PhD Career Exploration Fellow Spotlight: Treva Tam (Hosted by Walmart – Applied Behavior Science)

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. Treva Tam, a PhD candidate in Sociology, was placed as a Fellow with Walmart – Applied Behavior Science. Read about Treva’s experience in the CEF below!

Describe your experience working with your host:

I had a great experience with my host at Walmart’s Applied Behavioral Science department. I met with my host virtually, and they connected me to other professionals with PhD backgrounds across different departments. In doing so, I was able to learn about the many and varied opportunities for academics in the private sector –from data science to applied behavioral science to user experience (UX) to market research. Through these conversations, both with other professionals and with my host, I gained inside perspective and career advice on transitioning from academia.

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

The biggest takeaway for me was the knowledge that the private sector has both adapted to PhDs in their workforce and actively seeks out hiring of academics. In this way, the fellowship reaffirmed my commitment to pursuing my doctorate and gave me a concrete idea of the role of PhDs in non-academic settings. This knowledge isn’t readily available as a graduate student through our departments or professors and having CEF facilitate these conversations with professionals emphasized that the importance I had put on finishing my PhD was not misguided and actually a necessity, even if I were to pursue a non-academic career.

How does your CEF experience benefit your future career plans?

Networking with other academics in the private sector and learning about their journeys to get there has given me more flexibility in my career options and a more concrete idea of the steps I need to take to open up these options.

What was the most valuable part of your CEF experience?

I now have the confidence in approaching the job search. The fellowship has given me the tools to market myself and the skills I have from being in academia. I have learned to target my resume, clean up my LinkedIn, talk confidently in interviews, and feel comfortable cold messaging professionals. CEF not only introduced me to the resources at my disposal through Penn’s Career Services, but also gave me the opportunity to learn about the hiring process for PhDs in the private sector, what hiring directors are looking for, and the skills I should emphasize as a PhD on the job market.

Top reason PhD students should apply to the CEF:

CEF is a low-pressure way to discover new career options, understand the steps it takes to reach your career goals, and reaffirm your value as a PhD on the job market (both academic and non-academic).

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