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 Social Impact Fellowship Program.
Where and when did your Fellowship take place?
I was a GradFUTURES Social Impact Fellow at XPRIZE in the summer of 2021.
My interest in innovative solutions to complex human problems are what motivate much of my research. I focus on polarization and populism across Europe. I’m interested in understanding not only what causes such extreme division, but what we can do to manage it. This links to an interest in wider, more complex global problems.
Over the past two years, I have focused specifically on Brexit and the UK more generally. There is actually quite an interesting link between what comes up a lot in my fieldwork and my fellowship: farming. Much of the debate about the referendum in 2016 concerned EU subsidies, agriculture, and fishing rights. I was interested in how negotiation over these basic necessities to human life was part of a broader political picture in which forces within Britain were operating.
What drew you to the GradFUTURES Fellowship and this particular Fellowship?
My fiancée had told me about XPRIZE last year, though I didn’t think too much of it at the time! But I was tremendously excited to see an actual opportunity to work there come up in the spring. I jumped at the chance to be part of a workplace that Elon Musk had just donated $100 million dollars to as prize money! I knew that it would be a place with phenomenal people and incredibly interesting work that pushed the boundaries of what it is possible for humans to do.
Can you share a bit about the Organization and the projects to which you contributed?
When I joined XPRIZE, I began work with one of their most interesting competitions: the development of alternative forms of protein. As I think we are probably all aware by now, there is a huge cost, ethically and environmentally, to the production of meat. There are lots of solutions out there, but one of the most exciting is the production of cultured and plant-based protein. The latter has become very common across the Western world over the past few years. In London, most places now will offer a vegan-meat version of something like a burger. But these products are not quite there yet when it comes to flavor, texture, and price. So, they’re looking at that. They’re also interested in cultured meat; that is, meat grown in a laboratory. It seems like science fiction, but it really isn’t that far away from us now.
The prize I worked on is an attempt to stimulate innovation in chicken and fish substitutes in particular. For anyone who saw Seaspiracy, this is a very pressing issue! During my fellowship, I concentrated most of my time on working on a white paper (to be published soon) about this topic. It was a real opportunity to hone my writing skills for a variety of audiences, rather than just an academic audience. I also worked to edit broad overviews of the competitors for other stakeholders. It was a phenomenal experience in converting my academic skillset into a professional one.
How did these experiences help you?
I think that much of what hinders post-PhDs is the translation of their skills, especially how they write. As I had to construct a White Paper, I had to learn how to articulate points that were both precise and thoughtful, but for a broader audience. I very much improved my ability to do that with XPRIZE.
It was also a fantastic time to make connections. Networking is one of the most important soft skills that academics have trouble with. It is something that came up a lot in the Trailblazers series that I worked on for as a University Administrative Fellow prior to taking on the GradFUTURES Fellowship.
At XPRIZE, I was exposed to contacts within and beyond the organization, and these connections have already helped me with ideas, advice, and direction for the next steps in my career.
My fellowship at XPRIZE safely fell into my available spare time whilst I was conducting both my research and scholarship. The remote working and task plans for the week meant that I could manage my time easily, and allowed me to get those necessary skills from something connected to the Graduate School. Moreover, the opportunity opened up an entirely new career field for me: I know that if I wanted to continue in the NGO world, I would have a much stronger starting point to make my mark.
Can you share some reflections on the mentorship component of the Fellowship?
I had a wonderful mentor at XPRIZE, Caroline. She was always happy to give me the kind of feedback I needed to really grow my writing style and give myself the chance to prove how I could write for a public audience. The project itself is incredibly exciting and it was a real pleasure to work with her on this transformational time in human agriculture.
Best advice for Graduate Students considering a Fellowship through GradFUTURES?
Don’t delay! Time in graduate school flies by much quicker than you think. It felt like yesterday that I just started, and now I’m several years in. If these opportunities seem like something you would want to do, jump right in. Everyone on the GradFUTURES team is incredibly welcoming and helpful. The University Administrative Fellowship and the GradFUTURES Fellowship Programs are both opportunities that you shouldn’t miss!