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

During the last quarter, I decided to attend three of these economics 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 were economists that 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 invaluable.

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 in economics was helpful but not necessary. There are people in the same positions that have degrees in economics 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 workday 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 economists 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 wasn’t 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 decided to apply to predoc programs. Thanks to these career panels, my hard work, and a little bit of luck, I will begin this July as a pre-doctoral research fellow at the Stanford Institute of Economic Research (SIEPR). I am looking forward to continuing my academic journey and further developing my technical skill.

I would like to thank Professor Vasilaky for her dedication in organizing these amazing economics career panels. 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 starting her pre-doctoral research fellowship at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR) after graduation.