A Quantitative Economics M.S. Student Reflects on the Importance of Career Panels to the Post-Degree Job Hunt—and Other Tips She’s Learned Along the Way

By Laniah Lewis

Cal Poly’s amazing job placement rate was one of the main reasons I decided to attend the university to obtain my M.S. degree. Now that I’m here, I’ve realized that one large factor for why Cal Poly may have such a stellar job placement rate is because of the career panels that are held.

During the last quarter, I decided to attend three of these career panels, as well as a Ph.D. panel, to see if they would open any doors of opportunity for me.

The speakers at the panels had jobs varying in industry. These included wealth advisors, senior managers, consultants, and senior research analysts from companies such as Lyft, Spotify, KPMG, the World Bank, and the Federal Reserve. The panelists discussed the ins and outs of their positions, the hard and soft skills necessary to be successful, as well as any tricks of the trade that would help us have a competitive edge.

Though my field has specific qualifications, I found a good amount of the advice could be applied to any corporate job environment, so I’ve decided to share it:

1) LinkedIn is one of the best resources when trying to get a job. Through LinkedIn, you can connect with people that have your dream position and add them to your network. If you connect with the right person, they may even be willing to talk to you about the position, which could lead to a referral. If your LinkedIn is up to date, recruiters from companies may even reach out to you and offer you positions.

2) Getting early internships can lead into full-time employment. This is really common for the Federal Reserve.

3) Knowing a foreign language can be a great “in” at many companies.

4) Knowing a coding language is always valuable.

5) It’s okay if you don’t have a clear cut career path yet. This is something you can develop along the way. Your first job allows you to build your skillset and helps to determine your career trajectory.

6) In the fields of the panelists, a doctorate was helpful but not necessary. There are people in the same positions that have degrees below a Ph.D. Therefore, their advice was to worry less about degrees and labels and focus more on what skills you have and what skills you want to develop. Also, a Ph.D. may only be worth the time and effort if you are deeply passionate about your research subject.

7) Time management, efficiency, communication, resilience, and consistency are valuable skills that should constantly be developing. Though they frequently aren’t stated as qualifications in job applications, they are necessary to be successful in any position.

8) Breaking your work day into “block times” can help you maximize your productivity while still attending all necessary meetings. This means consistently assigning times on your calendar for you to work individually.

9) Constant learning and development help combat imposter syndrome.

10) Sometimes things fail and you have to reposition yourself and be willing to learn more and then try again with that new knowledge.

Cal Poly’s amazing job placement rate was one of the main reasons I decided to attend the university to obtain my M.S. degree. Now that I’m here, I’ve realized that one large factor for why Cal Poly may have such a stellar job placement rate is because of the career panels that are held.

In addition to these tips—plus serving as a fountain of knowledge about a variety of careers—the panels I attended were a great place for us to network with prestigious people in our fields of interest. I was sure to connect with each panelist after the sessions ended, which grew my LinkedIn network.

In one conversation, one of the panelists provided us with his contact information so we could stay in touch and ask further questions if necessary. This contact was willing to have a short phone call with me to discuss his position in detail. I learned about the type of projects he works on, what data he works with, what his daily tasks look like, and what the interview process for his position is like.

By the end of the call, we had established a great rapport and he offered to refer me for a position at his company if I was interested. He also sent me practice materials to help me prepare for interview exams in my field. Without the career panels, I wouldn’t have made this amazing connection.

As someone who is currently pursuing their M.S. degree, I’m at a crossroads in life. I’m not sure if I should jump into the workforce to gain experience in my field or obtain my Ph.D. to further my knowledge of economics.

With this in mind, and because the career panels had been so helpful, I decided to attend the Ph.D. panel to get more information. I learned the keys to success here were simple: figure out your interests to find the right program(s), develop connections to ask for letters of recommendations, keep your personal statement professional, and apply early.

Studying for the GRE or subject tests is also important, but many programs are not requiring GRE scores anymore. One of the best ways to get into a good Ph.D. program is to attend a predoc program prior to attending the Ph.D. The Federal Reserve, as well as various academic institutions, have great opportunities for this that can give you a competitive edge.

After attending this panel, I’ve decided to apply to predoc programs.

Prior to these panels, I felt like I was beginning to lose direction. Now, I feel like the knowledge, connections, and new goals that these panels gave me may have changed my career trajectory.

