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How a Passion for Creating Better Jobs Helped Amanda Silver Land Her Own Dream Job

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ASB alumAmanda Silver has made bold choices when it comes to academics and her career. Discover how her time at ASB helped her clarify her choice and find her career fit at the Good Jobs Institute. Amanda Silver (Class of ‘21 alumni)is a fiercely driven individual with an inspiring story. After a successful start to her career, she decided to pivot into doing an MBA.

During her MBA, she turned her attention to pursuing research opportunities, which landed her a summer research role with anMIT Sloan professor –with the end game of getting into a Ph.D. program. She achieved her goal – she was offered a spot in not one, but two prestigious Ph.D. programs.

To everyone’s surprise (including her own), she turned those offers down to join the Good Jobs Institute as a Fellow, working with renowned influencer and thought leader Prof. Zeynep Ton (Professor of Practice, MIT Sloan Management and President, Good Jobs Institute), which she describes as a “dream job”. Discover how Amanda landed these incredible opportunities and the role her time at ASB played in helping her clarifying her vision and find her ideal career match.

You have a background and interest in psychology. What made you decide to do an MBA?

After my undergrad degree, I moved to Detroit, Michigan for 3.5 years. I worked with start-ups trying to build themselves from the ground up. Through that experience, I realized that while I may have a lot of experience in the early stages of a business, I don’t have a lot of experience in sustaining businesses to stay competitive in the long-term.

I was interested in learning more about that; I wanted more exposure to financial markets and accounting, especially coming from a liberal arts background, that I felt like I really needed to have to do more impactful work in the future.

Before coming to ASB, I was at these jobs where I was getting positive feedback, but I was also relying on that external validation to feel good about my work and staying in jobs where I wasn’t very fulfilled because I didn’t want to let anyone down. I was more of a passenger in my career, without much of a plan. I wanted to decide what I was going to do next, based on what was right for me.

Being able to come here (to ASB), you just have this open space, and you can be a blank canvas. You can take these courses you wouldn’t have imagined taking, talk to people you wouldn’t have imagined talking to. And through the support and mentorship of the professors and the friends that I made here at ASB, it just became so clear to me what I wanted to do with my career.

How did you hear about ASB, and why an ASB MBA?

I learned about the opportunity to join ASB through my Venture for America fellowship, where there had been a few alumni already who had gone through the ASB MBA. I first spoke to Katherine Robinson (Engagement Manager, McKinsey & Company and ASB Class of ‘18 alumni). She had such amazing things to say about the program and what it was like to live in Malaysia, and I basically applied the next day!

One of the things that really appealed to me was that ASB is still a young school. If I was looking to go to school in the US, there are these rigid systems, infrastructure you can’t really change, and I come from a start-up background, so I’m always happy being in ambiguous environments, places where there is a lot of change, and be part of building something.

Katherine said to me: ASB is young, but you can have an impact on this school. Your voice as a student matters here, and you get a lot of exposure beyond the U.S. context as well, and I was just really excited to be outside of the U.S. bubble, see different parts of the world, and have classmates from all over, which has just been an amazing thing.

While at ASB, you also had a chance to pursue incredible research opportunities while being a student at ASB. How did you end up with these amazing opportunities?

When anyone first starts an MBA, there is a little bit of a shock factor of being in the classroom again. I definitely felt a little overwhelmed, and how I responded to that feeling was trying to reconnect with what brought me there in the first place – which was my passion for workforce issues – for creating good jobs for more people.

After my first Operations class with professors Charlie and Loredana, I wanted to dive deeper into the topics we covered in class. Since I love writing, I translated some of those learnings into an article that I posted online, more for my own learning than anything else.

I sent the article to both of them, sort of as a way to say, thank you, here’s what I learned. I got a WhatsApp message from Prof. Loredana immediately after, asking if I had time to talk about the article. My first reaction was that there was something wrong with the article and I needed to apologize! I thought that maybe there was something about my learning in class that I shouldn’t have disclosed on the internet.

