. First of all, I want to say thank you, Jennifer, for inviting me for this show. I’ve known about your show for about two years now. And so just being here is such a privilege. I’m Gertrude Nonterah. You can call me Gee, because sometimes people would struggle to say Gertrude.
Let me start with The Bold PhD. Essentially, I finished my PhD in 2015. When I finished, I went straight into a postdoc. During this postdoc, I realized that income was low. I live in California. I started a side business. I started doing that and then somewhere along the line I lost my job as a postdoc.
When I lost my job as a postdoc, I thought it would take me a couple of months and then I’d find a new job. But instead it took a year and a half to find a new job because nothing I was doing was working. I was applying to jobs within academia, jobs outside academia. I was even applying for second postdocs. And nothing was opening up.
The job ended in May of 2018 because of funding cuts or funding running out. I didn’t get another role until I was offered the role in December of 2019. So I wouldn’t start another role until 2020. That 18-month period was such a growing time, a difficult time. When I landed that faculty position, and later when I moved on into medical communications, I really wanted to chat about the emotions around you know being a jobless PhD.
Right? You’ve been told to go to school. You’ve been told to get all this education. And yet you’re applying for jobs and nothing is working, right? How do you navigate that?
Once I began to talk about that, and especially on LinkedIn, people began to resonate. And people would reach out to me and say, “I’m going through the exact same thing.” Like, “I can’t believe that this is happening to me.”
Gertrude: That’s how The Bold PhD was then born. I realized that there was a need for people to kind of talk about that. It’s sort of like a shameful topic to say that you have all this education and you don’t have a job. Right? I mean what did you do wrong? And so as I began to talk about I began to build that community. And it’s just taken off from there.
Jennifer: Oh, I love that so much. What I love the most is that you said that you really wanted to talk about the emotions that you had experienced, that other people might be going through now. My fiancé went through that. Many of my friends went through that same experience of joblessness as a PhD. And really struggling to communicate what you need and also your emotions about everything. Because certainly they felt embarrassed. They felt alone. They felt isolated.
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A conversation that needs to be talked about: leaving academia
Jennifer: I love that emotions was something that really inspired you to start talking about that. What was it like to be open about that and have so many people resonate with it and respond?
Gertrude: Yes. When I started talking about this and especially when I started talking about transitioning from academia into industry, and also the emotional side of it…People have been transitioning from academia to industry for a really long time. Right? That’s not the new thing.
The thing that I brought to it was actually talking about the mental state. Your mental state, and the emotions, and the financials. What people don’t usually talk about: the kind of difficulty they go through when they have financial stress.
People began to direct message [DM] me. People left comments. At first it was a little overwhelming because I didn’t know it was going to open the floodgates of like people…Literally, I would receive maybe a hundred comments on a post. Or, maybe one day I would get like 20 different DMs of people asking me questions: “Well how did you do this?” “How did you navigate that?”
In the beginning it was kind of overwhelming. But now I’ve realized that this was something that needed to be talked about. I’m glad that I started that conversation. Maybe I didn’t start the conversation, but I was bold enough, hence the name The Bold PhD, to begin actually talking about it. And putting myself out there.
The thing is, when you do that you’re also vulnerable. Right? I am quite a private person. I’m an introvert. There are lots of things I keep to myself. But I think that there are certain things that if nobody ever talks about, it never gets talked about, and people continue to suffer in silence. I didn’t want that to continue.
Gertrude: I wanted people to realize there are people that will finish a PhD and will not find a job. And yes, you will go through some days where you’re crying, and you’re weepy, and you’re upset. And yes, I went through this. It’s not fun to put yourself out there and say you were good. Because there are also people like I know from my childhood and from my days back in school who follow me, and you know they’re gonna see that. Like you don’t always want people from home to see that, but they’re people that see that.
But I realize that 1. a lot of people don’t care as much as you think they care. Right?
Jennifer and Gertrude laugh.
And 2. the people that care actually resonate with that message. And they need your help. And they will seek out your help.
So that’s how it’s been. I was afraid at first, but you know, I realized there was something that needed to be talked about.
Jennifer: That’s so powerful. And you did start that conversation for all those people who are reaching out to you for the first time. It’s probably the first time anyone invited a conversation for them. I really am so impressed with your ability not just to be open about yourself, but to respond and actually engage with people who have questions about it.