Laniah Lewis is currently a student in the Quantitative Economics M.S. program at Cal Poly. She is looking forward to diving into her field with the tools and knowledge that the program has provided her.

Cal Poly Teams Victorious at 2020 AmeriStar Package Award Competition

Cal Poly’s Industrial Technology and Packaging Program (ITP) has a long record of achievement. A primary example has been the program’s success in the AmeriStar Package Award competition, an annual event hosted by the Institute of Packaging Professionals, which is one of the industry’s oldest and most prestigious design competitions.

Cal Poly has placed in the top three of the AmeriStar competition since 2016 and has placed first in four of the five last years. True to form, two Cal Poly teams—Centari and Beakies—finished first and third again this year, continuing the excellent run of success enjoyed by Cal Poly’s ITP students. 

Of course, the competition looked quite different this year in the face of COVID-19. Teams were forced to work remotely, and many of the projects focused on global challenges triggered by the pandemic. For example: food delivery, masks, COVID tests, and other practical packaging responses to the pandemic were heavily represented. 

These changes, however, did not hold Cal Poly back, as both teams focused on PPE in their presentations while also overcoming the hurdles of collaborating and presenting virtually.

All Cal Poly students from ITP 485, a course titled “Packaging Development,” have the opportunity for their projects to be entered in the AmeriStar competition. The course is taught by Professors Javier de la Fuente, Irene Carbonell, and Mary LaPorte. A multidisciplinary effort, the course pairs graphic design students from Cal Poly’s Art & Design Department with packaging students to produce projects that are both functional and visually appealing. 

These projects will go on to represent the United States in the World Packaging Organisation WorldStar Student Awards competition, competing against students from all over the world. 

Congratulations to these students—and best of luck in the next phase of the competition! Find more on these teams and their projects below. 

Centauri | First Place

Amber Chiang (ART, Graphic Design)

Caleb Dea (BUS, Consumer Packaging)

John Dizon (ITP, Packaging)

Dane Holst (ITP, Packaging)

Product Description: Centauri is an innovative packaging solution that addresses sustainability and safety concerns identified in current packaging for N95 respirators.The design is infused with silver nanoparticles as a virucidal agent in a cellulose-based package that doubles as a storage unit with “Coronavirus-cleaning” properties. Centauri proposes a more sustainable solution, a paper-based solution that relies on renewable natural resources, and that can be reused several times. The components of the packaging system are all easily recycled or composted. Centauri is marketed to medical professionals and the average consumer. In the retail setting, they stand out among the competition by presenting a new-age theme of high-tech outer space protection. This theme represents protection from the elements of a harsh environment with the newest technology science has to offer.

Beakies | Third Place

Nirav Chhajed (ITP, Packaging) 

Grace Leonard (ART, Graphic Design)

Alyssa O’Halloran (BUS, Consumer Packaging)

Sophia Tamrazian (ITP, Packaging)

Product Description: Beakies is a fun packaging system for facial protection equipment with an easy-to-store and portable primary package and an innovative dispensing box for use in multiple environments. The primary package can be reused to store the mask and doubles as a practical carrying case for on-the-go situations. The dispensing box allows for a non-contact customer experience. The Beakies packaging system is more sustainable than many current solutions in the marketplace. Both the primary packaging and the dispensing unit are made of SBS paperboard, a fully recyclable and compostable material. The package’s structure and graphics help attract consumers as it provides options of different mask patterns and creates a brand identity. The packaging echoes its mission of providing an easy-to-use product with simple geometric graphics and welcoming colors.

Four Cal Poly Grads Explain Why San Luis Obispo Is A Hub For Startups

Sidney Collin, founder of De Oro Devices.

By Laura Maranta

What does it take to start a company or small business? Some answers that come to mind: innovative leaders, community, capital and investments, and a great location. It turns out many of these key ingredients exist here on the Central Coast. 

Over the last decade, the Central Coast has seen a swell of entrepreneurship, partly thanks to Cal Poly, support programs from the University’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) and its Small Business Development Center (SBDC). Some proof of the region’s success: multiple companies were listed in Inc. Magazine’s 2019 list of “5000 Fastest Growing Companies in America.” 

 “Our Community has proven its support of startups,” says CIE Executive Director, John Townsend, of the local startup scene’s success. “Silicon Valley is still the Mecca. But we have a good thing going. We’re a great place to live and our best days lie ahead.”

