PhD Career Exploration Fellow Spotlight: Nicky Bell (Hosted by Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan)

In the spring of 2021, 44 PhD students from a range of academic disciplines at Penn participated virtually in Career Services’ PhD Career Exploration Fellowship (CEF) program, where they were matched with a host organization to learn about different careers beyond academia. Nicky Bell, a PhD candidate in Political Science, was placed as a Fellow with Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan. Read about Nicky’s experience in the CEF below!

Describe your experience working with your host:

I really enjoyed my fellowship experience with Dr. Amanda Nothaft from Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan. From our first meeting, Dr. Nothaft guided me to think about using my data analysis skills to make meaningful impacts on organizations and public policy. We discussed potential job opportunities, worked through my first attempt at a cover letter, and even practiced a mock interview (she’s a tough interviewer!). Most importantly, Dr. Nothaft offered an understanding and realistic sounding board for my thoughts and questions as I prepared for the job search.

What did you learn from this opportunity (about yourself, about career fields, the job search, etc.)?

This fellowship helped me to narrow my job search to a few specific fields that I am really interested in. As a quantitative social scientist, I have a broad skill set for working with data that can be applied to almost any problem – which means I could also pursue a career in a lot of different fields. During my fellowship, I worked with my host and the Career Services team to identify my strengths, interests, and goals to direct my job search towards opportunities that really excite me.

How does your CEF experience benefit your future career plans?

I’m grateful to have worked with Dr. Nothaft during my fellowship experience. She has a ton of insights into creating a meaningful and fulfilling post-Ph.D. career, and I’m sure she will continue to be a resource for me even after I get my first job.

What was the most valuable part of your CEF experience?

The most valuable part of my fellowship was doing a practice job interview with my host. Prior to that, the workshops offered by the Career Services team gave me a lot of confidence on how to conduct a job search, from informational interviewing to writing a resume. But nothing can prepare you for a tough interview except practice! My host helped me refine my answers to some difficult interview questions and think through my experiences, skills, and strengths to best showcase myself to potential employers.

Top reason PhD students should apply to the CEF:

Choosing to pursue a career outside of academia is hard, and finding a job is even harder. One of the great things about the CEF is that you aren’t alone – you’re connected with professionals and other graduate students who have been in the same position and can help you navigate the process. I’ve finished the CEF feeling more confident than ever in the possibilities for my career after the Ph.D.

By Helen Pho
Helen Pho Associate Director, Graduate Students & Postdocs