Alumnus testimonial

PhD Alumnus Martha Ross

Martha Ross obtained her PhD degree in Development Economics at Wageningen University in 2017.

What inspires me is tackling complex problems and having impact in the world.

She started her post-PhD career at a global management consulting firm, Bain & Company, which works with Fortune 500 companies around the world helping to define the future. This transition out of academia and into consulting was motivated by work conducted with a corporate research partner in Sierra Leone at the end of her PhD that highlighted a global development approach where communities were seen as customers not beneficiaries, and the more responsive project planning that occurred as a result. “This approach interested me but I realized I knew nothing about how companies think or act or strategize. I didn't want to do an MBA. So I viewed this management consulting job as an alternative to an MBA while getting paid and not being a student. I ended up really loving it.”

Martha found the job to be very team based and she was working with incredibly smart people, which continued elements of the PhD that she had loved . “Because I was doing a lot of field experiments in my PhD I learned to work in teams. It was usually me with one or two master students and then we often had teams of 25 to 70 research assistants that I managed. It was wonderful.” She also had loved having a real team player and engaged PhD supervisor, building that mentor-mentoree relationship, and prioritized a consulting firm that offered similar opportunities for mentoring when leaving the PhD.

However, the management consulting work typically tackled problems that were based in earning the company more money – problems that were not a source of satisfaction for Martha. But Martha really liked the partnership with the clients and the structure of consulting work. In 2021 she choose to work for Bain & Company’s sister organization The Bridgespan Group. This global organization does the same type of work, except they only work with nonprofits and foundations who work on social impact endeavors. “I thrive in an organization where teamwork, rigorous analytics and social impact strategy connect. In my PhD I was typically partnering with nonprofits and government organizations in Central and West Africa to help them as they sought to measure program impact and become for effective. That same kind of client collaboration and ability to structure problems in an analytical and quantitative way has served me very well in my consulting work.”

But Martha also discovered that she should develop certain skills further. Consulting is a communications-heavy job with a lot of investment in slide development, narrative building, and presentation talking points – with a very different approach from academia. By working very closely with her manager and continuously asking for feedback, Martha really invested early in her transition to consulting in closing that skill gap. What continues to inspire Martha in her current job is a lot of the same that inspired her on the PhD. “Tackling complex problems and having impact in the world. Even if I'm not going to solve them, by making a contribution there will hopefully be positive benefits felt somewhere in the world.”