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A Happy Accident
Though Meghan hadn’t taken physics in high school, she felt she should try one course in college. Meghan signed up for an introductory calculus-based physics class on the recommendation of a professor. It wasn’t easy: “The first semester was really hard, being surrounded by classmates who had taken AP Physics in high school, but I enjoyed the material.”
Meghan enjoyed the material so much that she decided to minor in physics. “A summer research internship got me hooked on experimental science, and pursuing that interest in research is what led me to complete a bachelors in physics and then go on to graduate school.”
Finding a New Path
After finishing her undergraduate degree, Meghan entered the PhD program at Northwestern University. “I went in… intending to become a research scientist,” she says. “During graduate school, I came to better understand what that career could mean, which was of course somewhat different than what I had imagined.”
Meghan began looking at the types of careers other physicists in non-academic paths had pursued. Through her network, she was able to find her first job in predictive modeling. “A friend of mine knew someone in [predictive modeling at an insurance company], and an informational interview led to a job interview and then a job offer.”
Same Skills, Different Data
Meghan's new job with an insurance company was “eerily similar” to her graduate work. There was “a lot of computer programming, data analysis, finding patterns and issues in the data, and communicating my findings to others - all the same skills, just on different data,” Meghan says.
“Additionally, having done my dissertation work at a national lab was great preparation for working in the corporate world; both are large organizations where you need to influence others without having real authority over them, and you need to figure out how to collaborate effectively with a diverse group of people to get your work done.”
On the Business Side
Meghan later became the Assistant Vice President of Pricing for the Small Business segment at a commercial insurance carrier. “While I enjoyed my time in predictive modeling, I was interested in better understanding the business.” Meghan’s responsibilities included pricing strategy and managing the small business package insurance product. She managed a team of actuaries who developed and maintained her segment’s pricing algorithms. She says that her role in the Actuarial Department gave her “more exposure to the underwriting side of the organization and how the business of insurance is run.”
Currently, Meghan is the Head of Data & Analytics at an executive search and leadership advisory firm. There she is responsible for building and implementing a strategy and roadmap to advance the firm’s data and analytics capabilities. She works with colleagues to understand their challenges as she searches for opportunities for data and analytics to positively impact the organization’s products and services. “The kinds of problems we’re solving are different than in the insurance industry as this is a people-focused space where analytics is still relatively new, so there are a lot of exciting opportunities to apply analytics to our business,” Meghan says.
Learn To Be Your Best Advocate
What skills do you offer? Meghan says it’s important to be able to answer this question. “I would suggest spending time figuring out how to describe your interest and skills in a way that is meaningful to potential hiring managers.”
Research Companies and Positions
Meghan advises researching companies and possible roles within those organizations. Even within a single type of company there can be many different roles. In insurance companies, Meghan says there are several types of actuarial and analytical roles: “in pricing, like me, in marketing, or in optimizing which claims experienced claim handlers should work on, etc." Once you know the companies and roles you are interested in, you will be in a good position to start reaching out and making connections at those companies. "Try to get your foot in the door," says Meghan.
Last updated 7/25/19 by Jackie Blaum