But she responded saying, “No, no, we want to invite you to be a research assistant,” which was completely out of the blue for me – I wasn’t expecting to be offered a job, and I felt very humbled and very validated that by putting my passion out there, I was being recognized for it.

Tell us about how you got two prestigious Ph.D. offers?

In my first semester at ASB, I started to become infatuated with the idea of doing a Ph.D. after my MBA, and part of it was just being so inspired by the professors that we’ve had, their career paths, and the work they’ve been able to do on subjects they care so much about.

So, in my head, that was going to be my path after ASB, and I was committed to it and was going to make it happen. I had talked with Prof. Charlie and Prof. Loredana about my interests, and they were very supportive of my path. I had several discussions with Prof. Charlie on what I could do to make myself look like a good Ph.D. candidate, and one of those ways was to be a research assistant at MIT Sloan over the summer.

Andrew Foley (third-year Cornell Ph.D. Student, MBA alumni ‘18), a fellow Venture For America alumni, was also instrumental. I had no idea how to apply for a Ph.D., so knowing someone from ASB who went on to do a Ph.D. was helpful, and he provided really relevant advice. What I didn’t expect was how generous he was in terms of having calls with me and really preparing me for this very selective process.

Prof. Ambra Mazzelli, Assistant Professor of Management and Organisations, ASB, International Faculty Fellow MIT) was also instrumental, giving me feedback, reading my personal statement, helping with introductions, and providing coaching.

I was accepted into two of the three Ph.D. programs I applied for, at the University of Toronto and at the Desautels Faculty of Management, McGill. This was only possible because of the support I received at ASB.

So why did you decide not to accept these two Ph.D. offers?

It was the shock of the century! But I realized I can work on the cusp of academia without necessarily being a student myself. I came to realize: Did I really want to be a Ph.D. student for the next 6 years? It’s a huge commitment; if I’m not ready to make that commitment and be happy doing that, I needed to figure out what will make me happy.

I decided to pursue an opportunity at the Good Jobs Institute as a Good Jobs Fellow. The timing was serendipitous. Sarah Kalloch (Executive Director, Good Jobs Institute) runs the institute where I did research work with Professor Zeynep over the summer. She said, “We’re looking for a full-time employee starting in June. Do you know of anyone?”

As soon as I read the job description, it was like seeing myself on a page – like the job description had been written just for me. It felt like a dream job had fallen into my lap, where I could be part of an organization making tremendous impact on the lives of low-wage workers, and I couldn’t let this get away from me.

How did your work with ASB’s professors lead you to work as a research assistant with MIT Professor Zeynep Ton?

None of it could have happened without ASB. There is something so powerful about the connections you make here, and the people who just care about you as a person. In one of the conversations I had with Prof. Charlie, he recommended Prof. Zeynep’s book The Good Jobs Strategy. I finished it within a day or two – it was just the perfect book for me given my interests in operations and quality jobs.

He was incredibly generous to send Zeynep an email about how I had fallen in love with her research, and it was months of waiting – she was super busy, and I sort of lost all hope. I was a little desperate and not sure what I would do for my summer job. Just before the deadline, she responded saying: I don’t have a project for you, but I’m willing to make this work.

It was an amazing opportunity – I went from not having much research experience to doing research with one of the top professors in one of the top schools in the country. We spent a lot of time talking about compensation strategy, and how different organizations set compensation for their workers, doing a literature review and reaching out to companies to ask them about their starting wages.

Zeynep knew about my passion for writing and research, and so we decided to work on a note, which is sort of like a case study, about the topic of “unskilled” work, and that note has now been published by MIT, and is now used in the classroom to educate others.

Any last words of advice for MBA students or prospects considering a pathway into research or thought-leadership?

For all of these opportunities I’ve had, it’s been helpful to focus on respecting my own judgment. It’s easy to go down a career path and wake up one day unhappy and wonder why you’re doing this work. It’s about knowing yourself and what will make you feel fulfilled, staying curious, and pushing yourself to get better.