Townsend’s advice to those considering starting a business here: “You can do it. You won’t be alone. You don’t have to sacrifice the success of your company by also having an incredibly high quality of life. There is a strong community of others like you that are doing the same thing. You’ll look back some number of years from now and say it was one of the smartest decisions you made.” 

We asked some local companies from various industries and at different stages of development to share their perspective on the startup scene on the Central Coast and San Luis Obispo. These entrepreneurs, all graduates of Cal Poly, have taken advantage of what the region and surrounding community have to offer. 

Wilde House Paper (2015)

Megan Heddinger, Founder + Creative Director | Graphic Communication, 2014

Connor Drechsler, Business Development | Math, 2015

Wilde House paper is a lifestyle stationary company offering a variety of products including art prints, notebooks, calendars, cards, and more. The company offers wholesale products and an in-house design studio for custom projects. Most recently, Wilde House Paper opened a store front on Monterey Street near Downtown San Luis Obispo.

CIE Programs: SBDC

“Connor Drechsler and I started Wilde House Paper in Costa Mesa, California. Moving [back] to SLO was one of the best decisions that we could have ever made. The city offers so many amazing resources like the SBDC that we are a part of. There are a lot of driven people here looking to create cool things, which is a constant inspiration for us. We loved the idea of being able to connect with a smaller artisan community as well as tap into all of the talent that is encompassed in the students here. Some people still see it as “abnormal” to start a business on the Central Coast, especially within the lifestyle category that we find ourselves in. Followers of our brand always think that we are based out of SF or LA because of our aesthetic, but are always pleasantly surprised to find us paving our own path here on the Central Coast. Community is one of the biggest pulls to SLO for us. Not only feeling supported from a community of locals who genuinely value “shopping small” but also from a community of other small business owners who are willing to help where needed! Once the space we currently occupy on Monterey popped up, we knew that this was a perfect next step for us to grow and integrate into the SLO community. Being an e-commerce brand, we love being able to have a physical space that people can come to and experience the brand in real life.” —Megan Heddinger

Flume Water (2015)

Eric Adler, Co-founder + CEO | Mechanical Engineering, 2015

James Fazio, Co-founder + CTO | Software Engineering, 2015

Jeffrey Hufford, Co-founder | Electrical Engineering, 2015

Flume Water helps homeowners save water, money, and protect their home by providing real-time water-use information. The product consists of a sensor, bridge and an app to provide homeowners with cost-saving statistics. Flume Water began as a senior project inspired by California’s drought crisis.

CIE Programs: Innovation Quest, HotHouse Accelerator, HotHouse Incubator, SBDC, HotHouse Annex Coworking

The whole idea for Flume was to help customers understand in real time how water is being used in their home. Me and my two co-founders decided to take it on as a senior project, and we were very fortunate that the engineering college actually allowed a project like this to go through. One of the main things [about SLO] is that it’s affordable. Everything is double the price in San Francisco, employees are twice as expensive, housing is twice as expensive. Having the expenses much lower in SLO makes starting a business easier because you have to raise less capital. And of course people love being in SLO. I think one of the best parts about SLO is we have Cal Poly. Our entire customer support team is Cal Poly interns. The other valuable piece is those people who graduated from Cal Poly 20 years ago. A lot of them are really successful and have been CEOs at their own companies and they want to reinvest back in the community and help grow companies. And there are other community members who don’t have the capital to do that, so they help in other ways, with mentorship or advising roles. Maybe they have been in startups before and they have all this experience they are willing to share and we see all this experience through advisors we have had at the company. We’ve benefited from all of that.” —Eric Adler

Cloud Pathfinder Consulting LLC (2017)

Jesse Grothaus, Founder + CEO  | Econ, 2014

Cloud Pathfinder Consulting is a group of Salesforce Consultants helping small businesses achieve their dreams through Salesforce implementation, administration, and consulting. The company has a mission to employ military-connected individuals who understand what teamwork is truly about. While most of the employees are working remotely, the company headquarters and CEO are located in San Luis Obispo. 

