Postdoc highlight series: Dr. Echo Rivera (#10)

We have reached 10th (!) interview on the Postdoc Superheroes!

It seems that many people have enjoyed reading these, which makes me super happy and motivated to carry on. If you have a PhD (or PhD student) who you admire or are interested to hear from, please let me know. I would love to interview them, as I am yet to meet a PhD with a boring story…

This week we have Dr. Echo Rivera in the “house”. She is a successful science communicator, designer and business owner and so much more. I will let her do the talking.

Enjoy the read!

 Quick notes on Echo:
NameEcho Rivera, PhD
Countries she has academic experiences fromUnited States
Echo in keywordsDriven, Dedicated, and Defiant 😉
Echo as a scientist/researcher/academicI no longer conduct research projects, but when I did I was a community-based participatory researcher. I prioritized working with communities to conduct research/evaluation projects with the goal to improve social justice.  
Currently excited about:I recently read Digital Minimalism by Dr. Cal Newport and it made a huge impact on my professional and personal life. I highly recommend everyone read it.
Echo’s typical day:        I don’t have a typical day, but I designed my business to be that way! 😊
Contact Echo at:LinkedIn: Echo Rivera, PhD
Twitter: @echoechoR
YouTube: Echo Rivera

Hi Echo, Thank you so much for agreeing to contribute, I know how busy you are.

Could you introduce yourself briefly?

Hello! I’m Dr. Echo Rivera and I am a PhD-turned-Presentation specialist. After about 14 years of being a researcher/evaluator, I pivoted to help academics, scientists, researchers, and evaluators create engaging presentations. 

What was your experience studying in your undergrad program?

I was a first-generation college student, so there was a lot for me to learn in undergrad—both in terms of the academics, but also the culture of higher education. I didn’t even know there was a thing called “graduate student” until I was halfway done with my bachelor’s degree!

Once I found out about graduate school and decided to get a PhD, the last couple years of undergrad was a huge rush. I was not only working part-time, but I also joined several research projects to gain research experience quickly! 

So, to be perfectly honest, it was incredibly stressful and I always felt behind. And yet, I loved doing research and “knew” that it was what I was meant to do. And luckily, I ended up getting into my top choice graduate program—Michigan State University’s Ecological-Community Psychology program.

Why and how did you decide to go into a PhD?

When I was an undergrad and chose psychology as my major, I was initially interested in becoming a clinical psychologist. I initially wanted to be a therapist.

But then, as I mentioned above, I learned that graduate school was a thing and that I needed a graduate degree to provide therapy. I then learned that having research experience would help get me into grad school.  So, I became laser-focused on getting into grad school by joining every research team I could.

Because I was just hungry for any research experience, I ended up joining research teams in a variety of fields in psychology—social psychology, community psychology, and clinical psychology. Through that experience, I realized that clinical psychology was not, actually, for me and that community psychology was the best fit.

I no longer wanted to be a therapist, but instead wanted to be a professor and researcher in the field of community psychology.

What was your PhD program experience?

I earned my MA and PhD from Michigan State University, which is in Michigan, USA.

I did a combined MA/PhD program, which means that I was accepted into the program with just a bachelor’s, would first earn my master’s degree, then go on to earn my PhD without having to apply.

It is incredibly difficult to condense my 7 years of graduate school into just a couple of paragraphs. I could probably write a book on the whole thing! I’m not even sure where to begin.

It started off terrible. I thought it was hard being a first-gen college student (undergrad) but grad school was a whole other world for me. I did pretty badly in my first year because it was a culture shock and I didn’t understand how to be successful in graduate school. That first year of graduate school is probably the worst I’ve ever felt in my life.

But, after my first year, I adjusted and did much better.

I gained a new support network, gained amazing mentors, and joined a wonderfully supportive research team.

That helped a lot, and I started to flourish. I published two articles from my master’s thesis in scholarly journals, presented at conferences, taught an undergrad course, and did All the Academic Things.

And still, I never felt like I fit in. That’s a teaser for an upcoming answer 😉

Could you briefly describe what your research was and/or is about?

My PhD is in community psychology, which is essentially a degree in community-based participatory research. So, rather than focus on just one single topic, I learned how to do research with communities on a variety of topics.

Most of my research was focused on the community response to intimate partner violence. But, I’ve worked on research projects for a variety of areas such as homelessness, health needs of young men who are gay, Meals on Wheels, Medicare/Medicaid, SNAP policy, and so much more.

What have you decided to do after your PhD and why?

Like I mentioned above, I never felt like I fit into academia no matter how hard I tried.

I loved training and mentoring undergrad research assistants. However, I did not enjoy teaching an undergraduate class—which was going to be a big problem if I pursued an academic career!

That’s why, after I graduated with my PhD, I got a job working at a non-profit research/evaluation center. It was unaffiliated with any university—it was just an independent center.

I thought that doing research/evaluation without the teaching component would be a better fit for me.

I was wrong.

I missed teaching and mentoring. A lot.

Plus, by then, it was super clear to me that my “zone of genius” was in the dissemination/communication phase of a project. I was happiest when I was designing reports, data visualizations, infographics, and presentations.

So, after three years I quit to run my own presentation training and design company.

After over a decade of struggling, I finally found my place and what I’m happy doing!

 That’s how it is, isn’t it? We need to go through stuff to figure out who we are <3

 So true.

What are your other superpowers?

As I mentioned earlier, my “zone of genius” was in the communication/dissemination phase of a project. To understand that, we need to rewind all the way back into undergrad.

So, my undergrad major was psychology BUT I almost chose graphic design. I was equally interested in both and took many art and design classes in undergrad.

Then, in grad school, I often took on side projects related to design. I was the internal go-to person to make things look great: participant recruitment flyers, reports, manuals, and presentations.

Now that I think back on it, designing materials was my professional hobby. It was always something I did parallel to my research/academic work until I finally decided to merge them together when I started my own company.

What is the hardest in doing what you are doing and how do you deal with that?

When you work for yourself, the hardest thing is knowing what to do.

I constantly struggle with choosing projects and prioritizing them, because everything seems important!

I also come from an academic background, so learning the whole sales and marketing side of a business was also a struggle.

To help with both, I participate in a business training and mentoring program. These programs helped me learn skills in marketing, structuring my offers, and creating systems so that it could run as smoothly as possible.

What are you the proudest of?

I’m proud that I earned a PhD as a first-generation student. That was such a difficult road, but I made it. I am also proud that I built my own company, from scratch, using practices that align with my social justice values.

If you could teach people one thing, what would it be?

How to end #DeathByPowerpoint!

Who are the people you follow on social media and enjoy they content?

My favorite people that I recommend everyone checks out are:

Jennifer van Alstyne, The Academic Designer

Anna Clemens, Scientists Who Write  

Jennifer Polk, Alternative Academic Careers  

Barbi Honeycutt, Effective Teaching Strategies  

Are there any tools, resources or software you are obsessed with at the moment?

I’m absolutely loving Airtable.

It’s like Excel/Google Sheets but times 100! You can add attachments, create automations with Zapier (integration and automation software), and all sorts of other fantastic things that make it so much easier to manage projects. I wish I had it back when I was a project manager!

Where people can find you?

LinkedIn: Echo Rivera, PhD


Twitter: @echoechoR

YouTube: Echo Rivera

Thank you!

More stories from PhDs running their business:

Postdoc highlight series: Dr. Ken Yan Wong (#3) – Alternative Postdoc

Postdoc highlight series: Dr. Chantal Lucini (#1) – Alternative Postdoc

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