Diego Mastroianni graduated with a PhD in Management Information Systems in 2016. He now works as a Senior Services Strategist at Moody’s Analytics
Q: What made you interested in pursuing a PhD?
I’d been working for a few years before the PhD and I had an engineering background. I knew a lot about how information systems worked, but I wanted to think about systems from a different perspective—more social science and management. And, I also had the idea at the time of pursuing an academic career. I wanted to switch to becoming an academic researcher. That was my goal at the beginning of the PhD.
Q: What do you currently do?
I work for a company called Moody’s Analytics. I do research and software solutions for risk management. I design services that are more standardized to reduce the implementation time. So, instead of having the client say, “I want you to do this, this, and this for me,” I can say “for the project that you’re doing, I think you need this package.’ The role is called senior services strategist.
Q: How did you end up working outside academia?
I dedicated four years full-time to the PhD. After year three or four, I started to see the light at the end of the tunnel in terms of the PhD program. However, I didn’t see myself doing it for the rest of my life. I saw colleagues graduating and their lives were getting even more miserable than when they were in the PhD program. Publication pressures were very high and began to undermine the entire academic freedom idea. Honestly, I actually have much more freedom in my work than I ever had in academia. In my fourth year, there was an opportunity to go back to the company where I used to work. I went back and for two years I did both; I did the PhD and worked. For the PhD, it actually made me more productive, because I treated it like a project and was very disciplined.
Q: Did you learn anything worthwhile during your PhD that you’re using in your current job?
I did learn a lot of things in the PhD. I really learned to read; you read it in a different manner when you have so much volume and density and it’s a different kind of literature. You are trained to look at a paper and see flaws. I became skeptical of anything I read. Having read all of these papers, sometimes they still help me navigate through situations. A lot of this stuff actually helped me to understand the environment I was in and to how to behave and how to run my projects more effectively. I really don’t regret having done it. I don’t think it was a waste of time or effort to do the things that I really wanted to do.
Q: Did you face any challenges?
Looking back, the main challenge was realizing—and the entire process of realizing—that the academic life was not for me. And then making the decision that I was actually leaving, and that was OK. It’s not a failure. I gave myself the gift of better mental health and stopped myself from living with somebody else’s expectation of me. Coming to grips with that is a long process. It’s not overnight.
Q: Did your supervisor and your colleagues understand why you wanted to work in industry?
Industry is a dirty word. I think what bothers me is the taboo thing–that we can’t talk about it. But if you think about it, there are so many PhD students who will agree. Even if you consider a ratio of 1:1 between professors and PhD students—and in reality it is at least double that number—it’s still as if every five years you’re doubling the number of PhDs in the market and still saying, yes, we have enough positions in the universities for everyone. Of course we don’t. It’s great that some people manage it, but it’s as if that’s the only way. And then, if you don’t succeed in academics, it’s as if your life is not worth living. I’m exaggerating the situation, but it is a hard topic. It was something that you would talk about in private with people and most of them would understand, but there was hardly any open discussion about it.
Q: Do you still think we need critical thinkers and problem solvers in industry who understand the academic perspective?
Absolutely. Though, I have to say, in industry, I sometimes get asked, “what are you doing here if you’re a PhD?” Some people call me Dr. Diego–it’s not like in academia where everybody’s a doctor! So, I guess they find it amusing or different. I’ll always be an odd duck no matter where I go. That’s me. My space is in between. I’m a foreigner here and I’ll be a foreigner there, but, actually, I’m able to talk to both those worlds and bring them together.
Many thanks to Diego for sharing his PhD narrative!
This interview took place in March 2020. Interviews are edited by the TRaCE McGill Editorial team for length and clarity before publication.