Stephanie Tam

One year ago around this time, I spent the hours around midnight on a little motorboat with my colleagues off the shores of Manhattan. Every so often, a string of light threaded across the Manhattan Bridge, the train shuttling back and forth on its nightly commute. I had grown up in the city, yet never seen it from this angle—at a distance unfamiliar, startling, but breathtaking.

Those unexpected angles, uncomfortable and exciting in turns, have been my story since graduation. People are surprised to learn I studied English in Princeton and then completed two “very different” masters in studied evidence-based social interventions and world literatures at the University of Oxford. But I have always felt my time in the English department to be as interdisciplinary as life itself, the threads of psychology, politics, and philosophy interweaving in the narratives of post-war trauma that were the focus of my senior thesis.

When I returned to the States at the end of 2015, journalism seemed a natural intersection of my interests in research, narrative, and social engagement. I began an internship at Radiolab, a podcast that celebrated “curiosity” through storytelling—leaping at times from colors in the Classics to the psychology of perception in a single episode. It seemed to recreate in soundscape so much of what I loved best about my college years, the late night conversations that spanned the stars, and seminars that probed religion in the mundane.

From there, I joined a couple new media ventures close to my heart. I produced and co-hosted a podcast series that I helped develop from scratch for a non-profit in Oxford, the Centre for Effective Altruism. For each episode, I enlisted philosophers, statisticians, and practitioners to help tackle questions that I’d wrestled with at college, from whether we should care for strangers at the cost of our own communities, to how to help others in the face of suffering and uncertainty.

Around the same time, I began working with another new podcast, Maeve in America, featuring immigrant narratives with an Irish comedian host. As last year’s presidential campaign grew increasingly strident around chants of wall building, our little team brainstormed how to shift the conversation with humorous, colorful, and at times provocative stories of immigration, told by those who’d lived them. And when the election results rolled in, I saw my work from yet another angle—sharp, but perhaps powerful.

Now, I am working as a producer for Freakonomics Radio, exploring “the hidden side of everything.” I feel lucky to learn and speak with some of the luminaries of economics, psychology, and politics about a whole range of things from rising middle-class mortality to dreams of a universal language. And yet, it’s not entirely unfamiliar: a number of these leading lights hail from none other than Princeton.

My years since graduation have been probing, often restless—it seems there is always more to learn, people to meet, projects to pursue, and rarely enough time. But I have been there before, and it is a good place to be.