Consulting advice for PhDs from PhD alums!

As a part of Career Services’ Doctoral Career Development Camp in June 2023, Career Services hosted a panel of PhD alumni who are now working in consulting.  They offered excellent advice and recommendations to current PhD students who have an interest in consulting.  Below is some of their advice to advanced degree candidates interested in consulting:

Clubs at Penn

  • Highly recommend get involved in Penn Biotech Group (life sciences consulting club) – this was a big help to learning more about their interest as well as offered the opportunity to work on projects through case competitions – 1st exposure to problem solving & teams

Why consulting

  • Wanted to try something fast paced which would change focus frequently
  • Gained great skills in data science and in problem solving through BGS (Biomedical Graduate Studies), and now can apply those skills in everything from life sciences to trucking
  • One of the “best things” is constantly changing and evolving what you might get to do next

Life style

  • Some work is 100% in person, but other projects and responsibilities are all remote or hybrid – you have to be flexible and adaptable to change
  • Where you are (work site, client site, work from home) can vary from week to week and is very client dependent
  • Many firms are now focused on “smart travel” or “flex travel” – but with almost every client, some in person work is necessary for almost all clients
  • Firms are becoming more cognizant of the burnout caused by too much travel
  • Some firms have a “pod” structure where much of the work is done remotely but then some parts of the work – ie workshop facilitation – must be done in person
  • One firm provides quantitative capabilities so the work is more remote (this firm focused more on research)
  • One firm has a staffing manager who works with each consultant to assist in staffing you – they generally work in the office 3 days each week and have a local model, which means they travel less than other firms may

Nature of the work

  • How much choice you have in your client assignments varies my firm – at many firms, working and networking with your managers and mentors can really help you to know what work is coming up next and allows for more say in your next role.  Overall, though – your next role is often staffed more upon client need than your personal interest

Timeline of application/interviews

  • ABT – attends an economics conference in December and makes many contacts there – they have 2 rounds of interviews and a job talk, which leads to offers in January
  • Trinity Life Sciences – has 2 rounds of case interviews
  • Other firms start with a “fit” interview – a more traditional interview in which they focus on what makes you a strong candidate
  • Case interviews – spend time preparing these.  Panelists feel that to best prepare, think of them like grant proposals – do not feel like you have to use “MBA lingo” to be successful
  • You have LOTS of relevant experience as a PhD student to talk about – think about:
    • You can distill complex information and then share with others (through publishing/attending & presenting at conferences)
    • Have abilities to think critically about problems and then offer multiple solutions
    • How you have learned to get from point A to point B in your research (often with little guidance)
    • Communication skills – talking to PIs, presenting at colloquiums/conferences, have all developed strong skills in story telling
  • When to apply?
    • Most firms want you to apply prior to the start of your final yearIf you do not have a firm graduation date (which most PhDs don’t…) do not manufacture a date for your resume – almost all firms will allow you to defer your start date if you get delayed to graduationMost firms want you to start after you graduate, but some will allow you to start A
    • Apply to the spring/summer programs that some firms have – they often invite applicants who were not accepted to first round interviews anyway

Career Services/Penn resources

…..and, as always, all students are welcome to schedule an career advising appointment through Handshake to discuss their interests in consulting!

By Dianne Hull
Dianne Hull Senior Associate Director, Graduate Students & Postdocs