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Mengya Tao, MESM 2014, PhD 2019

Sustainability Researcher at Amazon

Mengya Tao

The process of securing a position with Amazon at the corporate level is not for the timid. The pool of applicants is large and well qualified. The rounds of interviews can be intimidating. The on-site visit is demanding. It’s not uncommon to have to show your work—literally, on the spot—and to thoughtfully, meaningfully reflect on your failures.

Fortunately for Mengya Tao, she arrived at the process with a head start. Not only did she bring multiple degrees to the table (she also holds an MA in applied statistics from UCSB, in addition to her MESM degree and PhD in Environmental Science and Management from Bren), she had a supportive network at Bren and beyond. Still, everything had to come together just right for her to start her career as a sustainability science researcher at Amazon.

“I first heard about this position because an old lab mate of mine posted it, and he let our mutual PhD adviser, Professor Sangwon Suh, know about the opportunity” she says. “Professor Suh encouraged me to apply. I almost didn’t. It was a really stringent timeline; I was working on my PhD defense; and I was pregnant at the time. But my adviser really encouraged me to apply for this job; he told me it’s a very good opportunity.”

Of course, deciding to try to apply was just the first step. Fortunately, the Bren Career Development team was there to help. First, she worked with the staff on polishing her resume to make a strong impression. When she received an invitation to move to the next round, she was pulled in too many directions to take advantage of the mock interview opportunities the department offers. But an early investment in career planning at Bren helped her advance.

“Early on, I did all of the seminars offered by Bren Career Development. In one of the seminars we talked about the STAR (Situation, Task, Action, and Results) method for answering interview questions: how you construct a story with your answer and demonstrate your strengths. Amazon really cares about behavioral questions; they call them back to their leadership principles. So I reviewed that seminar in detail. For my onsite visit, about 90 percent of the questions in six hours of interviews that day were behavioral questions,” she says.

Once we know there’s a job opening, we contact the Bren career team to inform them. I can’t emphasize enough how important referrals are in the job application process, especially in tech. So I also am here to talk to Bren students interested in the fields I work in.

That preparation paid off. Now that Mengya is in Seattle and has begun her work, she still feels supported by the Bren network—and is ready to pay forward the help she’s received. “There’s an active alumni network here in Seattle, and within Amazon. The sustainability organization within Amazon is growing really fast. Once we know there’s a job opening, we contact the Bren career team to inform them. I can’t emphasize enough how important referrals are in the job application process, especially in tech. So I also am here to talk to Bren students interested in the fields I work in.”

In her position as a sustainability researcher at Amazon, Mengya specializes in life cycle assessment (LCA), which was also the focus of her PhD. Her research focuses on Amazon’s own brands of products, quantifying those products’ environmental impacts from raw material extraction to manufacturing, to use, and to disposal. These assessments can then be incorporated into product development decisions. For a company as large as Amazon, the effect of even marginal improvements can make a huge difference. In addition to her specialized skills in LCAs, Mengya also uses coding skills she learned as part of her PhD program by working on website backend development.

“The job is perfect for me,” she says. “I didn’t come to Bren thinking about a PhD, but I took a life cycle assessment class and an industrial ecology class, and they were a trigger point. I realized the power of quantifying the impact of products and services. It made me realize that you have to know how to measure things in order to even talk about improving them.”

In terms of advice for future Bren alumni, she adds, “Tech companies can be a very good opportunity for a career in sustainability. They are open-minded to change, and they can make a big impact. Use the tools at Bren to build a network, and make the connections. A cold email could one day lead to a referral. A referral can help you get an interview out of hundreds of resumes. And through the interview, you can demonstrate your ability and get the job.”

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