"I chose to study history because it was what I most loved to do, and I was apprehensive about the decision at first because I felt that my post-grad career prospects might be a little murkier than those of my peers majoring in STEM. I now see that all of the most successful people I know are in the position that they occupy because they bring an unparalleled enthusiasm and drive to their work, no matter what that work is."
Class of 2018
Major: History, concentration in conflict studies
Major: International Relations, concentrations in international security/social development and human well-being
Minor: Political Science, concentration in political economy
Minor: Chinese language and culture
Post-Baccalaureate Premedical Student, Goucher College, Baltimore, MD
First Job after Graduation:
Business Analyst, Roivant Sciences, NYC
How did you end up pursuing your career?
My career path has been a bit circuitous. For my entire academic career, I had planned on attending graduate school immediately after undergrad. I love school, and I feel most comfortable in the classroom, so continuing education seemed like a natural choice. To that end, I made plans to apply to journalism, international policy, history, and econometrics programs.
As senior fall approached, however, a good friend of mine mentioned that the sheer diversity of the programs that I was applying to might belie larger uncertainties. "I think you'll learn a lot more about who you are and what you actually want by working for a year or two," he observed. "Then, you can apply to graduate school with a focus, instead of applying simply to attend graduate school." Though I was initially annoyed by this unsolicited advice, I came to recognize that he was correct-- I wanted to go to graduate school just for the sake of graduate school.
With this new perspective in mind, I considered careers that might help clarify my ambitions. As an undergraduate, I had interned in genetic research, journalism, and international microloans, and I had enjoyed all of these fields. Even so, I realized I'd had very little exposure to business. I generally believe that people looking to learn and grow should try things that they aren't familiar with, or aren't obviously good at, so I decided to apply to jobs in the business world. I ultimately accepted a position at Roivant Sciences, a global firm that builds and funds biotechnology companies.
I've been at Roivant for about two years now. I've had the opportunity to work on really interesting projects alongside inspiring, intelligent, passionate people, and I've learned skills related to buy-side investing and corporate development. For awhile there, I even worked as a member of a financing team tasked with taking one of our subsidiary companies public (along with the rest of the team, I got to ring the opening bell at Nasdaq for our debut, which was cool!). Right now, I'm on a special projects team focused on evaluating investment opportunities for Roivant.
Next month, I'll be leaving my job to start a post-baccalaureate premedical program. As it turns out, my friend was right: the time that I've spent working has clarified a lot for me, including the realization that I want to be a doctor. I am very thankful that I was able to explore a number of my interests before making this choice, because now I don't think I'll never wonder "what if...?" about other career paths. Several mentors in the History department advised me throughout the decision making process, writing me recommendations and serving as sounding boards for my essays, and since I can't say it enough: thank you all so much once again!
Do you have any advice for students contemplating similar career paths? What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were an undergraduate?
First, I'd recommend cultivating a support system composed of peers and professors alike, who will believe in you enough to cheer you on, and respect you enough to tell you the truth when you need to hear it. If my friend hadn't gone out on a limb to tell me that I was applying to graduate school for the wrong reasons, I might have continued down that ill-timed path!
Next, and somewhat relatedly, I'd advise students to take advantage of opportunities to learn from our incredible faculty. I always attended office hours at least once in each class that I took, and these visits paid great dividends-- I got to know and learn from the life experiences and knowledge, both academic and anecdotal, of people that I've grown to admire very much. As a result, my historiography and my writing abilities improved, but so did my ability to evaluate long-term goals. Professor Griffiths, for example, enthusiastically encouraged me to accept a job offer when I was still a little intimidated by the prospect of not attending graduate school, while Professor Mullaney was probably the most enthusiastic adviser anyone's ever had, supporting my aspirations to take Arabic and to pursue extra degrees even when others warned me that it might be "too much" to handle. My teachers were and are some of my greatest role models, and I continue to be so grateful for their guidance.