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At first, I wasn’t a LinkedIn person
Jennifer: LinkedIn sounds like it was so important for you. LinkedIn sounds like where you really built your platform in terms of your personal brand. Why did you get on LinkedIn? And, why should others be on LinkedIn too?
Gertrude: That’s right. Great question, Jennifer. At first, I wasn’t a LinkedIn person. Like, I would have jumped on Instagram. I was on Instagram and Facebook when Facebook was like a big thing. And I was on YouTube for a little while. The Bold PhD is actually on YouTube too.
I think the reason why I jumped on LinkedIn, and the reason I still write on LinkedIn is because currently LinkedIn has unbeatable reach when you compare it to all the other platforms.
It’s kind of slowed down a little bit. I do see changes with the algorithm. But for the most part, I think that LinkedIn is quite fair with putting your content in front of the right eyes, especially if you already have people interacting with your content.
The way that LinkedIn is different from other platforms is: For instance, me and Jennifer are connected. If she posts something and I go and I like it and I comment on it, there’s a likelihood that people in my network that are not connected with Jennifer are going to see that comment. They’re going to see that.
Gertrude: Or, even, I could share that piece of content. Sharing, you can do anywhere, but specifically liking and commenting on a post. And by doing so my community, or the people that are connected to me, could find out about Jennifer and be like, “Oh, that’s somebody I really want to connect with. Let me connect with her.”
And no other social media platform is doing this currently. All the platforms are really based on, ‘we’re going to show your content to a few people and if they like it then we’ll show it to more people.’ And that’s how YouTube, and TikTok, and Instagram all work. But LinkedIn is kind of like that, but you also have the added benefit of you could discover people just from people in your network interacting with other people. That was the 1st thing.
The 2nd thing was, I had gone to a conference and somebody had mentioned that doing video on LinkedIn was like a big thing. I tried to do video on LinkedIn. I didn’t like it very much because still in my mind, LinkedIn wasn’t a video platform. I didn’t ever stick with that. But I did notice that people were writing on LinkedIn and doing well. And I’m a writer. I do this. I work in medical communications. I was like, “Okay, let me just pull my strength and do that.”
I’m still a little self-conscious of doing video on LinkedIn even though I do video on YouTube.
Jennifer: That’s so funny.
Gertrude: I don’t know why. I don’t know why there’s a disconnect.
Jennifer: Yeah, that’s so interesting. It’s like, you could even use the same video on LinkedIn. But it still feels like separate platforms. That’s okay! That’s really interesting to hear.
Gertrude: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Absolutely. I would say that those two things.
When I noticed that people were also getting attention on LinkedIn with their writing, I said, “Okay, let me try this.” And I tried. And it’s worked. And I’m really grateful.
Another thing about LinkedIn that I want to fill in there before your next question, Jennifer. There is a stat out there that only about 1-2% of people on LinkedIn actually create any content on a weekly basis. Not even on a daily basis.
When you intentionally create content 5 times a week, 3 times a week, you are actually part of a percentage of 1% that is producing regular content. That can really put your personal brand, if you’re trying to build that for your career, on steroids. Really. I mean I don’t know everything. But it really can skyrockets who you reach.
Jennifer: Yeah, people even just like a couple of years ago were often surprised when they asked me, “What’s your biggest platform?”
And I was like, “Oh, it’s LinkedIn.
They’d be like, “Wait, what? Do you post on LinkedIn?”
And I didn’t. I actually wasn’t really posting all that much. But I was connecting with a lot of people and having conversations over messages.
So there are different ways to interact with the platform, but a lot of people just aren’t even sure if LinkedIn is for academics. For people who are leaving grad school and looking for their next job, yeah, they’re like, “Okay, I need it for a job.” But it’s not the same as needing it for networking, personal growth, for personal connections, which all can also be found on LinkedIn.
One of the things that I really love about LinkedIn is that your LinkedIn post lasts for a long time. If you send a tweet, if you share an Instagram post, it’s gonna last for a day. Maybe even less, especially on Twitter. But with LinkedIn, people can log in a week, two weeks later, and if they don’t have a lot of connections, your post is still probably going to show up at the top of their feed. So you can reach people, not only more people, but reach those people for a longer period of time than your other social media posts.
