At age ten, Dr. Victoria Phillips performed French courtroom dance. While studying Literature and Creative Writing in GS, working at the Columbia Business School, and observing classes there, Phillips became interested in stock picking. She therefore earned an M.B.A. from Columbia and went on to pursue a career on Wall Street.
She returned to academics after starting a family, earning an M.A. and Ph.D. in history, and is now writing a book based on her dissertation about the State Department tours of modern dancer, Martha Graham.
Phillips emphasizes the importance of proactively making contacts. She got her first job in finance through contacts from a fellowship in Japan.
Graduating just after the 1987 stock market crash, few opportunities were available to an ex-dancer. Yet in Japan, she wrote for Grant's Interest Rate Observer. She approached her editor, Jim Grant, one day looking for job leads. Grant then introduced her to hedge fund managers, one of whom who hired her.
"The takeaway is to work hard and never be afraid to contact someone. … What's the worst that could happen? They don't respond, or they say, 'No.'"
Phillips argues that a history degree can prepare you to succeed in any position. It trains you to write, research, and think critically. "I can't think of any better background in the world as a launching point," she remarks.
Phillips's debut into history stems from her Wall Street background.
"I found when I was on Wall Street that doing financial analysis was very much like being a historian.
"You have to dig deep. You have to do research. You have to read a lot. You have to understand your subject matter better than anybody else."
Honing these skills is made possible through the study of history.
Incoming students: Work hard, no matter where you come from assume that the first semester is going to be the hardest semester that you've ever had…Don't be afraid to see professors. We have office hours and the office hours are to talk with students.
The same idea goes for an outgoing student: Assume that your first job will be your [hardest] … and work hard, make sure people know who you are. Respect, but don't be afraid of authority.
Phillips' seminar Cold War Public Diplomacy is offered next semester on Thursday from 6:10 p.m. to 8 p.m.
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