Interview with Rebecca Stein

What did you like about being a PPE major?

This is probably a classic answer but I really liked being able to take classes in different departments and schools. Having the flexibility to choose classes that were really interesting to me, but not necessarily in the traditional PPE track. I concentrated in Ethics and the Professions, which isn’t as common. Throughout my time at Penn I think I met only one or two PPE majors who had that concentration. I really liked that because it gave me the flexibility to design my own coursework, which was cool. I also wrote a thesis, which made my PPE experience a lot better. With PPE some people ask about what the applications are and how the three topics integrate and work together. I wrote a thesis on bioethics, on physician-assisted suicide, which was such a cool experience for me. Tome, it was the perfect way to understand and explain how the three disciplines come together.

What made you choose Ethics and the Professions and how would you describe the theme to prospective majors?

I chose it after taking my first bioethics class. We learned about a bunch of issues in bioethics, but to me it was a great way to learn the cross between philosophy, politics, and economics. You learn about it from a philosophical foundation, but then there are real policy and economic implications of every bioethical issue. I like philosophy a lot and thought that concentration would allow me to do more philosophy coursework. It was the most intellectually interesting to me and applied ethics and where ethics crosses with the real world.

How did you frame PPE in a professional way while pursuing jobs?

PPE is such a marketable major because I think a lot of jobs these days require interdisciplinary thinking. So, I think just telling an employer that you’re able to think in three different lenses, think about where different disciplines cross, and integrate your knowledge and different ways of thinking is a really marketable skill. That’s how I try to talk about my major in cover letters and when employers have asked in interviews why I chose that major I’ll often say that I looked at all the classes and compared it to other classes I would take for other majors and just thought the classes were really the most interesting. You get to take such a range of classes, like game theory, behavioral economics, philosophy classes, political science classes. I feltlike it was a major that would make me the most knowledgeable about the way the world works. That’s really how I talk about it to employers and I think it really has helped me in my job.

Can you talk a little bit about your job and how you feel being a PPE major has prepared you for it?

So the company I work for is a small, it’s considered a think tank, and it’s focused on technology. The easiest way to describe it would be that we’re owned by a big tech research and consulting company called Gartner. My company is about 75 people and we do research on behalf of Chief Information Officers of the world’s largest companies. This group of CIOs that are members pretty much subscribe to our research and vote on the topics they are most interested in learning about and we write these long 80-100 page reports that come out a few times a year. They have access to those reports and each time a report comes out we bring them together for two-day conferences where the report serves as a foundation for conversation. It’s two days of discussion and it’s a peer network-they’re talking to their peers about what the biggest issues that face them are in today’s world, issues that lie at the intersection of business and technology, issues that would face the CIO, like the head of IT, at a Fortune 500 company.

What is an example of something you have done research on in the past?

On top of the CIO board we have boards of Chief Information Security Officers, Chief Tech Officers, and other positions like that-people who directly report to CIOs. So, the first couple months I was working with a board of Chief Information Security Officers and doing research on their behalf. I was doing cyber security research, which was really interesting. Now I’m doing research for the CIOs on machine learning and artificial intelligence and smart applications. We try to be 18 months ahead of wherever our CIOs are. We are trying to really look into future-oriented things and trying to guide members in the right direction. They are really concerned about how artificial intelligence and machine learning are going to impact their business so that’s the research I am working on right now.

Is there a project you have worked on that you feel directly connected back to something you did as a PPE major at Penn?

I definitely have had that thought several times. It was probably the most relevant when I was doing the cyber security research because thinking about how cyber-attacks work oftentimes is kind of like game theory. I was often reminded of my game theory class, which was also one of my favorite classes in PPE. Doing research on artificial intelligence and machine learning we talk a lot about how it’s going to reduce jobs and people are worried about robots replacing human workers and reducing the workforces. I haven’t directly written about this yet, but there are a lot of ethical implications of using artificial intelligence. I really am curious about the ethical implications and that definitely comes up in our conversations because these CIOs are worried about that as well. It’s hard to embrace the technology that’s going to involve firing a ton of people, which is totally something I would’ve learned about as a PPE major. I feel like that’s a very PPE type of thing to think about. 

What do you envision your general career trajectory looking like from this point forward?

I’m definitely happy where I am. I’m thinking about it as a first job, I could see myself staying for two or three years. But I really like the writing aspect the most and I’ve always been interested in journalism. So, in an ideal world I think after this I would maybe go into journalism and it might be interesting now that I have this technology experience to write about tech. So that’s one place I could see myself going. I also am considering grad school, maybe business school or journalism school. Right now, I think my mindset is that I’m happy where I am and I’m just waiting until I’m sure about what I want to do next.

What do you wish you knew while you were a student at Penn?

Being in the college and having friends in Engineering and Wharton and Nursing, I think there is a lot of pressure thinking about jobs and internships. I got this job spring of my senior year. Actually, I applied initially in the fall of my senior year and I didn’t get it. And I was very anxious about it; this was a job I really wanted. I got some other offers I really wasn’t excited about in the fall of my senior year so I decided to wait until the spring to see if anything better would come along. That was kind of a scary decision to make because I had a lot of friends who were committing to jobs really early on or they might have already committed because they did an internship after their junior year. So I think if you’re not really excited about something don’t worry about holding off until later on, even after you graduate. It’s fine to not have a job after you graduate, there will always be opportunities. Being a PPE major from Penn really looks great to employers so my advice is not to settle for something you aren’t excited about. And I would also say not rushing into grad school if you’re not sure about it. I have some friends that went straight in and some friends that took some time off before and are applying now or starting now. I think if you definitely know you want to go to law school it totally make sense to go straight to school, but if you’re not sure I think working first and taking some more time to think about it is a really great idea.

How are you still connected to the Penn community?

The main thing I do as an alumnus is the alumni interviewing. I’ve gone back and recruited for my current job which I guess is more of a responsibility for my job than an alumni responsibility, but that’s been really fun so hopefully I’ll be doing that again. But being an alumni interviewer is a really good way to stay connected. After leaving Penn I really miss it so being able to talk to students that are really excited about Penn is fun because I get to reminisce and talk about how much I love it and give students advice