I really love Gertrude’s suggestion of posting regularly. Even if it’s just once a week you’re doing more than what 99% LinkedIn users? That would be amazing and really life-changing for people.
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80% of Dr. Gertrude Nonterah’s content comes from questions people ask her
Jennifer: You said you liked writing on LinkedIn. You didn’t really like playing around with the video content on there. But you have YouTube.
How do you decide what kind of content to create? And how do you make that decision? Are there things that you’re just like I really don’t like that and I’ve put it aside?
Gertrude: Yeah. I think most of my content has come from questions people ask me. I’m very, very conscious of that. Of course you can create content that’s popular and stuff. But I truly do try to focus about 80% of my content on questions people ask me.
Jennifer: 80%? That’s a lot.
Gertrude: I would say that.
Jennifer: I love how audience driven that is. When someone has a question, you’re like, “What kind of content can I create from this?” That’s amazing.
Gertrude: Yes. Anytime anybody asks me a question on YouTube, on LinkedIn, even on TikTok, I take that question and I create content out of it. Just this morning on TikTok…The Bold PhD is on TikTok, we just hit 1,000 followers.
Jennifer: Yay! Jennifer claps.
Gertrude: On TikTok, I just answered some of these questions because they were asking me about how did I get into medical communications. On TikTok, you can just click on the question and you can answer it with another TikTok. Essentially, that became a post I put on TikTok. And also on my Instagram Reels. Two things with just one piece of content. But most of the time I’m just really looking at that.
I always love the questions. When somebody sends me a DM and asks me a question, I usually will tell them, “You know what, I’ll answer your question. I’m going to answer it as a post because if you have this question at least 100 other people have the same question. So I’m going to create a piece of content out of it. And you will benefit from it and other people are also going to benefit from it.” I’ve done that both with LinkedIn and YouTube and it has served me very, very well.
Gertrude: There is something to be said for audience driven content where, yes, you can definitely do your own. You can, for those of you if you’re like me and you’re writing out like pretty old school, well not old school. But you would do SEO research for content ideas from other content creators that are working. Or, you could even do that on any platform really. If content is working for somebody, then you try to copy it in some way or mimic it. And I think that the reason why sometimes my content does well, not all the time, but it generally it does well is that I’m taking specific questions people ask. I’m posing the question. And I’m giving an answer.
Sometimes I don’t know the answer to the question, and I may invite others to say, you know, this is how I feel about it. But how do others feel about it? And that then generates a lot of conversation on a post. And then it becomes another you know somebody who will leave a comment and that triggers another idea.
It’s really like a machine of, “I’m gonna look, I’m gonna read.” I read every comment. I read every question. I mean, sometimes I don’t react. Or, I may not respond to it. But I read everything. And usually those are my inspiration for creating content.
Jennifer: Wow. That is honestly inspiring for me. I feel like I get asked a lot of questions. And, I do occasionally create content around it. But the content that I’m creating, I feel like sometimes it takes too long to actually stop the other things that I had planned and focus on that. I love that you’re just gonna get on TikTok, you’re going to get on Instagram Reels, and you’re gonna answer those questions.
And you collect questions to answer again later. I’m gonna start doing some of that because I think it’s such a wonderful idea.
Especially for academics, professors and grad students who are leaving academia. They want to still be able to have conversations about the things that they care about, the research that they care about. And also, what they’re doing next. I think that that is an amazing way for them to generate those ideas. Having people ask them questions and like actually answering them.
Gertrude: Yeah! If you want to take that even further, especially for people that maybe you offer a service and so you create contents around this one niche subject. Well, you could go find your colleagues within that same space and look at the questions people are asking them also. Because likely people in your audience have those questions. It’s not something I’ve actively done, but that’s also another idea I always give to people if you don’t have the audience yet to start commenting or asking you questions.
Like I said earlier on how I started, it was that I wanted to talk about some of the things that I had gone through because I was jobless. So I started from my personal experiences and then that led to people beginning to follow me. Then as they began to follow me, they began to ask questions. I began to answer their questions. And a lot of the time when I’m answering the questions I’m still pulling a lot from my personal experiences and from things I’ve read. And for experiences I’ve had or something somebody told me. You do end up still serving them based on whatever your niche is. But I always find that the better content creators in any industry are always very queued into what their audience, or the people listening to them, are asking them. Then they give them back content that meets that need.
