GradFUTURES Social Impact Fellowship Spotlight: Yuzhou Bai (GS, East Asian Studies)

Sept. 13, 2021

In the GradFUTURES Spotlight series, Princeton graduate students share in their own words about their experiences in one of the GradFUTURES Fellowship programs: the Community College Teaching Fellowship Program, the University Administrative Fellowship Program, or the GradFUTURES Fellowship Program. 

Where and when did your Fellowship take place?

I was a GradFUTURES Fellow at Ithaka S+R from June to August in 2021. I did my Fellowship remotely.


I’m a PhD Candidate in East Asian Studies at Princeton, with a focus on the history of ideas and the history of education in early medieval China (200-600 CE). In my dissertation, I trace how meritocratic principles got introduced into the Chinese political system in this period, and reflect on why they failed to fulfill their promise to improve social mobility and promote fairness in the selection and recruitment of talented individuals. Before coming to Princeton, I earned my MA and BA degrees in Religious Studies and Sociology from Peking University.

What drew you to the GradFUTURES Fellowship and this particular Fellowship?

My research is greatly informed by the contemporary debates on meritocracy and social mobility, and I’ve always been interested in applying my training as a historian to tackle current social and cultural issues. But it was really in my fourth year—after I passed my general exams and dissertation prospectus—that I started to be conscious about cultivating career options beyond the tenure track. So, while writing my dissertation, I’ve taken up roles at various initiatives and programs on campus.

In 2019, I joined the GradFUTURES team as a Professional Development Associate. As I witnessed the growth of our new Fellowship program, I also wanted to take advantage of it. The GradFUTURES Fellowship offers a very ideal environment for career exploration: you get to work for an outside organization while still having the Princeton support behind you. The program is also very inclusive to international students like me. In the spring of 2021, I attended several info sessions for the GradFUTURES Fellowships to learn about these host organizations and chat with their employees. Eventually, Ithaka S+R really stood out to me. Their research focuses on higher education policy. Their works have a lot of impacts on the industry. They value teamwork. Also, they have multiple humanities PhDs working as full-time analysts.

Can you share a bit about the Organization and the projects to which you contributed?

Ithaka S+R is a not-for-profit service that helps the academic and cultural communities serve the public good and navigate economic, technological, and demographic change. I was placed into their Libraries, Scholarly Communications, and Museums (LSCM) team.

During my summer internship, I developed a landscape review project on “research cores”—the centralized research facilities for shared use by STEM researchers, also known as “shared core facilities”—in American universities, focusing on the challenges their business models face. This project is part of LSCM’s ongoing inquiries into the current state of the US academic research enterprise.  My work will be published as an issue brief by Ithaka S+R.

How did these experiences help you?

The GradFUTURES Fellowship at Ithaka S+R will help me in my job search in the short term and my career development in the long run. Coming out of it, I’m more assertive about all the transferrable skills I have in project management, research, data analysis, and communications. I also honed my people skills through pitching ideas to colleagues and stakeholders, collaborating with them, and the constant exchange of honest and constructive feedback.

Can you share some reflections on the mentorship component of the Fellowship?

There was a nice combination of formal and informal mentorships throughout my Fellowship. I was very fortune to have Roger Schonfeld, Director of LSCM, as my formal mentor. Roger and I met weekly. We talked about everything from the direction of my project to our experiences with higher education and beyond. His mentorship and his perspective truly added to my experience at Ithaka S+R. I also received informal mentorships from other colleagues through Ithaka S+R’s lunch & learn program and virtual coffees. There was a lot of opportunities to bond with my colleagues individually, and I really enjoyed that.

Best advice for Graduate Students considering a Fellowship through GradFUTURES?

Don’t limit yourself to the most obvious path. Allow yourself to explore different options and decide what’s best for you. If you need someone to talk it over, reach out to me or any former Fellow!