A special reception for Penn’s Presidential Ph.D. Fellows

The initiative’s doctoral students recently gathered for an intimate networking opportunity alongside the University’s president, provost, and school deans.

PhD Fellows chat at a reception

A special spring semester tradition, all the Presidential Ph.D. Fellows were recently invited to the President’s House to connect with each other, their academic mentors and school deans, and the University’s provost and president. The annual get-together boasts small bites and a relaxed atmosphere, offering an opportunity for easy networking, as well as a dedicated time to share appreciation for the fellows’ varied scholarship taking place at Penn.

Interim President J. Larry Jameson said to the fellows, gathered in a cozy living room, that they have “taken on challenging topics” and have “a bold vision” that will make a difference in the world. Jameson reflected on his own journey as a Ph.D. student, noting it as one of the most exciting times of his life, and specifically discussed the connections he made during his program.

“One thing I wanted to share with you today is the importance of not only the deep dive and the work that you are doing, but building a network of mentors and relationships because you never know, whether they are close ones or loose ones, if they are going to come into play,” he said. When people have chance meetings and, together, start to generate ideas, Jameson continued, “that’s when the magic starts to happen. It could be happening in this very moment.”

Provost Jackson, Dean Steiner, and Fellow chat at the reception
President with Fellows
fellows connecting at the event
Jackson with fellow McKenzie Preston
The annual get-together, this year at the President’s House, offered an opportunity for easy networking for the fellows, alongside their mentors, school deans, and the provost and president.

The $30 million Presidential Ph.D. Fellows program started during the COVID-19 pandemic, and awards each fellow, for up to three years, a 12-month stipend; tuition, fees, and insurance coverage; and research funds of $10,000 per year. It specifically assists students who demonstrate exceptional academic promise while contributing to increasing diversity in their fields. Since its inception in 2020, the initiative has named 75 fellows and will soon announce its final cohort.

McKenzie Preston, part of the inaugural cohort, described the fellowship as making his Ph.D. studies at the Wharton School “so much more achievable.” He noted how the funding allowed him, for instance, to collect data he needed for his research and dissertation, and to attend conferences. Preston, who studies topics around leadership and diversity, equity, and inclusion in organizations, is originally from Atlanta and will soon wrap up his time at Penn and move to New York University, where he’s set to teach management courses to undergraduates at its Stern School of Business.

At the reception, Preston chatted with other fellows, half of whom he said he has gotten to know well throughout the years (thanks to planned gatherings by the Provost’s Office), and the other half new. Some fellows focus on chemistry and biology, and others on religious studies. Said Preston, “It’s just completely different worlds than I’m used to, and it’s been cool to network with people and get this broad exposure.” He talked to Jameson one-on-one for a bit, too, about his new job at NYU and how his time at Penn prepared him. Preston noted how meaningful it was to have the president, provost, and deans altogether to celebrate, explaining that it “reemphasizes how much of a focal point the Ph.D. programs are and the community is, and how important it is to the intellectual bloodline of the University, how much people really care about it.”

Group photo of fellows, mentors, deans, and Provost Jackson and Interim President Jameson

Provost John L. Jackson Jr., who also gave brief remarks during the gathering, emphasized to the fellows: “We’re glad you’re here.”

Jackson, too, noted the importance of connections. “I like to remind people that, when it matters, when people are going up for a job, for a promotion, what do we do? We ask other folks. We engage the larger network of scholars,” he said. “So, always remember your connection to others isn’t a luxury, it isn’t superfluous, it isn’t something you need to deal with after you write the article. It’s the people who read it and comment on it who continue to be the wind beneath your wings.”