Alumni offer College students tips and advice on career moves

Second- and third-years attend 15th annual Taking the Next Step

Wen Huang
News Officer for Law, Policy and EconomicsUniversity Communications

Before attending the University of Chicago, Myrtle Potter aspired to be a litigator. But two great opportunities through UChicago—a student job at the Medical Center and an IBM internship through Chicago Booth—led her to realize her passion lay instead in a mix of business and medicine.

Potter, AB’80, now a leading, innovative health care professional, told her story on Saturday, Jan. 7 to almost 900 students and 225 alumni at UChicago’s 15th annual Taking the Next Step—a day of networking and career advice for second- and third-year students, organized by the College.

Potter, who joined the University Board of Trustees in June 2011, counseled students to value every job, good or bad, for what it has to offer. Although she disliked selling computers at IBM, Potter said the opportunity was path altering.

“The value of the experience comes in what you’re getting out of it and what you’re learning from it, that you can take to the next opportunity,” said Potter, who heads Myrtle Potter and Company, LLC, a health care consulting firm. She spent three decades working for and leading global health care companies such as Genentech, Inc., Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Merck & Co, Inc.

Before Potter spoke, John Boyer, dean of the College, welcomed students in the Hilton Chicago’s expansive ballroom with a reminder that the founders of UChicago believed an intense, academic education was key to success in professional and leadership roles.

“Career programs that CAPS (Career Advising and Planning Services) organizes like Taking the Next Step are really about giving you the tools to help you become the kind of professionals who prove that [William Rainey] Harper, [Marion] Talbot and those early educational pioneers who founded the University of Chicago in the 1890s were correct in their belief that educating highly creative and thoughtful students in the liberal arts was the best way to guarantee progress in our communities and in our nation,” said Boyer, AM’69, PhD’75.

Taking the Next Step allows students to collect career-planning tips from alumni and to network with those who are working in fields they hope to pursue. The event also offers the keynote address and 14 different post-lunch panel discussions with alumni from all over the world. Taking the Next Step followed on the heels of the CAPS Jan. 6 Winter Career and Internship Fair, which brought approximately 60 organizations to campus.

Second-year biology major Ava Myles found that her interactions with alumni helped hone her networking skills and a morning session encouraged her and other students to fine-tune their 30-second pitches.

"That session gave me a better idea of how to approach professionals and interact with them in this type of setting," she said, adding that the interactions felt less unnatural after a day of practice.

The panel discussions ranged from “Advertising, Marketing and Public Relations” to “Health care.” The panel on “Business Ventures: Strategizing Your Next Move” included seven entrepreneurs and business developers sharing their experiences and giving advice.

Sue Khim, X’99, who recently raised $1.7 million in venture capital for her financial services start-up Alltuition, advised an inquiring student on the effectiveness of venture capital camps. Ava Youngblood, MBA’85, a longtime energy executive who later founded Youngblood Executive Search, Inc., offered to meet with a student to discuss how to break into the energy field.

At “Math, Science, and Technology: Discovery and Application,” four panelists fielded questions, including those on work-life balance and the importance of technical and people skills in the work environment. The overarching message to students was to strive to be multidimensional at work and at home.

People skills accounts for the majority of one’s career success, said Dan Kaberon, AB’77, Principal Technical Consultant at EMC Corporation. “The other 90 percent is technical.”

Jennifer Lee, a second-year biology and pre-med student, said the “Math, Science, and Technology” and “Health care” panels eased her concerns about needing to follow a specific checklist to succeed in her career goals.

“The panelists went through very different paths to their careers, which is interesting and relieving,” she said, adding that it can be stressful to be surrounded by so many great students. “It gives me hope that I can explore other interests unrelated to medicine and biology while still staying on the path of becoming a doctor."

Taking the Next Step 2012 was sponsored by the Dean of the College, the Office of the Dean of Students in the College, the College Programming Office, Career Advising and Planning Services, the Alumni Association, the Office of the Reynolds Club & Student Activities, the University Community Service Center, University Theater, the Chicago Careers in Health Professions, and the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs.