Berkeley Connect Philosophy students discuss careers with alumni panel

“What can I do with my Philosophy degree?” To help answer this common question, a panel of UC Berkeley Philosophy alumni talked to Berkeley Connect Philosophy students about the different career paths they pursued after graduation, providing valuable advice about the future. Facilitated by Berkeley Connect Philosophy Director Lara Buchak and Assistant Director Wes Holliday, the panel explored everything from role models and transitions to finding personal fulfillment. The guest speakers were Sonya Singler (Class of ’89), Aaron Rubin (’91), Edward Meleshinsky (2011), and Hans Gude (’78).

Many of the alums are lawyers. Singler does legal advising for startups, and Rubin specializes in technology transactions, while Meleshinksy is currently a student at Boalt Law. Gude, however, works at UC Berkeley in risk management after a string of many careers. He admitted that he did his fair share of wandering before finding his current career. “Your career is going to evolve,” he told the students.

Prof. Holliday asked the panel about their role models and transitions. For Singler, the road has always been clear. “I always wanted to be a lawyer,” she shared, admitting she saw her philosophy degree as a stepping stone. Rubin, however, ended up in law unexpectedly. As an undergraduate, he was very involved in the music scene in Berkeley, from which bands such as Green Day emerged, and he aspired to be a professional musician. As he approached his late twenties, he took a job teaching test prep classes at Princeton Review and found that he was very good at standardized tests. When he decided he wanted to start a new career, he took the LSAT and did well enough to get himself into Boalt Law. “From there, I went with the normal flow and the path of least resistance, which was becoming a lawyer,” Aaron admitted.

Meleshinsky, however, decided to be a lawyer to create positive change. As an undergraduate, he became involved in Renters’ Legal Assistance  and found his calling. “It was the experience of doing something for others that confirmed my decision to be a lawyer,” he told the students.

The panel then discussed self-actualization and balancing life and work and family. Gude remarked that for him, his job is not his primary source of satisfaction. “I have a philosophy of life: mind/body/creativity, all of which need both exercise and relaxation,” he said. “When the three are in balance, life is full and complete.” It is through reading and writing and art that he exercises these parts of his life. Meleshinsky, however, finds pleasure in his work. “I really enjoy policy work, advocacy, and working with clients.” Rubin stressed the importance of finding a job that suits you, pointing out that we all have to spend a lot of time at work. When asked how she balances a family and work and hobbies, Singler urged students to give up the notion of balance and choose what is important to them. “Choose what matters and set boundaries,” Sonya said. She also noted the importance of support networks and careful scheduling.

When asked what they would have done differently in their undergraduate years, the four were in agreement. More networking! “Find people who you want to be in five years and ask them out for coffee,” Meleshinsky advised. Singler and Gude both emphasized the importance of identifying and highlighting your skills. “Don’t underestimate any skills,” Singler said.

Finally, the panel shared what they felt was the most important skills they acquired from being philosophy majors and how to communicate them to employers. All agreed that writing is among the most important. “It’s surprising how many people in the workforce cannot write well,” Meleshinsky commented. Philosophy, they agree, also teaches you how to think and to form cohesive arguments, as well as how to problem-solve. Hans added to the list adaptability, ability to organize concepts, and skepticism of easy solutions. But it was something else he thought was most valuable. “I think the single most important skill I learned is to be comfortable with ambiguity,” Hans said.

The diverse paths taken by these four individuals show how many different careers Philosophy majors can explore. The perspectives they shared were definitely useful for students as they journey towards their own careers!

posted by Katherine Wang
Berkeley Connect Communications Assistant