As a business writer at PricewaterhouseCoopers, Asha Nathan produces reports that synthesize material from a range of technical domains elucidating forces that drive trends across a diverse swath of industries: shopping, entertainment, and infrastructure. She writes for a specific, well-informed business audience.
Her work is inherently interdisciplinary: It calls on her continuously to balance psychological factors relating to consumer behavior with her knowledge of events affecting both the business and geopolitical worlds. As a journalism major, she was well prepared to capture precisely this sort of complexity in writing, but insofar as the world is constantly changing and creating new connections, she also knows how important it is to stay on the look out for new ways to achieve insights.
And so after several years of working in this competitive industry, she started considering graduate programs as a way to give herself an extra edge. That such an option was encouraged and even supported by her employer was certainly an additional incentive. She reviewed the various options in Chicago and explored programs at IIT, Northwestern, and the University of Chicago. She even looked at Kellogg and the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, knowing that a Master in Business Administration (MBA) would provide business insights and skills. But the idea of “all that quant work” didn’t appeal to her. Asha readily admits she’s not a quant.
It was during this time that she had a fortunate and eye-opening experience. She attended an information session for the Graham School’s Master of Liberal Arts (MLA) program moderated by cosmologist Rocky Kolb.
“The minute I stepped into the room I realized the program was for me,” Asha says. “The type of reasoned thinking the program requires, the way it makes you peel back the layers . . . I knew immediately it would help me see new possibilities, new ways to connect the dots.”
With a background mostly in literature and writing, Asha says she enjoyed the humanities and anthropology classes she took while in the program, but it was the physical and biological science classes that she found particularly valuable. Gaining an understanding of the internal dynamics that drove the evolution of these fields provided her with a pivotal set of tools for work—and life. In fact, she says that the extent of the program’s impact was a wonderful surprise.
“I thought it would be an excellent intellectual exercise,” she says. “It was actually much more than that. It has provided me with an essential set of practical tools. The need to dig deep into topics for the MLA program completely changed how I communicate at work. I’m not afraid to ask questions anymore, especially when something doesn’t make sense.”
Asha describes a situation at work where a colleague with less-than-effective communication skills might have derailed her career were it not for the lessons of the MLA program. Those lessons, she says, gave her the confidence to step back and examine the situation more broadly. “The MLA program taught me to accept nothing at face value,” Asha says. “I learned to question assumptions, examine the situation, and draw my own conclusions.”
With insight derived from the discipline of the program, Asha uncovered a more effective way to communicate with this colleague and resolve the situation. She says, “I continue to benefit from that discipline, both at work and in my personal relationships. My time as a student at the University of Chicago is the gift that keeps on giving.”