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Being on video adds a personal touch to your content
Jennifer: I love that. You do a lot of different forms of content. But you definitely talked about how video felt comfortable for you on YouTube, and not on LinkedIn.
Why do you like creating YouTube content? What is it about YouTube, I mean you have The Bold PhD channel, I think you also have a personal channel if I’m correct. So what is it about YouTube and video that you enjoy?
Gertrude: Yeah, I literally wrote to my channel this morning: “I do too much.” I need to like curb that, right?
Gertrude: I was applying for a job and somebody said, “Wow, you’re doing a lot of things at once. Are you sure you want a job?”
Gertrude: That was hilarious.
The reason I like video content is because of the personal touch it adds to responding to people’s questions. When you write, we get to read what you’ve written but we don’t get your facial expressions. We don’t get to know you.
I feel both video and podcasting are a great way for people to get to know you. They hear your voice. They see your face.
Gertrude: I met somebody once who had started watching me, watching my videos. And we met at a coffee shop here in San Diego. And they’re like, “You’re just like you are on video.”
And I’m like, “I’m not any different.”
Jennifer laughs and nods.
Gertrude: For me, authenticity is important. Connecting is important.
Another thing that’s important with YouTube, is that YouTube is a search engine. If you do very well with number one, responding to what your audience wants, and number two making sure that it’s optimized for the search engine.
That content could live for a long time. There are videos I created 5, 6 years ago that I get comments on. And I’m like, “I don’t know what I said in that video.” This is like on my personal channel. I don’t even know what I said in that video. I don’t even care about that subject anymore.
Jennifer and Gertrude laugh.
Gertrude: But somebody just left me a comment on it.
Jennifer: Because they’re finding it for the first time. Because they’ve searched for it in Google and your video shows up.
Gertrude: And the video showed up, exactly. It’s taking advantage of that.
Because of that, I’ve had people that have
- They followed me for years
- They bought my products
- They’ve invited me to speak because they see me and they hear me and they’re like I would love to interact with this person.
For me, it’s that authenticity connection and also taking advantage of an already built and very robust search engine.
Jennifer: I love it. People don’t always realize that social media platforms are search engines. Twitter is a search engine. YouTube is a search engine. LinkedIn is my favorite search engine, to be honest. Especially for academics who are looking for other people in your field.
You can literally search the keyword for whatever your research topic is, and find other people around the world who are doing similar work. If it’s on their profile, you can find them. And that’s something so many people don’t realize.
Jennifer: When I say get on LinkedIn, I really mean it because you can find real people like you.
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The Bold PhD Bootcamp course
Jennifer: I want to hear a little bit about your LinkedIn course, because you do have a product to help people be on LinkedIn.
This is something that’s so important especially as Twitter for many people feels really uncertain right now. They’re not sure if they want to stay for political reasons. They’re not sure if they want to stay for security reasons. And they’re trying to figure out where to go next.
I know LinkedIn is an excellent answer for them, but some people need help. So please tell me about your LinkedIn course.
Gertrude: Absolutely. When I started seeing success with LinkedIn, and this year I spoke at 16 events. And those 16 events, each and every one of them have come from people saying, “Oh, I connected with you on LinkedIn.” I think about 90% was like, “I connected with you on LinkedIn.” “Oh. I watched your YouTube video.” Usually it’s like one or the other. And I was like, wow, that’s powerful.
And not just that, but I’ve had opportunities to coach other people. I don’t do a lot of that, but I’ve had opportunity. People reach out to say, “Hey, can you coach me?”
People have reached out to me with jobs. Let me tell you why that’s significant. Earlier on, I mentioned how I struggled for a year and a half. And I still get emotional about it because like that time was a really difficult time in my life. And finances were not so great. I have a child who needed health insurance, and I didn’t have health insurance. So it really is an emotional topic for me.
I remember somebody reaching out to me and saying, “I want to give you a job.” To go from struggling to find a job for a year and a half to somebody reaching out to me: not to interview me. I was confused. I’m like, “Oh, you want to interview me?”
“No, no, we want to give you a job.”
Gertrude: Then I had a friend of mine who I connected with on LinkedIn later on, I would find out that we went to the same PhD program but he had graduated a few years ahead of me. A recruiter reached out to me about a job that was not even being advertised yet, and they said, “You know, this person raved about you.” And so through my connections, I got this opportunity to interview for a great job at a great academic institution. No way would these people look at me if somebody hadn’t talked about me and raved about me. I ended up turning down that job, but I was really sorry to turn down that job because I had just been offered another one.
