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Shalani E. Alisharan ’98

Assistant Dean, American University of Paris

As a freshman, I (thought I) was pre-med, and I took a psychology class called “Brain and Behavior” because of its potential applications to neuroanatomy. What I loved most in the class, however, was the study of behavior. I enjoyed thinking about the causes of my own actions and trying to understand the people around me. As a result, I chose psychology as my major and ultimately my career.

After Princeton, I completed a Ph.D. in social psychology and have gone on to pursue an academic career in higher education administration.

Currently, I am the assistant dean at the American University of Paris, where my responsibilities include faculty and curricular development, student advising, assessment, and the implementation of academic policies. I also teach in my academic department. It feels like this job is a perfect fit for me, including all of my areas of interest and study, though it is far from what I imagined I would do when asked to choose my major as a sophomore.

Exploring many options

Two of the professors in the psychology department helped guide me when I realized that I no longer wanted to go to medical school. Trying graduate school, and going abroad to do so, was initially their idea to give me some time to figure out the next steps. They were invaluable not just in encouraging my application, but in assuring me that it was okay at that age not to know exactly what I wanted my career to be. They positioned me to have a maximum number of options available when I was ready to decide. Their support has stayed with me ever since, and I feel I owe everything that I have accomplished professionally to Princeton in general and those two professors in particular.

As higher education became my profession, I have spent a lot of time reflecting on my Princeton experience and which parts of it best prepared me for my subsequent career. I value most the environment of mutual respect, rigor, and inspiration at a level that I have never found elsewhere, though I constantly strive to recreate it. It is this total experience—of learning and teaching at the same time—that has carried forward into my professional life. I feel confident enough to approach authority figures respectfully, as an equal, and ask to learn from them, and I have remained very sensitive to the needs of people with whom I am working. I also felt empowered to make personal choices, including moving to a foreign language environment, with the assurance that my studies rendered me adaptable enough to find meaningful work anywhere. In this way, I feel that I have built the career that best accommodates my life, and the moments of exploration and uncertainty were a necessary part of this process.