From PhD to CNA Analyst

Today we’re speaking with Wendy Trickey, who received her doctorate in biomedical engineering at Duke University. After graduation, she applied for a job at CNA, a nonprofit research organization that operates the Center for Naval Analyses and the Institute for Public Research, and has worked there in various capacities ever since.

BA: How and why did you decide to leave academia?

Wendy: I started graduate school intending to become a professor and conduct research at a university. By theTRICKEYW end of my time at Duke, I had decided that academia wasn’t the best fit for me. I wanted a job that was a little more structured, and didn’t have the pressure of writing grants to receive funding. I also was a bit burnt out regarding spending time in the lab. I therefore started thinking about careers outside of universities.

BA: Was the transition difficult?

Wendy: I don’t the transition being difficult. New things are always a little scary, but CNA set me up well with a boss that provided me with immediate guidance and colleagues that were willing to spend time with me and introduce me to the world of the Department of the Navy. CNA also had a few new-employee seminars to give introductions to the Navy and Marine Corps and examples of analysis that had been performed.

BA: What did you find most useful about your PhD training that you applied to your later work?

Wendy: How to frame a problem and write about it. At Duke I learned how to structure a problem, explore it from different perspectives, and organize my work and thoughts. These are the essential skills for working at CNA. The only thing I had to un-learn was the complex style of writing that is encouraged in academia, shifting to writing in plain english.

BA: Did your academic advisor support your decision to pursue a nonacademic option?

Wendy: Yes, but he wasn’t very involved in my search.

BA: How did you go about the job search? What was the process?

Wendy: I had no idea how to look for a job, so it was intimidating. In the end the answer was networking, which I had very little of at that point (and this was 15 years ago so there weren’t as many resources). My colleague at Duke had a friend that worked at CNA. He put me in touch with her, and she talked with me and sent me an application.

BA: How did you apply to the job? What was the process?

Wendy: After I sent in my application, CNA arranged a day-long interview. I had three individual interviews, a seminar on my graduate work, and a lunch. CNA later contacted me and offered me a position.

BA: How did you assess company culture before taking a job?

Wendy: My only exposure was with those I interviewed with. I got a good impression of the analysts at CNA, but didn’t know much.

BA: What does your job entail?

Wendy: I do analysis for the Department of the Navy (although there are some at CNA whose work goes beyond DoN). We have projects each year for different commands, who ask us to help them better understand an issue so they can make more informed decisions. We bring objectivity and quantification to issues ranging from specific systems to broad strategy. I tend to work on things at the operational level, which is the focus of my division.

cna-logoCNA also has a field program that is an incredible opportunity. An analyst will go to a command (most are in the US, but there are many around the world) for two to three years and is the on-site analytic support for that command’s staff. There are also field assignments for carrier deployments.

BA: What does a typical day look like for you? Is there a typical day?

Wendy: I tend to be a dig-into-the-details type of analyst, so spend a lot of time working with data. This entails finding the people/systems that have the necessary data, interviewing personnel, organizing, calculating, summarizing, etc. Depending on where I am in a project, I could also be meeting with other analysts working on the project, writing up results, meeting with and briefing the sponsor, or traveling to locations for information.

BA: What kind of qualities/abilities are necessary for your job?

Wendy: CNA hires people with advanced degrees from practically any field (although there are a lot of physical scientists, engineers, and economists). Their philosophy is that in getting an advanced degree you have learned how to approach and structure a problem, and you will now be applying it to the Navy. I would say that this skill and good communication are the key abilities you need to succeed at CNA.

BA: Thank you for taking the time to speak with us!