Kelly Dickson Furman University Alumni

Kelly Dickson '15

— Analyst

“The liberal arts education Furman provides prepared me to think critically and analytically about problems, which I think is one of the biggest keys to success in this industry. Taking classes in my weaker subjects, tackling broad research questions, and professors challenging me to think outside the box gave me the confidence to work through difficult tasks in my job.”


Personal/Professional Journey

How did you find your way to where you are today? Share a little about your professional journey.

I graduated in May of 2015, so the story of my professional journey is brief and still largely revolves around my experiences at Furman. I was an economics and political science double major and until my senior year, I was sure my post-graduate journey would begin by attending law school. I was somewhat late in adding economics as my second major and it was not until spring semester junior year that I realized I loved it.

While I was still pursuing the idea of law school, I began to question whether that was something I wanted to jump into as I became increasingly interested in the economics field. Through many conversations with professors in both departments, I came to the realization that hitting pause and gaining real-world experience before going to law school or pursuing any other graduate degree would only be beneficial. A connection from an internship in Washington, D.C. the summer before my senior year led me to Compass Lexecon, an economics consulting firm with expertise in antitrust regulation and litigation. I was drawn to Compass Lexecon because their work involves the intersection between law and economics, offering exposure to both fields before choosing which I would like to pursue with further education.

As an analyst, I have been able to directly apply what I learned in my courses at Furman to my day-to-day job, using economic theory and econometrics to conduct analyses for lawyers throughout the regulatory review process and trial of a major health insurance merger. It has been rewarding to see such a direct connection between what I learned in school with the tasks I perform on a daily basis.
What motivations fueled your career path?

In addition to wanting exposure to both the law and economics fields, I was motivated by the desire to learn more about economic theories and how they could be used to model real-world behavior and predict future outcomes. One of my favorite research projects at Furman involved assisting Dr. Cook with a complicated model of international trade and translating it into a classroom exercise. I loved being able to take something so theoretical and turn it into something practical.

However, in my mind, a career in economics seemed limited to academia. Before learning about Compass Lexecon, I was not sure what opportunities were available for someone hoping to apply a degree in the field. In my current role, I have been able to use economic models to answer complex questions about the competitive effects of mergers—something extremely practical and important in antitrust regulation.

Within the field

When providing advice for professional development, what are some tools or resources one should consider?

In terms of professional development, I have mostly turned to those who are further along my career path for advice. They have been invaluable sources of wisdom as I have learned how to navigate the workplace. There is never a challenging assignment or overwhelming situation dissimilar to something someone else has experienced and overcome. Finding mentors you respect and trust is extremely important for professional development.

How have mentors impacted your professional development? How did you develop those relationships?

I am fortunate to have two mentors who have greatly influenced my professional development, a former boss from my time in D.C. and my current boss. Both individuals are executive-level and have taken the time to invest in my career and professionally stretch me. They have helped me identify short-term and long-term goals as well as the steps I can take to reach those goals. My current boss went a step further to identify skills I need to develop as I advance my career and now puts me in challenging situations specifically designed for my professional development. Those relationships have been extremely important and encouraging throughout these beginning stages of my career.
How would you recommend someone interested in the same career/vocation pursue a similar path?

I would recommend finding as many opportunities as possible to increase your familiarity with econometrics, data, and statistical programs (such as STATA, SAS, etc.). Familiarity with data and data processing were key themes of multiple interviews I had with Compass Lexecon and their competitors during my job search. Now that I am on the other side of the recruiting table, I can stress how important these skills are in order to be successful in this industry. I would also recommend reaching out to someone in the industry to make a connection and gain a full understanding of what the firm you are exploring does. “Economics consulting” can take on a variety of meanings and being able to discuss the specifics of a particular firm’s expertise can help you determine whether the firm would be a good fit.

For someone just getting started

What do you wish you would have known getting started in your field?

Before starting my job, I do not think I fully understood how data-heavy the field of economics consulting is, especially in entry-level positions. My job as an analyst is focused on understanding every caveat of data we receive from our clients in order to prepare it for further analysis. There was a steep learning curve for me to overcome because, outside of one project in my econometrics course, I had not had much exposure to data and statistical programming. These are definitely skills you can learn on the job, but my lack of familiarity with data usage made the first few months pretty challenging.
How could Furman help with getting someone started?

Case interviews are an important part of the interview process for consulting positions. During my senior year, those of us who were interested in the consulting field largely had to do our own research in order to prepare for a case interview. It would be helpful for Furman to hold workshops or seminars on case interviews for students interested in various types of consulting, as they can vary in nature based on the type of consulting field you are interested in.

Furman University

How has your liberal arts background shaped your career path or supported your success?

The liberal arts education Furman provides prepared me to think critically and analytically about problems, which I think is one of the biggest keys to success in this industry. Taking classes in my weaker subjects, tackling broad research questions, and professors challenging me to think outside the box gave me the confidence to work through difficult tasks in my job.
What was your major(s)? And how have you applied it in your career field?

I double majored in economics and political science. Many of the microeconomics and econometrics courses I took in undergraduate study can be applied directly to the work I do on a daily basis. Coursework from my political science major strengthened my ability to write, which has been something that differentiated me from other peers.


Were there particular courses within the economics department that were especially useful in helping you identify your career or that ended up helping you to be successful in your career (maybe unexpectedly)?

Intermediate Microeconomics, Methods of Econometrics, and Game Theory have been helpful in my current role. I even pull out my econometrics textbook from time to time when running regressions. Microeconomics is at the heart of antitrust economics and industrial organization, so the theories taught in that course are often central to the arguments we try to make on behalf of our clients. While my day-to-day responsibilities are more connected to what we learned in econometrics, Intermediate Micro and Game Theory provided me with an elementary understanding of the structure within which we are using the data.

Were there particular projects or activities from any of your economics courses that were especially useful?

The independent research project we complete as part of the Methods of Econometrics course was particularly applicable to my job. Taking a broad idea, narrowing it down to a specific research question, and working through the theory and data to test a hypothesis taught me the proper framework within which to think about questions of economics. At a high level, our expert reports follow a similar structure.
Were there particular "engaged learning" experiences (e.g. internships, study away, research opportunities) that were especially useful?

I viewed working with Dr. Cook on the project regarding a theory in international trade as extremely useful. I received an assignment at work to become familiar with a theory, solve various equations for a single variable, and then apply that formula to data. With the exception of the data aspect, these tasks were similar to the things I worked through when working alongside Dr. Cook.

Any other "highlights" from your experience in economics?

I really appreciated the relationships between faculty and students in the economics department at Furman. I felt comfortable approaching any professor with questions I had and these relationships encouraged my desire to learn more about economics.

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