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Grad Students Look Beyond the Ivy Walls of Academia

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By Nicole Freeling, UC Newsroom

Non-academic jobs were once considered Plan B for students like Nicole Robinson.

As a UCLA graduate student in Italian literature, Robinson studied the writings of modernist women exiled under Italian fascism. “I didn’t go get a Ph.D. to cure cancer — I did it to delve really deeply into a subject,” Robinson said. “I was probably, for a brief while, the world’s leading expert on my topic.”

But she was also leader of the Graduate Student Association and found the practical, collaborative problem-solving associated with those responsibilities to be just as engaging as her academic research.

When it came time to enter the job market, she said, “I looked at all that would be required of me if I wanted to get a job as an Italian scholar. When I weighed that against the excitement and benefits of a job outside of academia, it just didn’t pencil.”

Today, Robinson holds a job she loves: management consultant at McKinsey & Company, where her graduate study has proved surprisingly relevant.

In making the transition to the private sector, Robinson got support from Humanists@Work, a UC-wide association of graduate students looking to explore non-academic careers. Started in 2014 with a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the group hosts online forums, conferences and networking dinners for those with ambitions beyond the ivy walls. The effort is an initative of the UC Humanities Research Insititue, which aims to connect research in the humanities to public life.

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