Back to Careers Blog

From grad school to McKinsey

Eyiwunmi still tackles tough challenges on diverse teams, but her work now is "even more team oriented, urgent, and varied.”

Eyiwunmi is an engagement manager in Boston. Here she shares what led her to put her PhD to use at McKinsey: more team-orientated, urgent, and varied work.

If you’re looking for similar challenges, apply to join us today. Our full-time application deadline for associate roles (the best fit for most advanced degree holders) is July 15. For those of you with a background in data science, data engineering, design or similar areas, explore roles within Digital McKinsey and McKinsey Analytics (note, these have an Oct. 7 application deadline). In the meantime, explore life at McKinsey and learn how your skills can help you be at your best here through a series of webexes starting June 28; register here.

Life as a PhD student

I loved being in grad school at Carnegie Mellon. I studied optoelectronics and photonics. I wanted to understand how the speed and focus of innovation changed during economic downturns, especially after the burst of the telecommunications bubble in the early 2000s. My research was especially cross-disciplinary, and I loved collaborating with colleagues in economics, the history of science and technology, and photonics to draw out the insights I needed to craft a compelling story.

Eyiwunmi inline

I first found out about McKinsey when I read the firm’s Lions on the Move report about the potential of Africa (there has since been a sequel). After interning with multiple with tech companies and on Wall Street, I was excited to see a multinational corporation embrace and proclaim the promise of Africa I grew up believing in. I applied for a summer internship with McKinsey, and joined full-time once I completed my PhD.

Similarities at McKinsey

Being a McKinsey consultant can be very similar to being a graduate student. With our clients, we first clearly define a problem statement. Next, we pull together a team with relevant experience. We collaborate with global experts to break down the problem and identify potential interventions. We perform smart analyses, craft a compelling story, and co-create a solution with our clients that is elegant in its design and effective in practice.

Some important differences

There are three ways in which consulting is different from graduate school.

First, it’s more team-oriented. My PhD was at a university well-known for its incredibly open and collaborative nature. Yet, there were times when I would go days without using my voice; it was just me and my patent data, running econometric models, looking for trends. I could get lonely, even sitting in an office with others. Periodic check-ins with research advisors and group presentations punctuated the periods of silence, but overall, I was the one responsible for making progress. At McKinsey, I work with teams of clients and colleagues every day. I love the energy this adds to my days – being able to look up from my computer and discuss an unforeseen problem in real time, or occasionally watch cat videos together for a mental break. There are at least two to three other people thinking about the same problem every day and we are all invested in the effort’s success.

Second, the work feels more urgent. My PhD research was important, and the insights could be applied to understand how innovation should be funded in the next few decades. Sometimes I felt like I was performing an autopsy, trying to understand what happened long ago. As a consultant, I am leveraging years of research (mine and others’) to craft an intervention for now – something that will positively influence the client’s trajectory, improve customers’ experiences, etc.

Finally, my work is more varied at McKinsey. As a graduate student, I studied one phenomenon for five years. I read prior work related to my proposal, the industry I was studying, or the econometric method I was employing. I cleaned data, set up models and interviewed scientists and engineers. Whatever I did was to answer one question: how do innovation trajectories change during economic downturns? As a McKinsey consultant, I have used the econometric methods learned in graduate school to help a cyber security company figure out how risk-mature its potential customers are; craft an alliance between an established tech company and a newer start up to introduce new IOT devices; rationalized and standardized the pricing approach for a software company; and introduced innovative products in telecom in Africa. I have stayed in the tech and telecom space, and tackled different problems every three to four months. It can take some getting used to, but it’s quite exhilarating.

Think this varied and timely work might be for you?

For me, these differences between academia and consulting have been welcomed changes. If you’re in grad school and looking for a way to continue solving tough challenges in a more dynamic and team-oriented way, apply to join us. McKinsey is an incredible way of continuing to develop solutions and see them implemented. It’s so fun and empowering.

Apply for an associate role

More about Eyiwunmi

My favorite thing to do is read. I have now added a love for traveling, especially visiting the sites in which some novels I read while growing up in Lagos were set. I’m still very involved with the engineering organizations I joined in school, and recently helped recruit for McKinsey at the National Society of Black Engineers conference in Pittsburgh.

Never miss another post

Receive new stories once a week directly in your inbox