Best advice, ever?

Alumni visit from Bror Saxberg confirms that whatever makes you weird is probably the best thing about you.

February 2, 2018

Best advice, ever?

It’s not often that a former Rhodes scholar, PhD, MD who works for one of the most powerful business leaders in the country drops by to advise students in how (and why) to embarrass themselves as part of a job search. It happens, though, mainly because Bror Saxberg, ’80, still has plenty in common with a room full of students following nearly three decades in his footsteps — all eager to be guided by complicated questions and to mistrust easy answers.

In his recent visit with students from HON 496 Portfolio capstone course, Bror touched on many lessons from his own experience and also shared qualified predictions on the impact of AI on professions once taken for granted as lucrative careers. His audience consisted mainly of graduating Honors seniors reflecting on their own intellectual journeys, who seemed hungry for the data points. Nobody flinched at the number of times a boss or recruiter in one of Bror’s stories referred to him as “really weird.”

Framed photo of Bror Saxberg from 1980

The Idea Man – Bror Saxberg Rhodes Scholar Portrait, 1980, UW

Bror told the story of how he discovered his “big question” whilst interning as an undergrad for a stereo manufacturer that was struggling to understand the value of its own newly developed computer software. Ever since, Bror has remained deeply curious about how the human brain can be helped to develop — the kernel of that internship that resonated with him most. His journey through multiple advanced degrees and a career that seemed esoteric to his (nevertheless supportive) parents has followed that question to his current role as Vice President of Learning Science (yes, that’s a real title) at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI). At CZI, Bror applies the awesome financial power of a social media giant’s creator to “expand and apply learning science results and good learning measurement practice at scale.”  The goal: to impact civilization by improving and equalizing effective education for people all over the world, at all ages. No big deal.

Bror’s advice fit in well with the Honors interdisciplinary model, as he urged students to get better at working in cross-disciplinary groups, communicating with people who don’t necessarily think like them and, above all else: practicing empathy. “Technical people will be interpreting what computers are telling us is right, to convey meaning when machines present data or ‘results’. We don’t do enough in our educational organizations from preschool up to get better at seeing through one another’s eyes. But there’s incredible value in that. How do we give meaning to each other’s work?”

As someone who defied expectations that he would go into electrical engineering, or perhaps medical research, or even remain in management consulting, Bror has switched jobs multiple times without attaching to a particular industry or “title track.” He described his methodology for job searches as “all low odds — more failures than successes” and totally successful at helping him get “not only a new job but a GREAT new job” each and every time.



  1. Use your personal network. We all know and understand this concept.
  2. SPAM recruiters and HR folks not only within your industry, but wherever looks interesting tied to what you want to do. Rate of return will be around 1%, which is actually okay. Because you don’t need a statistical sampling of job offers, just one really great one, surprising as it might be.
  3. Make a list of 20 places you want to be rejected by and work like crazy to get face time with somebody high enough in the organization to hire you for the role (like, skip HR and go straight for that general manager).
Bror, Bud, and Bo Saxberg at UW Club on Bud's 90th birthday

Bror, Bud, and Bo Saxberg at UW Club on Bud’s 90th birthday

Following this advice is guaranteed to make your job search a great deal more entertaining and there is evidence to support Bror’s theory that it may yield a robust and meaningful career, too.

You might be feeling disappointed right now to have missed this lively class visit!

Don’t worry, Bror Saxberg isn’t going anywhere. Well, he’s always going places, but he knows he’s got a home in Honors. Bror and his brother, Bo Saxberg, both graduated UW with multiple degrees, with Honors (don’t ask them how many years ago). Their father was an anchor faculty member in the program for decades — now serving on the Honors Program advisory board. You’ve probably met met him at one of the Honors Hearths or an Open House event and wondered: “Who is that nice man?” That man is Bud Saxberg.

Bror has spent a lifetime thinking about this stuff and so has a lot of great reading suggestions at the ready. This Op Ed for the Chronicle of Higher Education is a good place to start digging. Keep learning about how we learn! And stay tuned for the next great talk by one of our wonderfully weird alumni.