Alumni Spotlight: Madison Smiley

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A photo of Madison Smiley, smiling against a grey background, wearing a white jacket

Madison Smiley (she/her)

Major: PSY BS (Spring 2019)
Position: Project Manager
Employer: Data Recognition Corporation 

What is your work like? What are your duties?

I work as a project manager for large-scale government surveys. I help manage the process of distributing surveys and collecting the data. This involves working closely with internal teams and client teams to ensure the success of a survey launch. In the day-to-day, I may do tasks such as team management, assist in project proposal development, and monitor project profit margins.

In the bigger picture, our surveys are created for the military specifically, so we ask questions like, “How has moving around impacted your mental health?” Then we pass along this data to other teams in our organization, where they analyze the data and come up with implementation strategies to address any problems that are observed. We can sometimes see the results of our work in legislation, which is really cool. 

How would you say your psychology degree has helped you with your current job?

My job is centered heavily around surveys, something the UMN Psych program covers extensively! I use my knowledge on measurement, data collection, and survey design often. My organization specifically uses our own proprietary collection software called Savant, but I have encountered systems that are taught at the U, such as R and SPSS.  

In what way has your major complemented your current job?

There are obvious benefits of the major, such as learning my base knowledge of Industrial and Organizational (I-O) psychology. This is the field I had wanted to be in since before attending the U, and the classes I took taught me essential topics like motivation and leadership. But I also learned the project planning skills that come from having to complete a thesis or capstone project. Gaining this experience helped me manage my workload and prepare to speak in front of others. Additionally, the group project work I did helped to prepare for work on diverse teams. 

How did you find your current position? 

I was always reaching out to people of interest on LinkedIn and making those networking connections. I would search up alums that did I-O related work, and I pitched that I was at their institution and wanted to see if they could share their experiences with me. Not all people reply, but I was able to meet with many people who did. I did this throughout undergrad and beyond. For this position specifically, I found it through the Alumni Group associated with the MNSU Mankato I-O Masters Program that I completed in May of 2023. An alum had reached out with a job opportunity. I reached out to her and applied with a referral, which I think helped a lot. 

What advice do you have for our current psych students and recent grads?

My first piece of advice is to get out and explore as many opportunities as you can! One of the best parts about undergrad is the wide variety of clubs, speakers, and events happening right on campus. You don't have to know exactly what you want to do next or have everything figured out to take advantage of these opportunities and build your skills now. Stay curious, build relationships, and say yes to trying new things!

My second piece of advice is that your first job does not have to be your dream job! I know that the job search process can be very overwhelming. You don't have to find the perfect job right away to learn and grow in that position. With each job I've taken since I graduated in 2019, I've learned more about myself and what types of work most excite me. I've had jobs and internships that weren't necessarily the "right fit" for me long term that have most certainly helped me develop skills and explore exciting topics. When I was in undergrad, I often thought of getting a job post-graduation as the destination, but it's really the beginning of a career. My first position in an HR role at a hospital was not for me, but I definitely learned a lot from my time there. Enjoy the ride while you’re on it, the destination will come with time. 

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