Finally, I'd encourage students to do what they love. I know that's a bit of a cliche, but I chose to study history because it was what I most loved to do, and I was apprehensive about the decision at first because I felt that my post-grad career prospects might be a little murkier than those of my peers majoring in STEM. I now see that all of the most successful people I know are in the position that they occupy because they bring an unparalleled enthusiasm and drive to their work, no matter what that work is. There's really no major or field of study that guarantees security or success, and I wish that that was more apparent to undergrads everywhere (including my 18 year old self). As Professor Dorin once told me, "The secret to success is to do what you love and to do it very, very well." These are some of the truest words I've ever heard.
Has your History training helped you along the way - and if so, how?
At Roivant, my day to day varies, but in general, my responsibilities as an analyst include assessing current investment opportunities, designing creative solutions to operational inefficiencies in healthcare practice and management, and researching potential future avenues for corporate development. I particularly enjoy evaluating investments, because in order to do this, my team and I end up confronting lots of open-ended questions. Consequently, the work is rarely dull, and (as any History major knows) coming up with a coherent argument based on a lot of unbiased background research is pretty exhilarating.
I understand that this might sound like a far cry from what I might have studied in History corner, and in many ways, it is. I never wrote a paper on revenue streams, or took an exam on Excel functions. I have, however, found my history training to be an immense asset in the workplace. The ability to synthesize large quantities of seemingly disparate information, to efficiently come up with relevant and productive questions, is crucial to building business cases. In fact, creating decks or writing memos is a lot like writing essays-- I have to form a general (investment) thesis, and think critically to build a case around it, culminating in a compelling but comprehensive conclusion.
From a less technical perspective, I loved studying history because doing so allowed me to study people. I always felt that it was an immense privilege to bear witness to individual and communal narratives, and to shed light on those stories in my writing. I think that my time in the History Department instilled within me a great deal of empathy and respect for others. Those feelings, and that same desire to engage with individuals, have factored hugely into desire to be a physician.
Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the incredible richness that my training as a historian brings to my everyday life outside of the office. I find that my impulse to resist teleological thinking makes me more compassionate and observant in general, and my aversion to overly normative questions or conclusions allows me to see the nuance in the news, diagnostic procedures, personal dilemmas-- pretty much everything. Reality fascinates me, and I owe that to my background in History.
Do you have any particularly fond memories of the History Department (e.g. memorable experiences with faculty members, or courses that left a profound impact)?
I loved my time in the History Department. As I previously noted, Professors Griffiths, Mullaney, and Dorin really influenced the trajectory of my Stanford career (and my life since!), as did [then Undergraduate Studies Coordinator] Priscilla Catbagan, a bonafide guardian angel who helped me revise my course plan dozens of times until I was able to squeeze in classes related to all of my passions. Professors Rakove, Getz, Crews, Holloway, and Vardi were also phenomenal instructors that went out of their way to review my papers with me, discuss their lives and mine, and generally shape my ambitions.
The history courses that had the greatest impact on my undergraduate career were HISTORY201A: The Global Drug Wars, HISTORY198: History of Modern China, HISTORY168: American History in Film Since WWII, HISTORY103F: Introduction to Military History, HISTORY145B: Africa in the 20th Century, and HISTORY218: Saints and Spiritual Power in Medieval Europe. Interestingly, I initially signed up for a few of these courses because they fulfilled distribution requirements--but I am so glad that I did! The captivating course material and phenomenal instruction left indelible marks upon my time at Stanford.
There's one memory in particular that I think of often. It was my senior winter, and I had stopped into Professor Griffiths' office to say hello. We were talking about life choices when she paused and said, "You know, I just think that whatever you do, you have to make sure that you consciously own every choice that you make. Don't just do things because you feel you should, or because the option is there; own your decisions, and actively participate in the construction of your life. Too many people wake up middle-aged and unhappy because they realize that they didn't necessarily choose the life that they have, and I don't want that for you." I remember thinking that that was among the best advice I've ever received. When it came time for me to apply to medical programs, I was, once again, a bit scared, but this advice, along with renewed encouragement from Professor Griffiths, empowered me to own my choice and commit to a career that I'm really, really excited about. I feel very lucky, and I'm very thankful for the positive impact that History corner has had on my life both during my time at Stanford and in the time since.