Nancy Jeffrey, '87

Nancy Jeffrey
When you first came to Princeton what did you think your major would be?

History, Politics or the Wilson School. I had no idea what philosophy was and had never read a philosophical text before coming to Princeton. I actually spent six weeks in the Wilson School before switching my major.

What made you decide to major in philosophy?

I found I loved the emphasis on analytical thinking, rigorous argument and clear writing. It had a kind of beauty that I think other people find in math. I also liked the way it dealt with some of the most fundamental questions of the nature of matter and consciousness that now have been taken up in modern physics, psychology and other areas. Also, I was active in the school newspaper and thought I wanted to be a journalist—a very empirically-oriented job. I wanted my academic major to feel very different.

Are there any stories about your experience as a philosophy major at Princeton that you'd like to share?

Generally speaking, I always felt very cool telling people I was a philosophy major. And I have found in life that former philosophy majors are generally cool people.

What did you do immediately after leaving Princeton?

I went to Oxford on a Marshall Scholarship where I studied at Christ Church College and earned a second BA in PPE (philosophy, politics and economics).

What do you do now?

After a 10-year stint at the Wall Street Journal, I am now a senior editor at PEOPLE magazine, where I run and edit stories on breaking news (Haiti earthquake, Hurricane Sandy), medical, "heroes among us"—inspiring stories of people who help others—and the British royals. I was the senior editor who ran our coverage of the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. [This interview was conducted in November 2012. Nancy Jeffrey resigned from PEOPLE magazine in April 2015 to take up a position with Edelman. At her farewell, her colleagues at PEOPLE presented her with her own cover.]

Final words?

My experience as a Princeton philosophy major taught me to think clearly, argue persuasively and write clearly. It's a wonderful foundation for a career in journalism, law, business and any other number of fields. And in concerning itself directly and indirectly with history, science, art, psychology and other disciplines, it's a simply great basis for an appreciation of and ability to explore other disciplines as an educated adult in the modern world.