Networking: The Next Step

A student's perspective on Taking the Next Step
A student engages with an alumni panelist at Taking the Next Step
Photo by: 
Alan Sue
UChicago was the best possible preparation for the range of career[s] I’ve had.
Bob Levey
AB ‘66

Networking is hard. Figuring out what you're going to do for the rest of your life is even harder. So whenever there’s a chance for me get better at the difficult art of schmoozing or learn more about possible career paths, I jump on it. That’s why on the first Saturday of winter quarter, instead of spending my morning snuggled in bed, I joined 500 of my classmates at Taking the Next Step (TNS) , a networking event sponsored by the College Programming Office (CPO) and Career Advancement.

The follow-up program to the CPO’s Steps for Success event series for first years, Taking the Next Step gives second- and third-year students the chance to network and receive career advice from alumni. This year’s Taking the Next Step featured 100 alumni representing 20 different industries.

The event consisted of several panel sessions where alumni spoke about their career paths, and a roundtable lunch featuring keynote speaker and Chicago Cubs baseball team owner Thomas S. Ricketts (AB ‘88, MBA ‘93). This set-up allowed students to hear from successful alumni in a more formal setting as well as in a more intimate setting at the lunchtime roundtables, according to  Shoshannah Feinberg, Assistant Director of College Programming.

“The panels are meant to provide more in-depth discussion about careers…([the] rewarding parts, [the] challenging parts, how to get involved...etc.) as well as how the UChicago experience shaped [the speakers],” Feinberg said. “The roundtable discussion, on the other hand, is meant to provide more intimate, small group and one-on-one conversations with alumni in a casual environment.”

For each industry represented, Feinberg and the other coordinators worked to bring alumni with “a range of experiences” so that students could hear multiple perspectives on a single industry.

For me, the day began a little after 10 a.m. when my friends and I arrived at the Chicago Marriott Hotel downtown, all of us dressed in our best business casual attire. After checking in and receiving nametags and prized UChicago padfolios—the padded portfolio with the UChicago crest embossed on the front—we split up for the first panel.

I first attended to the Government and Policy panel. Moderated by David Glockner, a 1982 graduate of the College and the Regional Director of the Securities and Exchange Commision (SEC), the alumni on the panel discussed their career paths and the aspects of their undergraduate experiences that were most useful to them in their subsequent careers. All of the alumni had long-winding career paths that jumped between different parts of the industry as they explored their interests.

Other panels offered in the morning included discussions on careers in Research Sciences, Consulting, Healthcare, Entertainment and Creative Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, Social Innovation and Community Change, and Education,Teaching, and Policy. Second year Ryan Teehan, a Mathematics major specializing in Applied Math, went to the consulting panel where  alumni like Aaron Chaiken (AB’09, MBA ‘14), a consultant with Bain & Company, and Brianna English (AB ‘05), the Director of Sg2, talked about how to make a social impact with consulting.

"I thought it was helpful to get more of a sense of the type of work you do in different areas of consulting,” Teehan said. “Also how to apply my major to an actual job."

Next on the schedule was lunch: a three-course meal was served before the keynote address from Ricketts. I enjoyed an amazing butternut squash soup at the Journalism, Arts, and Media roundtable, where I spoke with alum Harry Backlund AB ‘11,  the publisher of the South Side Weekly and one of the founders of City Bureau, a nonprofit media outlet and journalism training program covering the South and West Sides of Chicago. "I've always wanted to be a journalist and in a way I still do,” he joked. After telling us a little about his career path, he then asked about our interests and summer plans, offering advice to each student throughout.

Tuyaa Montgomery, a second-year biology major specializing in Genetics, attended the Research Sciences roundtable. “I liked what one alumna said about choosing a specific field of research...[when] there’s so many disease to study,” she said. Montgomery added that alumni reassured her about the rigor of UChicago’s Biology program, saying that the difficulty makes students better suited to entering the field.

students engaged with an alum at a Taking the Next Step roundtable

After introductions from student coordinators and a short speech from Dean of the College John Boyer, in his keynote address, Ricketts described his path to becoming the owner of the Cubs and then gave us four tips for having a successful career. The first to not assume that our career paths will be linear, advice very fitting given today’s changing job market. The second reminded us to be honest with ourselves and unafraid of changing careers when a career isn’t the right fit. The third: always be on a quest, and the fourth: always treat others well.  

"Treat people well, because you are not scalable,” he said.  “You can only get so far in your career alone.”

The second set of panels began shortly after the keynote address. I attended the Journalism, Publishing, and Media Relations panel, moderated by Bob Levey AB ‘66, a former Washington Post journalist who has moderated this panel at TNS for almost two decades. "UChicago was the best possible preparation for the range of career[s] I've had,” he said during the discussion.

He and the other panelists discussed their career paths and the ways that changes in journalism might affect our careers. "Your generation is lucky to be going into journalism in the most exciting time,” Levey said. The panelists also gave us advice on how to get our first and third jobs in journalism and publishing, and gave us their thoughts on whether or not graduate school for journalism was worth it. “It’ll get you your first job,” said Levey told students considering graduate school for journalism.

Second year Michelle Gan attended the NGO and International Relations panel and received helpful responses after following up with alumni. She said their advice resonated with her and that she was inspired by two alumni, Harry Moroz (AB ‘06, MPP ‘12), who currently works with the World Bank, and Sherry Hong (AB ‘98), a State Department foreign service officer. “[They] emphasized not being afraid to work for a smaller organization if they are doing cool work you care about,” Gan said.

That afternoon, I left the Chicago Marriott feeling inspired and grateful for all of the career advice I had just been given. I wasn’t the only one. Second year Elizabeth Smith, agreed, saying “I walked out…feeling like there were careers out there that I would want to do and that there were people who were like me at one point that had them.”

Tagged: taking the next step, Career Advancement, college programing office