What do you actually do?! Episode 11: Nicholas Gliserman, Historical Advice for Video Games.

Today’s episode of What Do You Actually Do!? will be focusing on careers in research, with Nicholas Gliserman, who works as a Historical Adviser for video games at Game Learning, an American company.

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You’re listening to What Do You Actually Do!? podcast. Each two weeks, we want to bring you an inspiring interview a useful tip encouraging message to help you find your place in the professional world.


Hello and welcome to this episode of What Do You Actually Do!? My name’s Kate Morris and I’ll be your host today. In today’s episode we’ll be talking about nonacademic jobs after a PhD and the educational computer games sector. Today we’re joined by Nick Gliserman who works as chief academic officer at game learning. So Nick what do you actually do?


It’s a pleasure to be talking with you today. So as you said I work for a company called Game learning and we make educational video games with a focus on history geared towards elementary school students. And what is my role there? Well I like to think of myself I’ve kind of a fancy title but I like to think of myself as the in-house historian probably the majority of my time is actually spent on game development and that’s really not from the technical side of things. As you said I have a PhD in History. So that’s kind of the background that I’m bringing to this role. It’s kind of all of the conceptual parts of game development everything from start to finish from figuring out what are we going to make our next game about. What is the time going to be what is the you know the place where is the setting. What is the length of the story. I’ll actually do a lot of historical research for each game and that’s going to go into informing what is the story going to be who are the characters going to be. What are the educational takeaways that we want that we think are important. I also do a lot of visual research so finding contemporary historical visual images for our art team so that they can kind of flesh out this environment this digital environment and build digital assets the things in the environment that people the clothing the buildings you know all all of those things.


So it’s kind of all encompassing it’s not yet you know here’s a bit of history research. It’s that every element of it really. And it’s what you’re liaising a lot with lots of different colleagues who are doing this all technical stuff.


Exactly yeah. So I mean I’d say part of my role is actually a lot of learning, you know, figuring out what is it that goes into game development, what are the technical things. And that makes me better at liaising with with with people who maybe don’t also speak history. So part of what I’m also doing is kind of trying to get out of my own head and yeah just thinking about what is it that I know that I’m taking for granted and certainly you know part of what I’m trying to do kind of big picture is communicate a vision of of history of specific things in history of historical concepts to you know to kids to people about 10 years old. So that means kind of clarifying a lot of things. Taking these big complicated ideas and in grad school you kind of gravitate towards that complexity but it’s it’s about making things legible understandable for young people. So yeah definitely there’s a lot of communication involved.


So what was your starting point in all this. How did your interest in history and sort of education develop?


It’s a great question. I mean I’ve always kind of been interested in education you know long time from when I was in high school. I really enjoyed that. I mean I think for the same exact reason gets you out of your own head you have to kind of think empathetically how to other people understand this problem why aren’t they kind of able to solve it. What’s the what’s kind of the piece of the puzzle that they’re not getting. And how can I help them get there.


It’s amazing how your current role is kind of a combination of stuff that you really started exploring in your day. So yeah. You know as a Ph.D. student you would be teaching so your gaining that insight into what makes a good educational resource, how students learn, how to facilitate learning etc. and then also having to up-skill your digital side of things with the more technical side of the map stuff you researching. Bringing that all together now in your car. I’m guessing it’s extremely helpful to have that technical experience and insight you’ve got that along with the really high level academic qualifications and experience that you’ve got.


Yeah definitely. And I mean I just think the world is changing, it’s always changing. But you know part of what I want to say is that you know the way the economy operates is changing and you know I think the the ability to synthesize in particular seem to be using that word a lot today. But I think it is going to be crucial. So you know taking one experience having another experience and being able to kind of put them into conversation with each other I think there’s there’s gonna be a lot of room for creativity in the future which I think is a good thing.

And you know for me I didn’t really necessarily have an end path in mind when I was doing any of this other than I kind of felt that some intuitive level this is valuable. I enjoy this and I think that that that kind of message frequently is left out of education. You know that that actually there is a reason to maybe pursue what you like doing what you find interesting. So it’s a balance right it’s a balance of what’s practical but also what do I enjoy.


So how did… I mean your job is pretty niche. How did you find out that there was an opportunity? Did you see advertised did the guy get in touch with you? How did that happen?


