Alyssa Ayres, AM’96, PhD’04, had more to say in her interview with Tableau than we had room to print. Here are some outtakes:

Obviously women have led India and Pakistan, as well as the US State Department, but all three of those entities have patriarchal traditions. Have you ever felt that you were taken less seriously than male colleagues?

Yes, and it is particularly discouraging to experience disparities in treatment, in opportunities offered, and in attention to our work. I would draw your attention to the work of Foreign Policy Interrupted, a terrific organization that works to highlight woman foreign policy experts. The data they have found is disheartening. And of course this problem also exists (and to a greater extent) for people of color in foreign and national security policy. Thankfully, there is now a growing number of organizations highlighting the urgent need for greater diversity in foreign policy and national security as inherently in our best interests.

You said, “The rigor of a humanities-based education like UChicago’s provides the framework to think about purpose and meaning, but translating that into employment fields and then opportunities is a little bit harder.”

One of the great challenges to reimagining the purpose and utility of a PhD education is that a path like mine is atypical. If we had more PhDs doing a wider variety of things that build upon the doctoral education in different ways, we could grow larger networks and there wouldn’t be as much of a sense of what falls outside the usual path. Why should a PhD be a limiting degree rather than one that can be applied in many different and transferrable ways?

The ability to grasp and synthesize a lot of information—which is exactly what a UChicago doctoral education trains people to do—should theoretically offer scope to grow and move in many different directions. I’ve seen lawyers, for example, transfer easily into all kinds of nonlegal career paths for which they are learning on the job. Why don’t we see this more with PhDs? We should.

You’ve talked a lot about the relatively few US college students who study abroad in India compared to say, England or France. [Ed note: In the College, prior to the pandemic, an average of 12 students studied in India each year; France, home to the Center in Paris, had more than 250.] Why do you think that is? And why do you think students should go to India?

I remain perplexed that US students do not seek out a study abroad experience in India in greater numbers. Hardly anyone is interested in discussing this question (I submitted an op-ed about this issue to the Chronicle of Higher Education that was rejected!), and yet whenever I present the facts, people are surprised.

I don’t know the answer, other than to guess that the relatively limited attention India receives as a study abroad destination could reflect its relatively limited place on the US radar screen more generally.

When I was in college, I thought that if I were to spend a semester abroad somewhere, it should be an experience that would significantly broaden my horizons, and I did not think that time in the UK would be horizon-expanding. And I thought it would be interesting to spend a semester in India, which indeed it was.

Photo Creds: 
Photography by Jennifer Chase