The ups, downs, twists and turns of finding the right program fit
Sometimes it takes some trial and error to find the right path. Meher Taleyarkhan (BS '16, MS '20) had to let go of a childhood dream to design roller coasters for Disney in order to find the academic program and career track that was right for her.
Taleyarkhan got a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering technology and a master's degree in engineering technology, both from Purdue. Today, Taleyarkhan is an operations program manager at Northrop Grumman Corporation, a position she finds fulfilling. But, there were twists and turns along the way while she vacillated on her undergraduate major choice, struggled after her bachelor's graduation, and mulled over several graduate programs before ultimately landing in the sweet spot. This is her story in her own words.
How did you choose your major?
My family and I often visited the theme parks in Florida during winter and summer vacations, which began and cultivated my love of all things Disney. When I was in the eighth grade, I learned about kinetic and potential energy and that one of the best examples of these energies is roller coasters.
I had such a love of roller coasters that learning the science behind what makes them work began a spark in me to want to pursue a career that would allow me to design roller coasters. I hoped that one day my creation would provide the same joy to someone else that I feel every time I experience the thrill of a roller coaster ride.
I decided to pursue a major in mechanical engineering technology at Purdue so that I could combine my love of Disney and engineering to become a Disney Imagineer and design rides at the “happiest place on Earth.”
Toward the end of my undergraduate career at Purdue I started to be interested more in business and finance and wanted to combine my engineering background with that of business and take on an operations type role in a company. I hoped that company would be Disney.
Why made you decide to pursue a master's degree?
I struggled a bit during the beginning of my undergraduate career and my GPA showed it. By the time I was able to improve my academic record, it still wasn't enough to gain the attention of Disney or many other employers. After I graduated, I struggled to find my way.
I wanted to go back to school to show that I was competent academically. I initially thought about pursuing a law degree, which was short lived. I considered pursuing an MBA or Masters in Finance from Krannert. However, I lacked the work experience and background that would allow me to be a competitive candidate to even apply to Krannert. It was then that I sought out the advice from my former undergraduate MET professor, Dr. Anne Lucietto. She suggested applying to the Masters in Engineering Technology program which would allow me to further my engineering background while also allowing me to take side courses from the business school. I applied for and was accepted into the Masters in Engineering Technology program at Purdue.
This turned out to be the best decision I ever made. I was finally able to come into my own and lay a solid foundation from which to grow in my future pursuits. After graduation, I received a job offer from Northrop Grumman Corporation and am currently serving as an operations program manager, which so far has been a very fulfilling learning and growth experience.
How did your Purdue graduate experience prepare you for your career?
My experience as a Purdue graduate student was very much an integral part of preparing me for the demands characterized in my current role at Northrop Grumman. Your first semester as a Purdue graduate student is sort of a kick in the pants that you are no longer an undergraduate student and there will be none of the handholding that you had as an undergraduate. It forces you to stand on your own two feet so you can think independently and develop a tough skin to take on whatever challenges come your way.
I chose the thesis option for my master's degree and served as a research assistant for my major professor, Prof. Lucietto. Prof. Lucietto's main area of research was that of engineering technology. The research studies and papers we wrote together—approximately nine combined conference and journal articles–really helped me in my graduate coursework and overall development as an independent thinker.
How were you supported during your time as a graduate student?
All throughout my graduate experience I had many supporters, though notably they were Prof. Anne Lucietto and Prof. Nancy Denton. When I first started my master's degree I was very nervous and afraid of messing up my second chance at redeeming myself as a competent student. Through it all Profs. Lucietto and Denton helped and supported me and turned an anxious neurotic student into someone who can take on the hardships life throws at you.
What advice would you give to graduate students about how to get the most out of their time at Purdue to grow or prepare for their career?
I would advise current graduate students to try not to let the nerves or fear of failure hold you back. Rather, try to harness that nervous energy to try and do the best possible job you can do on any and all assignments that come your way. As a graduate student you are not just learning more information on a certain subject; a major part of this experience is to be growing as a professional.
When you graduate and have that master's degree title on your resume, you will be held to a different standard than an undergraduate. As an undergraduate you might be given a bit of slack when you first start a job. But if you have a graduate degree, you are expected to have the skills necessary to hit the ground running. Therefore, take each and every assignment you are given in your master's courses as seriously as possible. If you don't know the answer, don't leave the question blank and wait for the answer! Go and learn what background information you need to in order to understand the topic and answer that question as if your assignment will go into a corporate vice president's hands.
Lastly, make sure you actually learn the material in your classes and not just enough to earn the grade. The material you learn in graduate level courses is often taught at a higher level than undergraduate because they will not spend time on introductions. This is information you will likely use upon graduation, so make sure you learn it and ask questions while the subject expert professors are there to help explain it.
What's next for you?
I am currently in a rotation program at Northrop Grumman, which allows me to explore different job roles in the first three years of my career. I have enjoyed it and learned a lot about the operations side of a business during my current rotation. Next I would like to pursue a more technical role as an engineer for my next rotation to learn more about the engineering side of the company.
I can't say for certain what I will be doing in the coming years, but I would very much like to combine my experience in operations and engineering to enter into a future management/leadership type role at Northrop Grumman and contribute to making the company I work for better every day.
May 21, 2021