So I was finishing up a year as a visiting assistant professor at a small liberal arts college. I had no idea what I was going to be doing next. I had a few applications outstanding but I hadn’t heard from any anybody at that point. And so I was kind of like well maybe a it’s time to face reality. So I was in touch with the DGS, the Director of Graduate Studies, at the University of Southern California which is where I did my PhD. And you know he had circulated a few messages about people looking for historians and in particular you know USC being in Los Angeles it’s you kind of get a lot of offers from people in show business. So, I you know I reached out to the DGS, to him about about those about those jobs that he had advertised he sent their information along. They went nowhere but what did happen – the DGA has kind of knew I was looking for, you know, this kind of employment outside of the academy and so he forwarded an email before sending it on to the department from this this guy who is now my boss and who was in the process of starting this company and I saw that email I just you know he had this concept of video games to teach history. I didn’t know much else at that point but I was like yes this is perfect. This is exactly what I want to do I called him like three seconds later and you know I think it helped that I was so into the idea and enthusiastic about it. And I think he picked up on that and we’ve been collaborating ever since.


So it’s clear that you need to have loads of kind of historical research skills the ability to sort of be think creatively liaise with lots of different people. Any other sort of key strengths so qualities that you say you’d need to have if you want to work in this kind of historical consultancy and so computer games digital kind of world.


Yeah well I mean I think first of all writing being able to write well is about 90 percent of whatever the specific thing is that I’m doing. It’s it’s almost always through writing, you know. Sure there’s some conversation, but a lot of it happens through writing. So being a strong writer has been crucially important. And I think the thing to say about writing is it’s not just a tool of communication. It’s also a tool for figuring out what you think and helping you know force yourself to kind of explain everything right. If if you can’t do that to you with yourself that’s probably not very good writing is probably not going to communicate your ideas very well either. I think being able to think empathetically is again a huge thing. I mean as we were talking about it it’s important to liaising but it’s also important for. It’s one of my favorite things about history you have to empathize with these people that you’re studying. You have to kind of see the world from their their perspective and you know why did they make this choice and not that choice. I would have made this choice but they didn’t. So why was that and especially the further back you go the weirder people get from a from a modern prison. You really have to work very hard. So I find it incredibly useful because you know why did the programmer do that?


So you know rather creative as well though isn’t it because you know you’re empathizing but you’re having to imagine what it would be like and then think about how to make that engaging for a small child.


Yeah exactly. And fun yeah fun engaging. Yeah exactly.


And so any sort of final words of wisdom for PhD students who are thinking about a non-academic career, any sort of top tips you’d give them?


I just my my words of wisdom are that actually you’re doing a lot of things where you’re kind of learning transferable skills and you know just kind of if you can break out of your mindset a little bit. Talk to some non-academic people do some non-academic activities. I think it might be very helpful for figuring out why you know the value of everything that you’re doing even if it’s not kind of because you’ve specifically found this one thing that you know matters to three people.


I think that’s important. You know, I see students who are having to, you know, think of other options. And I think that’s really nice to think actually there’s a positive way to look at what you’ve gained from this experience. It’s not that it is a failure to not continue in academia could have a really great career outside of academia even a better career outside. Oh yeah yeah definitely. And that these these skills are valued and that you’re valued.


Yeah definitely. And the other thing I would say is you know don’t wait until you’re done with the page to start thinking about it because the earlier you start thinking about it I think that’s true doing an undergraduate degree as well you know if you’re thinking about what is it that I might want to do. What are the skills that I might need to have, you can start trying to build those things you know before you get to the end of the tunnel. So yeah definitely plan ahead a little bit.

And then the one last thing I would say and this is definitely true for undergrads as much as as grads is if you can do some learning that is project based, do it. I think those those are where those the opportunities really really see how do these skills actually apply in doing something real you know not just in writing a paper at 1:00 in the morning or whatever it is.


And I guess also the benefit of doing a project is this a specific outcomes you can see the impact that you’ve had. You can kind of try and explain that to an employer. So kind of you know through an internship or work experience thing or I guess even a project in your own time. But just testing out an idea. Seeing it through to the end and then reviewing it.


Yeah exactly. Or if there are classes where there is a project component. So you know I mean that was again one of the takeaways from doing that Master’s in geographic information science and technology. There were a lot of project based learning opportunities in that. And it was eye opening for me. So I totally recommend.


Well thank you so much for joining us today. And for all your words of wisdom it’s been really really interesting to talk to you. I’m going to add some relevant links to the episode description where people can see if they want to get into computer games in the sectors that we’ve talked about. There’s lots of information there and also a link to the full transcript of today’s show.

Thanks for joining us this week on what do you actually do. This episode was hosted by myself Kate Morris edited by Raquel Bartra and produced by both of us. If you love this podcast spread the word and subscribe. Are you eager to get more tips. Follow University of York Carerers and Placements on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram or useful links are in this episode description.