CIE Programs: SBDC 

“I was living in the Central Valley when I started my company, but I knew that the end goal for me was always to get back to the Central Coast. So, I started my company with the expectation that hopefully this would allow me the freedom to move back to San Luis Obispo and within about a year or so it did. I’ve been here since 2007 but [the startup scene] did not exist in 2007 and it is surprising to see how it has grown over the last couple of years. It makes sense the more you think about it. You’ve got the Orfalea College of Business, you’ve got the Cal Poly College of Engineering, you’ve got the HotHouse, the SBDC, and we are just one region south of the Bay Area. When you start thinking about all those things together, it’s inevitable that there’ll be some great spillover here from the startup scene of the Bay Area. There have also been more and more coworking spaces opening, which I think is really helpful for this area. I think that’s actually one of the biggest challenges of starting up any kind of company—real estate. Coworking spaces are a big way that the community helps out. Since moving here, I don’t have a commute and there’s no traffic. People don’t realize what kind of effect that has on your ability as an entrepreneur. It’s little things like that that SLO has to offer, which kind of have this cumulative effect. As a founder your head needs to be in a certain flow state. It’s hard to do that when the boring stuff of life is weighing you down, that typical hustle and bustle, and that hurried lifestyle. When it’s gone it lets you stay in a much better headspace that lets you focus on building your company in a more thoughtful way. If I was still anywhere else, I don’t think I’d be able to do that like I can here.” —Jesse Grothaus

De Oro Devices (2018)

Sidney Collin, Co-Founder + CEO | Biomedical Engineering, 2019

William Thompson, Co-Founder | Psychology, 2012 + MBA, 2018

De Oro Devices is developing creative technology to improve the quality of life of those in need. Their first product, NexStride, is designed to help Parkinson’s patients. 

CIE Programs: The Hatchery, Innovation Sandbox, Innovation Quest, HotHouse Accelerator, HotHouse Incubator, HotHouse Annex, SBDC and Angel Conference

“I think [the entrepreneurship scene here] is much more collaborative than it is anywhere else that I’ve seen. There’s a lot of community support here, not only from people who are involved with the startup scene but also from the rest of the community. In addition to that, the CIE and SBDC provide a great number of resources that I’m not sure other organizations or small business development centers really give to their constituents. I am on the board of the REACH (Regional Economic Action Coalition) and the reason that they wanted me to be involved in that is because they see a key amount of economic development coming from startups starting and growing on the Central Coast and creating jobs here. Everything is integrated into setting one common goal for the economic success of the county and being able to use all of the resources available to do that. I think that’s important. So having startups be involved in that mission and be involved in what the plan looks like going forward is crucial in terms of being able to provide more high paying jobs.” —Sidney Collin

Interview: Professor Chris Hydock

A Q&A with the Assistant Professor of Marketing on his research, covering the effects of brand positions in marketing and how they’re impacted by the polarization of politics. 

By Laura Maranta

Think of the last time you noticed a brand endorse a political candidate or support a social movement. Most likely you can recall a recent example. Over the last few years consumers have become increasingly aware of brands engaging in Corporate Political Advocacy (CPA). To put this terminology simply, companies are declaring their support for political and social movements through marketing. The connection between companies and their political stances has been studied by Cal Poly Assistant Professor of Marketing, Dr. Chris Hydock. His recently published article, “Should Brands Take a Position on Polarizing Political Issues?” can be found in the Journal of Marketing Research and focuses on the effects of CPA, authenticity, and other factors on consumer support. 

Hydock joins the marketing conversation with a background in cognitive neuroscience, which offered him an understanding of human thought and cognition as an undergraduate and graduate student. His transition into marketing was driven by his desire to better understand how humans act in the real world, specifically, the acknowledgement that a majority of our decisions are made in a marketing and consumption context. He brings this perspective to his own research as well as the classroom. “Marketing is the customer facing portion of the business,” he says, “and to do well they need to understand the customers. Their customers are human, so from a psychology perspective and a consumer behavior perspective, we are all about understanding how people make decisions. Every class I tie in some lessons from psychology and consumer behavior to marketing because they are closely related.” 

We followed up with Hydock to discuss the impact of this research, how it has affected his own consumer habits, and where he plans to take his work next. 

Can you give a brief background on your work and why you study what you study? 

I broadly look at consumer behavior and try to use that to generate insights for marketing strategy. One line of my work really looks at the intersection of marketing and politics. The early stages of this project go all the way back to 2013 when we were seeing an uptick in brands engaging in CPA. We started to notice that this was becoming more and more popular and we wanted to think about and understand what the implications were for brands and more broadly ask how marketing and politics might intersect to change how we act as consumers, how brands act, and how that changes society. 

Do you think this research would have had the same value before 2020? What effects do social media and the current political movements have on this research? 

