Megan Morrissette is currently a Senior Analyst of Customer Loyalty and Insights at Walgreens, but her transition from science to business started at Home Depot. She left her PhD program to pursue a business career, utilizing her critical thinking skills to help her navigate through the career change. Learn more about her transition in her own words.
Why I Entered a PhD Program
After graduating from Georgetown with a Bachelors in Neuroscience, I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do. I applied for PhD programs and was accepted, but I wasn’t positive that it was the correct choice, so I deferred and took a job working at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. While working there, I quickly figured out that there unfortunately weren’t many means of upward career projection in science with only a Bachelor’s degree. At that point in time I wasn’t considering a career path outside of academic science, so it made sense for me to go back to school to get a PhD. In retrospect, maybe I should have taken more time to think about it, but given that getting a PhD at Emory was free (and paid a relatively high stipend) it seemed like a low-risk decision considering how much I was making as a lab tech.
What I Studied During My PhD
At Emory, I studied post-stroke depression, including its onset and potential treatments.
Next Steps After the PhD
About a year and a half into my program at Emory, I realized that the environment in my advisor’s lab was toxic and I simply wasn’t happy. Furthermore, soon after entering the program, I realized that I didn’t want an academic career, and instead was considering job options in which I could combine my science background with business. Knowing that a PhD wasn’t truly necessary for any of my long-term goals made it a tireless process.
I went to my program’s director of graduate studies, seeking advice and to become informed about my options. After much discussion with both friends and family, I decided to leave with a Master’s degree instead of completing my PhD. It was a really hard decision. There’s an incredibly large part of me that’s willing to battle against all odds to prove to myself and others that I can do anything—but I ultimately needed to choose what was best for me, and leaving was exactly that.
In preparation for hitting the real-world, I took advantage of the free tuition I had at Emory to also get a certificate in business while completing my thesis, in the hopes of easing my transition out of bench science.
How I Got My Current Job
Maybe others didn’t have as hard of a time as I did finding their first non-science job, but it was an unrelenting hustle. I applied endlessly on LinkedIn, I attended job fairs at Emory and at local startup hubs, I networked. Far too often I found myself being interviewed for jobs that after hearing more about them, I knew I’d absolutely hate. After grad school, I just wasn’t willing to sacrifice work-life-balance. Sure, I wanted to make good money–but I honestly felt like I lost myself so much during grad school that I needed time to rebuild myself into the confident, carefree girl that I used to be.
It took a while, but I eventually landed my position at Home Depot as a Merchandise Planner. I honestly can’t remember even applying for the job – but 4 months after the phone interview, and after 4 rounds of interviews, I got the position.
My first few months at Home Depot were incredibly rough. There was a huge learning curve, and it seemed like everyone else had a traditional business background, making me feel terribly unqualified. But honestly, that tough environment was ultimately for the best. It’s been a little over a year and half since I took the job, and I’ve learned in that time that if you can make it at Home Depot, you can make it anywhere. It’s a high-stress, rough-around-the-edges environment where firings are frequent, but working there has shown me that I can cut it anywhere.
Misconceptions In Academia About the Real World
I think in general when you dare to break out of the traditional career path that most scientists go down, people are quick to say that your skills are irrelevant. Talking about science can be intimidating for people outside of research and academia. But all scientists should know that their skills are incredibly valuable both inside and outside of the science world. During a PhD, you learn project management, communication, and budgeting skills, which are used each and every day in the business world. And honestly, having a non-traditional background has been one of the greatest advantages I’ve had in business. You’re not taught out of the same textbooks as everyone else, and you’re innately an out-of-the box thinker.
Roles and Interactions in The Job
I’m definitely not curing diseases or changing lives in my current role- I’m more so helping to avoid the annoyance of going to a Home Depot and the store not having the product you wanted to buy—which honestly is super annoying! In my current role, I’m in charge of paint accessories, which means I manage 12 bays in each Home Depot store with a range of products including caulks, paint brushes, and even super glue. I make sure that stores across the nation have the products they need and the correct merchandising information. I also serve as a project manager for product introductions and exits, and interface directly with the vendors that supply products for Home Depot.
I work for two merchants who are together in charge of over 2 billion dollars in yearly sales. Each day I not only interact with them, but across many cross-functional teams such as inventory, supply chain, space planning, and logistics to make sure items are where they need to be, when they need to be, and merchandised appropriately.
Qualifications for Future Jobs
This job had one of the largest learning curves I could have imagined, but it has truly prepared me for so many jobs due to the diverse functions I served within any given day—responsibilities that I thought I never would have qualified for coming straight out of grad school.
I’ll be moving to Chicago soon as my husband just took a job there after completing his PhD at Emory (yay to being done with grad school!). I’ve started job hunting and I’ll be looking at account manager and category manager jobs, as my experience at Home Depot has provided me with the perfect background for those roles.
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