University Administrative Fellowship Spotlight: Michael Zhang (GS, Art & Archeology)

July 27, 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 Social Impact Fellowship Program. 

Where and when did your Fellowship take place?

For the 2021-22 academic year, I was a University Administrative Fellow (UAF) in the Center for Career Development at Princeton University, under the mentorship of Dr. Gaeun Seo.


I am a PhD Candidate in the Department of Art & Archaeology at Princeton, where I specialize in African art, specifically in the South African context. In addition to my research and academic work, I am actively engaged in leadership initiatives on- and off-campus. Leadership and service have always been important pillars for me. At Princeton, I have served on several administrative committees, including the University Student Life Committee and the Faculty-Student Committee on Sexual Misconduct.

What drew you to the University Administrative Fellowship and this particular Fellowship?

I applied to this fellowship because I was interested in thinking about how we can redefine and expand the conventional career pathways for graduate students. The academic career path has been incredibly precarious in recent decades, but the pandemic has really redefined the future of work at large. It was important for me to start thinking more broadly about the versatility of the skillsets that we acquire in graduate school and how we can apply this to a variety of options beyond the academy, and to explore different pathways that ultimately lead not only to careers, but also self-discovery.

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

During my time at the Center for Career Development, I worked on a number of projects. One of my earlier projects was to compile and analyze the data around job placements for international graduate students after the completion of their program. I was looking into what kinds of work authorization they were getting, where they found jobs, and in what sectors. This data is going to have a significant impact on career advising for international grads and we have also started creating new guidance and resources based on these findings.

I also worked on an outreach project in which I directly approached various departments and spoke with graduate program administrators, directors of graduate studies, and, most importantly, graduate students themselves, about the recent transformations in the job market, the anxieties, missions, and objectives within each department, and the resources available at the Center for Career Development to facilitate diverse career explorations.

In addition to all this, I moderated two interactive panels over the course of the year. Since these were panels moderated by a graduate student (myself) and featured graduate student speakers, we were incredibly successful in drawing large audiences of students and we were able to facilitate really deep and engaging conversations. For one of the events, we were also grateful that we could partner with the Graduate Student Government and the Princeton University Press to offer free or discounted books to our participants.

How did these experiences help you?

This experience made me realize how much I truly value collaborative work. I genuinely enjoyed working with my mentor, Gaeun, and everyone at the Center for Career Development. One of the most enjoyable aspects of my experience was reaching out and having conversations with people across departments, and in facilitating conversations in our interactive panels for graduate students. The work I was doing was incredibly important and rewarding, and I hope I made a tangible, positive impact for graduate students at Princeton.

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

Gaeun was an incredible mentor, and I am not the only one who thinks that! So often would I hear graduate students praise Gaeun for the tremendous work she does, particularly in the individual advising sessions. She is wonderful in guiding graduate students in a way that really prioritizes self-exploration and inner discovery. At the same time, she is so knowledgeable about all the different career development opportunities at Princeton and beyond.

Best advice for Graduate Students considering a Fellowship through GradFUTURES?

The University Administrative Fellowship program is an incredible opportunity to develop your skillset and to explore a variety of career and professional interests. My experiences have been illuminating in discovering what it is like to work in higher ed administration at Princeton. In addition, it made me a better academic as well, since it challenged me to think in new and more expansive ways, and gave me the opportunity to develop skills such as collaboration, data analysis, delivering presentations, and so on.


Read more GradFUTURES Fellowship Spotlights here!