But those two things: like having somebody go ahead of me and recommend me for such an amazing role at a great institution. Having somebody want to offer me a job. That sold me on the platform. That sold me.
You know, the speaking, everything else was great. But building my personal brand has been a life change that took me from struggling to find health insurance for my child who severely needed it, to people offering me jobs.
Because of that, I built this course on how people can build a personal brand and leverage their personal brand to open up opportunities for them, The Branded Scholar Bootcamp.
A lot of us don’t use LinkedIn unless we’re looking for a job. I noticed that when a lot of the layoffs started happening, people would post, “I’ve been laid off.” I would go and try to support that comment and all that, but before that happens to you, you could be building a personal brand so that when something like that happens to you, you could immediately have people who are clamoring to say, “I want you.”
Because of that I built the course called The Branded Scholar Bootcamp, teaching you step-by-step how to set up and build a personal brand on LinkedIn. And how to create content in a systematic way. How to be consistent. How to build your speaker page if you want to speak and have people invite you to speak for them. I laid out step-by-step how I’ve used LinkedIn and how others can use LinkedIn to build a personal brand that attracts opportunities to them.
Jennifer: Oh, I love that so much. And for some of you listening right now, you’re like, “Jennifer, don’t you have a LinkedIn course?” Let me tell you it is nothing like this one. My LinkedIn course is really for professors who just want a LinkedIn profile. They want to know how to put their academic life on their LinkedIn profile. And they really aren’t looking to post. They’re not necessarily looking to network on LinkedIn. So that’s what my course helps with. And you can see it’s wildly different from this one.
The Branded Scholar Bootcamp is all about making connections and making real relationships that can help you, not just with your job search but with other areas of your life. I mean this sounds like it’s really world opening and that’s why I wanted you to know about it.
Gertrude: Thank you so much, Jennifer. I really appreciate that. People can check that out.
Jennifer: Yeah! Be sure to check it out.
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You never know where your next opportunity is going to come from
Jennifer: It has been so amazing to talk with you about LinkedIn, to talk with you about YouTube, and all of the amazing things you’re doing to help people. I mean you’re changing the world. And I love it.
Do you have anything else you’d like to add before we wrap up? This has been such a fun conversation for me.
Gertrude: Absolutely. It’s been such a great conversation. I just wanted to say that if you’re not building a personal brand, it all started on LinkedIn for me. And I know that people may have their feelings about LinkedIn. And definitely you can use LinkedIn.
But even if you don’t use LinkedIn, there are other platforms out there where you can build a personal brand.
I’m very, very pro building a personal brand for your academic career because nothing is certain in the world that we live in today. You never know where your next opportunity is going to come from.
Building a personal brand is literally currency you can cash out at some point in your career.
Gertrude: Don’t hesitate to build a personal brand even if all you do is post once a week on Instagram, or post once a week on LinkedIn about your academic career, or about you know maybe you’re transitioning out of academia and you want to talk about that, or you know you’re talking about your research, or teaching in the classroom.
Whatever it is, build a personal brand before you need it. Because trust me, at some point you may need it.
Even if you never need it, the opportunities it opens up for you are just unmatched. And I highly recommend that you do build your personal brand. Thank you, Jennifer, for giving me the opportunity to talk about that.
Jennifer: This has been so inspiring. I really think that people are gonna go make their LinkedIn profile after talking to you because this has been eye-opening. I hope that lots of people find your interview helpful. Thanks so much for coming on The Social Academic!
Gertrude: Thank you so much, Jennifer. Thank you.
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Bio for Gertrude Nonterah, PhD
Dr. Gertrude Nonterah is a medical communications professional. She graduated from Lewis Katz Temple University School of Medicine with a Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunology in 2015.
She is the host of The Bold PhD YouTube channel which helps graduate students and PhDs prepare for and navigate the career market outside academia.
Jennifer van Alstyne is a Peruvian-American poet and communications consultant. She founded The Academic Designer, LLC to help professors, researchers, and graduate students manage their online presence. Jennifer’s goal is to help people share their work with the world.
Check out her personal site at https://jennifervanalstyne
or learn more about the services she offers at https://theacademicdesigner.com