“Where do I go from Yale?” On April 21, 2018 over a hundred current Yale College, graduate, and professional students met with dozens of Yale graduate school alumni in Linsly-Chittenden Hall to ask questions, share stories, and imagine answers to this question. For many graduate students, the answer might seem obvious: academia, continuing a career of teaching and research begun in the libraries and labs at Yale. For others, there may be multiple compelling career and life paths, and the obvious answer isn’t the only one.
“Where Do I Go from Yale?” is an annual collaboration between Yale Graduate School Alumni Association (GSAA), Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and the Association of Yale Alumni (AYA) Careers, Life, and Yale program, to help Yale students contemplating a Ph.D. think through their futures. Featuring Ph.D. career panels, lunchtime discussion groups, and a networking reception with Yale graduate school alumni, the event leverages the wealth of knowledge and experiences represented by alumni to illuminate the myriad careers and opportunities available to Yale graduate students. The theme for 2018 was “managing your serendipity,” suggesting the concrete actions that Ph.D. candidates can take to influence the directions that their careers take.
“One of the amazing things about the way Yale empowers us is that we truly do unleash alumni and they do the most important event-related work,” said Stephen Blum, Senior Director, Strategic Initiatives at AYA and an organizer of the event. “The goal has always been to give Ph.D. candidates confidence that the entire world is their oyster and not just the academic world. It’s designed to give people tools to go in different directions if that’s where their life and interests lead them.”
“The great fun of finding and recruiting speakers was that all of these people are midway through the adventure of writing their life story,” said James Shulman, chair of the event, GSAA board member, and Senior Fellow in Residence at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. “They figured out how to write a new chapter or two of their lives by applying their talents to problems that they find exciting and meaningful. They were all delighted to come share their thought processes with current students and—almost to a person—said how much they wished that there had been events like this when they were in school. With an intended audience of students who have mostly only considered or known one path, identifying the speakers meant finding graduates who could retrace their steps, reflect on their anxieties and the ups and downs of their journey, talk about their strategies for mapping where they wanted to go, and cast light on many otherwise hidden pathways. And it was surprisingly easy to find and engage those people, because they’d been through this experience and because they wanted to help.”
Assisting Shulman in identifying and inviting panelists whose stories would be most useful and compelling for Ph.D. students was the event co-chair, Greg Raczniak, GSAA board member and Field Medical Officer at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
The keynote address was delivered by Pulin Sanghvi, the Inaugural Executive Director of Career Services at Princeton University and an alumnus of Yale College. Stephen Blum recommended Sanghvi for the role after hearing him speak previously. Coming from a background in business and having been a consultant at McKinsey before shifting to the field of higher education, Sanghvi brought a unique perspective to thinking about career possibilities for graduate students, and especially imagining the concrete and conceptual changes graduate students can make to position themselves for roles that fit their skills and interests.
Sanghvi is a true believer of the value of the doctorate outside the academy. “At McKinsey, I had colleagues from many different backgrounds. MBA’s, JD’s, and a lot of Ph.D.’s,” he said. “One of the things that really struck me at the time was that having McKinsey teams from different backgrounds brought radically different perspectives to the problem solving we were engaged with. This was perfect for the kind of results we were pushing for. Ph.D.’s are obviously experts in their field, but more importantly, they’re unique problem solvers.”
In his keynote, Sanghvi encouraged students to think about their careers dynamically, and embrace the ambiguities, the twists, and the turns that their professional lives might take, both during and after graduate school.
“What you’re going after isn’t a specific job,” he said. “It’s alignment. You find a situation that brings out the best in you, and your career becomes a self-reinforcing virtuous loop.”
Over the course of the day, Sanghvi recognized valuable dialogue happening across panels and more informal discussions, as students and alumni opened up. “The best part of these conversations was the level of vulnerability students began to feel comfortable showing, as they shared concerns and hopes for the future: worries about the job market, but also goals and dreams for their careers and lives. I think that kind of vulnerability pushed the discourse to a higher level.”
Thinking ahead to next year’s event, Blum offered a few hints about “Where Do I Go from Yale?” 2019.
“We want to focus even more on balancing career wisdom with life advice, while continuing to produce panels that tell compelling early-career stories.”