I think the value has been there for the last 10 or so years. I think this highlights the question of whether or not social media has spurred brands to become more engaged in politics or CPA, or is there something else that changed. I actually have another research paper with one of the marketing faculty, that is looking at political polarization more broadly. There has been a lot of research in political science about polarization, which suggests simplistically that the two parties are moving further and further apart. You see that not only are they farther and farther apart in terms of their policies but in terms of how they treat each other and how reactive they are. I think political polarization is what really drove the shift. In the past brands would only interact with their stakeholders through charitable or philanthropic events, things that everyone would support. But as society became more polarized they shifted into thinking beyond just donating money to the Red Cross, or supporting education. Now they donate money to a political campaign or support a specific political policy. Based on my other work, politics is really starting to seep into all other parts of society as we become more polarized. 

Can you speak a little bit about the effect of authenticity and how the bandwagon effect appeared in your research? 

We find that when a brand engages in political advocacy in an inauthentic way, it removes the benefit that brands often see from political advocacy. Stepping back, we see that overall political advocacy tends to be more beneficial for small brands whereas it tends to be harmful for large brands. Essentially, if you are a small brand and want to engage in political advocacy as a way to improve your economic standing, it’s important to note that customer support for you will decrease if they detect that you’re acting in a selfish or self-interested way. In some ways this isn’t too surprising. What was more surprising were the harmful effects of both authentic and inauthentic CPA. If you are a larger brand and you engage in CPA and people detect your motives are inauthentic, it’s also going to harm you in the sense that customers are going to punish you for being inauthentic. But large brands also run the risk that their customers might punish them for disagreeing with their beliefs. Coming back to thinking about what you need to do as a brand, the underlying lesson is don’t let yourself get into a trap where you are just trying to use CPA as a way to gain customers because if it seems inauthentic you won’t get that same benefit. And it could have drawbacks, especially for larger brands, even if it is authentic. 

As society has become more polarized, brands have shifted into thinking beyond just donating money to the Red Cross, or supporting education. Now they donate money to a political campaign or to support a specific political policy. Based on my work, politics is really starting to seep into all parts of society. 

What effect do you think this paper will have on marketing and companies in general? 

Over the last few years we’ve seen brands be a little bit more careful about their CPA and I think that this paper will increase the knowledge of what some of the factors that you need to consider are. We looked at brand size and large market share versus small market share, and we looked at authenticity. But there’s really a plethora of factors that go into deducing what the ultimate effects of CPA might be for a brand. From an academic marketing perspective, there may be a new flood of research that looks at what negatively affects these outcomes. I think brands are doing that on their own already, because they are responsible not only for their own moral obligations but because they are also responsible for stakeholders. As a result, they have to think about these consequences. I think the biggest takeaway of this research [for companies] is understanding their market share. If you’re a smaller share company, there’s a lot less to lose by engaging in CPA and you can even stretch this a little bit further and say there’s a lot less to lose by engaging in any controversial or divisive brand action. 

How much has this research affected you as a consumer? 

I think sometimes a brand might have gone too far and I really can’t justify purchasing that brand or going into that retailer. But at the same time, as consumers, we have a lot of priorities. I think we make a lot of tradeoffs, to the extent that we have easy choices we are going to factor in when processing this information. But I also think there is a limit to how much people are willing to trade-off in terms of their own value in order to support or punish a brand. There are probably going to be categories of consumption where that is easier or more difficult. More of what has come out of this research is that I have a greater disdain for political polarization and the extreme ends of both parties. That has been how it has really changed me. My mindset is more, “Let’s figure out how we can move away from polarization and more towards compromise or finding middle ground.” 

Where do you think your research will take you next? 

We have that paper looking at political polarization and marketing that is finishing up. There, we highlight that CPA is one consequence but we also think about some of the other consequences of political polarization for marketing. You can imagine that it’s going to impact a lot of segmentation and targeting. There’s a lot of thought in marketing that considers how we can better target and segment a more polarized population. We see that political differences go far beyond what someone believes in terms of abortion or tax policy, for example. We see that Republicans and Democrats have different preferences in terms of wanting trucks or cars, or how much they like amusement parks—Republicans tend to like amusement parks more. There are definitely dangers in customers becoming increasingly different from each other. I have another paper that’s looking at some of the other factors that impact the consumer response to CPA and one of the interesting things is that the existing customers of a brand punish it more than the non-customers when they engage in CPA. This data set again will allow us to differentiate general consumers from actual customers and we want to look at understanding how customers versus consumers in general respond to CPA.