04/28/2008 at 01:00 AM EDT
Katie Couric is used to giving career advice. But when a student approached her while she toured her alma mater, the University of Virginia, with daughter Ellie on March 24, the CBS Evening News anchor kept it short. "Well," she said, smiling, "good luck in the real world!" Lately the real world has been a rough place for Couric, 51. Less than two years after she left Today for a $15 million-a-year job at CBS, her Evening News remains a distant third behind the NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams and ABC's World News with Charles Gibson. Rumors and press reports about her future are swirling, some speculating that she plans to leave her anchor chair early next year. "Most people don't think this [Evening News job] is the best use of her talents," says an insider. Sources confirm Couric recently met with CBS execs about leaving the position, but the show's executive producer, Rick Kaplan, praises her: "She came here knowing she was going to have to work her butt off, and she has." Friends say Couric isn't rattled. "She's got one focus—just do the job!" says her pal TV producer Susan Zirinsky. Earlier this month, Couric flew to Chicago and London for work and was at UVA on April 12 to help break ground on a medical center named after her sister Emily, who died of pancreatic cancer in 2001. She's also focused, of course, on Ellie, 16, and Carrie, 12, her daughters with Jay Monahan, who died of colon cancer in 1998. "Katie has been through a lot in life," says a friend. "She lost her husband and her sister—this is a blip."