My goals as an advisor is to help students to make informed decisions about their academic experience, establish effective learning strategies, and set challenging, meaningful goals in order to excel during their  time at Northwestern. Below, I provide answers to frequently asked questions in the order in which they are asked.

How do I get a job at IDEO?

IDEO is one of the top innovation consultancies in the world. The clients are interesting. The projects are challenging. And the people are smart, creative, kind, social, and fun. It’s reasonable that so many students ask me this question (at least once a week). But here’s the deal. The odds are against you. Hundreds to thousands of people apply for a single position.

So step 1: step back and significantly broaden your knowledge of companies in this space. One way to do this is to check out design websites like core 77 or design observer.  Another way to do this is to search for “top innovation companies”.  Another approach is to look what companies former IDEO employers have started. Aim for a list of at least 20 companies (although 100s exist) that have similar attributes that you find appealling.

Step 2: Create a portfolio. Innovation consultancies get business based on the success of their company’s portfolio. They will evaluate you based on your prior work. Make it easy to understand how you can contribute to their goals.

Step 3: Tap into the alumni database and your social network. Who do you know that works at any of these companies and what can you learn from them about the culture of the company and quality of the work.

Step 4: Follow the companies on social media. Read the CEOs blogs (Here’s a great one by IDEO’s CEO Tim Brown about qualities he looks for when he hires. His answer? team players, persistence, teachers, kindness, and those who ask for forgiveness note permission). Watch talks on YouTube. The more you know about the companies work, the better you can assess your fit with them and their fit with you. Company websites are typically curated quite carefully. Social media tends to reveal more truth about the company.

Step 5: Reassess. Given what you know now, do you still only want a job at IDEO or do you want and IDEO-like job?

Why might I want to work at a large company instead of an innovation consultancy?

There are often more positions at large companies. Further these large companies assume that undergrad did not fully prepare you for work and as such they have training programs designed specifically for new grads.

Further, people who work for consultancies tend to work on a larger variety of products while people work for comanies work on a single product line.  In the later case, you may be more likely to see your product actually hit the shelves.

How do I run my first great brainstorm?

Leading a brainstorm takes practice. You’ll get better over time however, the first one may be rocky. Here’s a few things to keep in mind.

  1. Remember brainstorms are not just about generating ideas. They are about sharing ideas across an organization, showing others how creative you are, and showing off who is most creative.  (see Sutton and Hargadon, 1996)
  2. Warm up for the brainstorm. People show up for brainstorms in all sorts of moods. Get everyone in an open-minded, positive state. It’s worth every second.
  3. Design for a finale. End with a wrap up of what surprised people and what excited them. Tell them next steps.
  4. The best brainstorms produce lots of ideas (good and bad) and get everyone participationg. Get data out of people’s head and get them to mix.
  5. Bring candy but end the brainstorm before they have the sugar crash.

How do I know what Northwestern courses I have completed toward my graduate requirements?

Log into the McCormick Advising System to find out what courses you have completed and what’s left to do.

What if I want to get a Professional Engineer’s License? 

As you near the completion of your undergraduate tenure and look towards what comes next, you may be considered getting a Professional Engineer’s License. To find out more about the License, read here .

The first step is to take the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam. The test is given electronically, scheduled by students at their convenience, and cost $225. Study prep books are available.  These are similar to prepping for the SAT or GRE.  The exam is 110 multiple choice questions.  They’ll cover the material from your respective engineering discipline and general engineering as well as the format, the time frame, how they’ll be asked the questions, what reference materials they can/can’t use during the test, etc.  McCormick does not currently offer a review session for the FE exam.  Civ Engineering offers a non-credit course for their students, but it mainly covers Civ Eng material. If you really want a review session, I suggest contacting Prof. Birdwell to discuss how many students you would need to get together to make this possible.  Advisor Richard Freeman, one of the new McCormick Advisors is a PE and may also be willing to help to  build a review session.

What’s the difference between moving from assistant professor to associate and associate to full?

 I have been told that to achie e tenure, you need to establish that you are at the beginning of developing a national reputation and will be a gatekeeper for your field. To be promoted to full professor, I am told that you at the beginning of developing an international reputation.

As a advanced doctoral student, how do I figure out what to do next?

I suggest three things

  1. Read advice columns on Journal of Higher Education and search for videos by academics that you respect. Academics are known for having opinions on their field. Finding career advice from people you respect is typically easily.
  2. Find a mentor (see “how do I find a mentor”)
  3. Try something. The best way to learn what to do next is to try a small experiment where learning is high and cost of the experiment is low. For example, if you are trying to decide if you want to get an academic job or an industry research job, spend one day trying each career on for size. Will you have complete information? No. Will it give you some insight into which direction you are going, yet.

If I am an interdisciplinary PhD student, what departments should I investigate?

Assuming academic continues with roughly the same set up, you will likely have to choose one primary department. Ask yourself in which type of department will you have to spend the least amount of time convincing people that what you do matters.

What things shouldn’t junior faculty do?

I have been told that junior faculty should publish or perish. I have also been told that junior faculty should not do the following: edit a special issue of the journal.

If you have question about whether you should do a service job, you can ask, is this service rewarded? If so how? Ask yourself, should I do this or spend more time on research?

How do I know when to say yes and when to say no?

Knowing when to say yes and when to say no can be challenging.   Here are two questions to ask yourself when in this position.

  1. If I spend time on this, what am I not spending time on?
  2. Does doing this activity fit into my coherent package of who I am?
  3. Am I uniquely qualified to do this job?
  4. What would {fill in the blank with name of someone you respect] do?

How do I find a mentor?

You find a mentor, like you find a friend. You share interest in similar topics and you enjoy spending time with each other. It’s a two way street. While walking up to someone on the playground and asking them if they will be your friend works in Kindergarten, it works less well as you get you older. In short, don’t walk up to someone at a conference and ask them to be your mentor.

I speak from experience. When I was a first year faculty, I walked up to a speaker whose talk I really loved and asked them if they would be my mentor, they kindly dismissed me by telling me I could read their paper.  I walked out of the lecture hall, feeling like an idiot. I sat down next to a women withwhom I struck up a conversation. After 20 minutes of engaged conversation we realized, we enjoyed each others company.  She’s been my mentor and I have been her mentor for the past 5 years. She is one of the most senior members in my field.

What to expect from a mentor?

Mentors offer timely, relevant advice on select topics. Like friends, rarely do they offer great advice on everything. In fact, the best mentors know what they don’t and what they don’t.

Mentors develop over time. As they get to know you and you get to know them, you can better help each other.

When I am looking for an academic job, how do I know what types of publications the department values?

The types of publications valued depends on the department, the field, and the school. Look to the faculty who just go tenure to get a sense of what kinds of publications are valued. Additionally, if the school has a 3 year review process, look what they are doing. When assessing fit, reflect on whether you value the kinds of publications the department values. Additionally, if you are going to have a joint appointment, be explicit about what types of publications (articles, books, conference proceedings) you tend to pursue.

I’m told book chapters matter less because they take a lot of time and aren’t peer reviewed.

When should I or my partner have a baby?’

When you or your partner are reproductively healthy.

Do children influence career? If so, how?

Yes, having children influences your career, just as having an elderly relative for whom you must care does or a dog who demands that you stay home during the day less they eat the couch and throw up on the dining room table.

For how children’s influence academic careers, check out this book.

Mason, MA. Wolfinger, Nh.H and goulden, M. (2013). Do babies matter?Gender and family in the Ivory Tower

For more information for students at NU with children, check out this resource.
Last updated February 20, 2014