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Management consulting careers for PhDs at CPCS

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Get to know the people powering CPCS: Meet Aleksandr Prodan, CPCS Alumni. Aleks shares how PhD graduates can start a consulting career at CPCS.  

We’re nerdy in a cool way. In fact, I consider myself a “professional airline passenger.”

I’m fascinated by how transportation systems are organized. Trains, planes, buses, trucks – you name it. They can all be improved. That’s what I do.

Urban buses and trains are particular favourites. Over the years, I’ve gotten to know urban transport in over 150 cities and 80 countries across all continents.

So what happens when a transportation geek like me discovers a leading infrastructure management consulting firm like CPCS?

You get interviewed, invited to an office holiday party and hired right after.

Transitioning smoothly from academia to consultant

When I share with other PhDs how I got hired by CPCS, I’m often met with puzzled looks.

“Why aren’t you doing research?” they ask.

That’s when I explain to them that I have a consulting mindset and that I wanted to do consulting since the beginning. When I tell them that they too can break into the industry, their quizzical expression turn into genuine curiosity.

If your dissertation is related to power, transport, public-private partnerships or data science, CPCS will be eager to chat with you.

My own dissertation examined railway reforms in Europe. I studied how we structure rail transportation from an organizational perspective: who operates the trains, who maintains and manages the tracks, how competition works after the reforms…

Notice how my research questions align perfectly with our railway projects? When I applied at CPCS, it’s as if someone took my resume and wrote the job description based on my dissertation!

But I’d be lying if I said work experience doesn’t matter. It’s always good to demonstrate that you can practice what you’ve learned at school. 

For example, I worked on a number of research-consulting projects with the International Union of Railways (UIC), which sometimes took me to railways on the other side of the world (literally). Such hands-on experiences likely set me apart from other talented candidates.

Network, network and network some more

Want to join CPCS?

Find us at industry conferences.

We attend the Transportation Research Board annual meetings in Washington, D.C. every year and regularly speak at the Canadian Transport Research Forum. Your research could pique our interest. 

Make your ambitions known over coffee or lunch. A note from one of us can go a long way.

Some of my favorite PhD former colleagues:

Making your depth attractive to CPCS

Once you’ve caught our attention, come prepared to meet our hiring committee.

The best advice I can give you here is to pretend you’re already a consultant.

Particularly if you were in school for the last 10 years…

Refashion your research papers as specific projects. Talk less about how your findings contributed to the scientific literature. Talk more about their applications to current transportation and power systems.

I’d also point out that with today’s new technologies, climate change and rapidly-growing cities, PhDs like you and I bring tremendous value in understanding and breaking down complex challenges.

If you can show that you can design solutions for growing economies, you’re in.

Clients first!

After joining CPCS, you might experience a culture shock for the first few months.

You’ll notice that our work is not always as technically complex as in academia, though you’ll soon see other dimensions of complexity.

As consultants, we must always keep in mind that clients come first. Clients are usually not keen in exploring the frontiers of knowledge (although some of us do!). They want to know how to revitalize a power sector 3,000 meters above sea level or whether building a passenger train will reduce traffic in a national park.

Where I’ve seen new PhD hires flounder is when they can’t seem to listen. Successful newcomers adapt and deliver exactly what clients want.  

A home for PhDs

CPCS’ headquarters is in Ottawa but I prefer being on the move traveling the world.

I can be meeting with a client in Sri Lanka today and writing a report on a beach in Guinea-Bissau tomorrow.

I have the privilege to do this because CPCS values my passion and expertise. One day, you may even join me in my adventures.

Because passionate experts like you will always have a home here.

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