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  • Where Are They Now?: Fatimeh Pahlavan

    Where can a graduate degree from the University of Illinois take you? In this series, we catch up with one recent Graduate College alum and ask the question: “Where are they now?”.

    Fatimeh Pahlavan lives at the intersection of law, business, and technology. She graduated from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign with a JD in 2016 after previously earning a BS in Biochemistry from the University of Illinois at Chicago. In 2018, she founded Legal Intelligence to Entrepreneurs LLC (LITE), a law firm devoted to providing proactive and holistic legal advice to early-stage entrepreneurs.

    I understand you are participating in a cohort of the Justice Entrepreneurs Project. Could you describe what that entails, how you got involved/interested, and what your ultimate goals are for the experience?

    The Justice Entrepreneurs Project (JEP) is an incubator for entrepreneurial attorneys launching innovative, socially conscious law practices. I joined JEP with the intention of building a new kind of law firm – one that rejects the billable hour in favor of better, client-centric service models. JEP has provided me with space to create, a supportive community of like-minded lawyers, and education on every aspect of building a sustainable legal practice. As lofty as it sounds, my ultimate goal is to realign the power dynamic between lawyers and their clients and transform the way that legal services are delivered.

    What is the most interesting, rewarding, and/or challenging aspect of your work?

    The most rewarding aspect of my work is that I wake up every day with an explosive sense of purpose. The biggest challenge is having the self-awareness to slow down, focus on self-care, and maintain a sense of balance in my life.

    What experiences had the biggest impact on your career choice?

    My work is wholly informed by my interdisciplinary background. I studied the classics at a great books college, then pivoted to biochemistry, and later attended law school. My path was serpentine, but it equipped me with tools I use daily as an entrepreneur and as an advisor to entrepreneurs. The great books taught me to formulate meaningful questions. My undergraduate studies trained me to test hypotheses in a methodical and controlled manner. In law school, I cultivated the ability to articulate conclusions persuasively. Inquire, analyze, influence. This is my job in a nutshell.   

    What has been the most valuable transferable skill you gained from graduate school?

    In graduate school we constantly find ourselves short on time, energy, grey matter. Law school taught me that I cannot always be everything to everyone, and that is okay. This is a lesson I am constantly relearning, but it has been invaluable in developing LITE. Sometimes the most productive thing we can do is take a step back and stop trying so hard.  

    What is one piece of advice you would give to graduate students at Illinois?

    Trust yourself. Trust your instincts. Do not discount your ideas simply because you are young or inexperienced; white hair does not necessarily engender wisdom. You are capable of exactly what you decide you are capable of. 

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    This interview was conducted by Mike Firmand, Assistant Director for Employer Outreach in the Graduate College. He works with employers to connect University of Illinois graduate students to new opportunities and promote the value of graduate education. He previously worked for the College of Business at Illinois State University and has held positions in insurance, marketing, banking, and retail and event management. Mike holds a B.S. in Recreation, Sport and Tourism from the University of Illinois and an M.S. in Communication from Illinois State University.

  • Creative and Collaborative: Trying out Careers in Publishing

    I’m about halfway through my MA/PhD program in English, and as a more senior graduate student, I’ve seen several of my fellow English PhD students find rewarding work outside of the academy. I recently participated in a “Try-It-Out” experience through the Grad College Career Development Office and the University of Illinois Press to learn more about academic publishing. This one-day program for graduate students was a way to explore a new career option through participating in the work and meeting with professionals.

    My Try-It-Out Experience involved a brief orientation at the Graduate College’s Career Development Office and then a day at the University of Illinois Press that included three informational interviews, a short task, and a professional development lunch. During the orientation, we were asked to begin thinking about our goals and what questions we might ask during the interviews. My goals were pretty specific: I wanted to find out how my current editorial tasks (I work as the managing editor of a literary journal) fit into a university press, and I wanted to learn enough about the workings of the press to discover jobs I might not yet be aware of. Given the changing tenure-track job market for PhDs in the humanities, I have been keen to explore all of my options, and this experience seemed like the perfect opportunity.

