Is It Too Early to Think About Your Journey After Duke?
“When you walk into any room, stow away your ego, right next to your lack of belief.” Those words, uttered by one of the panelists at the fall “What Comes Next: The Journey after Duke” networking event hosted by The Graduate School, struck a chord in me. The bearer of the words, Dr. Adolfo Rodriguez, might have been speaking about teamwork, but those words, I reckon, could apply to just about all aspects of life.
Why did the words give me pause, you ask? Well, after just two months of graduate school, I had felt the dumbest I ever have and suffered fits of imposter syndrome. Thankfully, in the midst of my existential crisis, I realized how much fun it is to put my ego aside and just learn everything and anything from those around me. In this new spirit of being a sponge, I was attending an event more suited for those about to leave Duke, although my journey was just beginning. I furiously scribbled notes on my little pad and nodded along to everything because it all seemed so profound.
The panelists were all Duke Ph.D. alumni who had gone off the academic route and into various industry sectors. First there was Dr. Rodriguez, who received a Ph.D. in Computer Science in 2003. When asked what he wished he had done differently in his student days, without missing a beat, he responded, “I wish I had taken advantage of the other courses outside computer science.” Well, from where I was sitting, he didn’t seem to have suffered from it, as he had gone on to enjoy an illustrious career as an engineer and a chief technology officer at IBM before moving on to Citrix and finally to his current posting as SVP for Technology Transformation at Advance Auto Parts. When the moderator asked what he thought made a kick-ass CV, he said that there was one thing he knew employers looked for: “Depth. I want to see evidence of depth in a CV. What are some of the things that you have done that show that you are really skilled at this job I should give to you?“
In response to the same question, the second panelist, the vivacious Dr. I-hung Shih, holder of a Ph.D. in Biochemistry and a Global Industry Analyst/Portfolio Manager for Biotech at Wellington Management, had this to say: “Let who you are shine through in your CV. And always remember that you have got to love what you do. The path you are on is not set in stone. You are allowed to change your mind.” She launched into a fascinating account of how she nearly got into academia then found a path that led her away from the labs and into the world of finance. “I am still in Biotech though,” she quickly added with a laugh.
The third panelist, Dr. Erik Vogt, who graduated in 2014 with a Ph.D. in Economics, told of how he flew all over the country doing multiple job interviews looking for a place to pitch his tent. The search would ultimately end when he found his perfect match. Today, the quantitative researcher at Citadel attests that finding what makes the heart sing will do you a lot of good. “Figure out what you are passionate about and go do it. Find that one thing that excites you.” He went on to assert that having a curious mind would be a great thing for anyone to have. “Open your eyes and ears. Talk to people you don’t usually talk to; you will learn a lot.”
The moderator, Ronald Temple ’90, M.P.P., managing director and co-head of multi-asset and head of U.S. equity at Lazard Asset Management LLC, also had a few words of wisdom to sprinkle in. “Make use of the Duke network to get to those in the hub of the places you want to go. Form relationships in places you would like to work in before you need to use them.” I smiled under my mask. I actually have the time to form those relationships before I need to use them.
Pretty soon, one hour had rolled by, and it was time to mingle with the guests in attendance, members of The Graduate School’s Board of Visitors. They are all alumni, their names and credentials displayed on a paper on the tables they sit. I was a little intimidated. This is the part where you are supposed to make connections and hopefully leave with a contact or two. Thanks to my introverted ways, this is also a part I dread. But since I have a pact with myself to be like a sponge, and sponges don’t shrink away from hot water, I put my brave face on and work the room. Sure enough, I project enough confidence that I leave an hour later with a couple of business cards and a bounce in my step.
On my walk home, I decided that I would put into practice some of the things I had learnt. Who knows where they will lead me? I would keep a curious mind, get out of my shell just a tad bit more, figure out what made my heart sing and check my ego at any door I walked through.
Care to take this scary walk with me?
Editors' note: Your next opportunity to hear from alumni and connect with them in a similar event is coming up on March 4, 2022 in The Journey After Duke: Reflections and Connections with Graduate Alumni.
Master's student, Global Health
Judith Mwobobia is a global health graduate student at Duke University. She is currently immersed in cutting-edge research in health and science issues affecting the world. She majored in microbiology for undergraduate studies and worked as a journalist in Kenya. Her current interests are in health journalism and policy-making, two diverse fields that she believes she can use to improve health and health equity in marginalized regions of the world.