    The day of the Try-It-Out Experience was cold and drizzly, but the people I met at the press were anything but that. Julie Laut, Outreach & Development Acquisitions Assistant, greeted us warmly and gave us a quick tour of the quirky building—a converted warehouse just west of the soccer fields. Throughout the day, I learned about the editorial, acquisitions, and journals departments. The informational interviews were enjoyable and gave me a better idea of how the different departments work together to usher book and journal projects through the press.

    The short task gave me tangible insight into acquisitions, the department I was least familiar with but also most interested in. I tried my hand at writing up a cover sheet (a short summary of a book project the press might acquire), which involved skimming through a manuscript and its accompanying reader reports to determine the project’s readiness for acceptance for publication. The task was interesting and intellectually rigorous, and aligned with work I have loved as a graduate student: I was exposed to new ideas and had to evaluate their importance by piecing together arguments and weighing those contributions against existing scholarship.

    The University of Illinois Press in 1920, photo from the University of Illinois Archives. 

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    During my day at the press, my goals were met quite easily—everyone was happy to share their experiences and answer my many questions—but I also gained a sense of the work culture. The Illinois Press is infused with teamwork and collaboration, and a healthy work-life balance is encouraged (and possible!): employees aren’t expected to take work home, and generous vacation time allows them to travel.

    Significant diversity issues currently characterize the academic publishing world, but it seems like that might be beginning to change. What is also changing, at least at Illinois, is the press’s relationship with the surrounding academic community: a new outreach program has already resulted in a symposium on publishing and internship collaborations like that of the Try-It-Out Experience.

    As I walked home after my day at the press, I was buoyed by the discovery that careers in publishing seem to involve much of what I love about academia but in a more collaborative setting than I am used to: creative and critical thinking, and the transformation of ideas from individual thoughts to more public platforms. Going forward, I am more confident that I would find work at a university press enjoying and fulfilling, and for the short term, I’ll be following the Illinois Press’s exciting outreach work.

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    Sabrina Lee is a PhD student in English. Her research focuses on religion and magic in global modernist literature. Currently, she is the managing editor of American Literary History. She highly recommends pairing wine (any kind, no need to be picky!) with salt & vinegar chips.

  • Lessons From a Grad Student Job Search Support Group

    A small outburst of voices suddenly fills the room. “I didn’t know that was a thing,” one student announces above the swell of noise. We’re discussing a difficult topic: perceptions of gender and its influence on applicants in the interview process. “Should I ask about maternity leave benefits?” “My professor told me not to wear a wedding ring.”

    The group grapples with mixed feelings as they talk through their views on whether to conceal aspects of identity as a strategy for succeeding in a job interview. This was a complicated but candid conversation on navigating uncertainty that took place in a job search support group for graduate students.

    Piloting a Job Search Support Group

    In my role at the Graduate College of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where I regularly lead group programs focused on career exploration for graduate students, I am constantly struck by how much students benefit from spontaneous group discussion. Seeing how the dynamic, unexpected element of open dialogue can reveal new insights, I grew eager to develop a program for students to engage with peers about the job search in this sustained and collaborative way.

    So this spring, I started the first-ever job search support group for graduate students at the University of Illinois. Over four weeks, around 12 master's and Ph.D. students from across disciplines came together for weekly, 90-minute meetings focused on one component of the job search: assessing fit from a job ad, crafting application materials, interviewing strategies, networking and so forth. I planned for the sessions to be highly interactive, with most of the time designated for participants to tell stories, ask questions and reflect on their job search experiences together.

    During those four weeks, I observed that most of the students felt a loss of control in the search. I came to realize that the main benefit of the support group model was that students could confront that feeling and take steps to overcome it.

    In the full article on Inside Higher Education, Mike describes that loss of control, explains how the support group helped and outlines strategies for creating your own job search support group. Read the original post online.

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    Mike Firmand is the Assistant Director for Employer Outreach in the Graduate College. He works with employers to connect University of Illinois graduate students to new opportunities and promote the value of graduate education. He previously worked for the College of Business at Illinois State University and has held positions in insurance, marketing, banking, and retail and event management. Mike holds a B.S. in Recreation, Sport and Tourism from the University of Illinois and an M.S. in Communication from Illinois State University.