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A Career Journey: Melissa Huey

Apr 14, 2023

It was around 3:20 when I made my way to the tenth floor of 16 West 61st Street and slumped down onto the floor, leaning against the wall in exhaustion. On this particular Thursday, I had some complications with my usual means of transportation and ended up having to walk a fair distance to reach the school. I remember cursing myself for my poor physical fitness with each exhausting step I took towards the campus. Alas, I made it nonetheless.

I sat there for a short period of time. I had elected to arrive early, one of the only two choices in terms of when you can arrive somewhere. I’m of the opinion that there’s no “on time”, you’re either early or you’re late. Doesn’t take rocket science to figure out which one most would prefer.

A few more minutes passed and my interviewee invited me into her office. This time I was given the opportunity to interview Melissa Huey, an assistant professor of psychology in New York Tech’s Department of Behavioral Science.

After a brief exchange of pleasantries, I began the interview by asking Professor Huey to formally introduce herself and her occupation. She obliged: “My name is Melissa Huey. I’m an assistant professor of psychology at the New York City campus.”

I asked her how many jobs she had. With an exhale, she answered: “Well, I honestly started working when I was around eight or nine as a mother’s helper. And then I became a babysitter and a tutor in college. So throughout my entire college experience I was babysitting and tutoring. When I got into my masters program I started being a TA (a teaching assistant) to try to get experience teaching. And then, when I went into my doctorate program I was a teaching assistant and also a research assistant. I was getting full funding for working at the university as a teacher and researcher.”

She proceeded to list more of her past jobs and the periods in which she had them: “In the interim between graduate programs and colleges, I worked at Dish Network as a human resource manager and at Apple while I was getting my masters as a specialist selling iPads and phones. In between my masters and Ph.D, I worked in a non-profit as a care coordinator supervisor. And I’ve had this job for six years. So probably about 15-20 jobs.”

When asked which job was her favorite, she replied: “I’m not just saying this because it’s my current job, but this is by far my favorite job. I feel like it's a culmination of all my past experiences in research and in teaching. What I wanted to do my whole life was become a professor of psychology where I get to do research and work with students. If I had to pick a job that wasn’t New York Tech, I would probably choose apple. I really liked the company, it was a good company to work for. I learned a lot about people, less than technology. I mean, I learned a little  bit about technology but I learned more about people, working with different types of them. And I think it was a really good experience to be in a forward-facing retail position. A customer facing position is challenging because it pushes you in new ways and forces you to treat other customer service situations with the respect they deserve, because you’re on the other end.”

Next, we came onto the subject of money. When I asked her which job paid her the most she took a moment to think and then answered: “Probably this job. I mean, this job is like my career now. Every other job was like a side job working up to my real career.”

I then asked her which of her jobs was her least favorite: “Well, I really didn’t like working at Dish Network as an HR manager. I didn’t feel like the company was very supportive of their employees. I felt like they were more about policing their employees and being in a role that enabled that made me uncomfortable.”

She listed another less favorable job: “I was also an assistant for a lady once where my job was just to run errands for her. That job was also pretty terrible. Just wasn’t fun.”

I was curious as to the methods in which she acquired her job. When I asked her how she got them, she said: “Sometimes, with babysitting and tutoring I would know somebody or they would recommend me to other people. I actually was babysitting when the lady I was babysitting for offered me a job for Dish Network. But honestly, most of the time I just went through the application process. I just applied to a lot of jobs and it took a lot of rejection, but eventually I got a job.”

Professor Huey went on to add some advice: “I think one of the things students get frustrated with is the high level of rejection. In order to get a job, you’re gonna get rejected by a lot of other jobs. That’s just a fact.”

Then I asked her if there was anyone she was glad to have met with during her career journey. She answered: “Some of the moms I met while babysitting ended up becoming mentors. I met one lady in particular who was a professor of education at Montclair State University who was a really good mentor throughout my life. She was a really good mentor throughout my life. Even after years, when I no longer watched her children for her, she really helped guide me through the process of getting an academic position and going to graduate school.”

“Also my advisor at city college when I was getting my masters, I was a research assistant for him. He was always supportive of me. The first time I applied for Phd programs I got rejected from all of them and the next year I decided to try again, and he was fine with it. I thought he’d be annoyed since he’d have to write me a letter of recommendation again, but he was fine with it.”

I asked her what the most important thing to look for when one gets a job, to which she replied:  “Something that you’re passionate about.”

I then asked her what she would add to her current job, if she were able to. She said: “Building the programs or adding more students to the psychology department of the New York City campus would be good for me because I love having lots of students in my classes and I like to see students progress. Really building up the psychology program and the psychology department here at New York Tech, would honestly be good. Aside from that, a commuter card would be great since I live in Long Island and the LIRR is expensive.”

In our career journey we come across less than favorable situations. I asked Professor Huey if she had any bad career related experiences, and she answered by recounting her time at one workplace: “I worked at a non-profit, I won’t say the name, but what was happening there was systematic medicaid fraud. I was a supervisor for care coordinators, people who are supposed to go out in the field and care for those who are struggling. The government was supposed to fund people to help them so that they stopped overusing the hospitals. The boss was getting more money for how many visits these people were going to and he was basically pressuring his workers to do more visits than they could conceivably do in a week. Because of that, people were just writing notes about how they saw people and did stuff but they never actually went. They didn’t want to be dishonest, but the boss pressured them. I ended up quitting there and that guy got fired.”

I then asked her what the best thing to happen to her was, career wise. She gave a heartfelt response: “Probably my husband. He’s been supportive and he’s pushed me to say ‘you can do this’. Even when I’ve been like ‘oh no i shouldn't be a professor oh no I shouldn't get a PhD because i got rejected. He was the one who was really like ‘you can do this, try harder, it will happen for you. He was probably the most important part of me being successful in my career.”

“Don’t tell him I said that.” She joked.

I inquired about any important skills she learned in her career journey. She said: “I learned that it's important to be uncomfortable. Because when you’re uncomfortable is when you experience growth. If you're not uncomfortable and you're always happy and excelling at what you're doing, then you’re not pushing yourself to be better. So you should always, as my little brother says, try to elevate by being around people who are better than you and are more talented. Because in those moments when you feel vulnerable and you feel uncomfortable, those are the moments when you’re experiencing growth.”

Finally, I asked her if she had any advice for the NYIT students who are beginning their career journey: “Yes, I actually give advice to my students all the time. This is the main piece of advice that I tell them: If you are following money, you are not gonna end up happy. What you should follow is what you're passionate about. What I'm saying is that money should not be a consideration because we need money to survive. But what I'm saying is that money should not be your end goal because there's never gonna be enough and you're never gonna be satisfied. Figure out what you like to do now and do it with intentionality. Meaning that ‘I am making this decision because this is what I've wanted, I’m passionate about it and it’s something that I care about’ and then hold yourself to the highest standard with everything that you do. But let it be passion driven. But if it’s money driven, you’ll look back in 40 years and say ‘it's never enough, I’m not happy, I hate going to work everyday’ and that’s a terrible place to be.”

With that, we concluded the interview and parted ways for the time being. I went home thinking of her advice regarding money and passion. I’ve always believed that any of the happiness money can buy is short lived and fleeting. But while money can’t buy meaningful happiness, it is still something we need. Thinking about the necessity of money made me wonder if I should’ve gotten into economics or something, but I remembered Professor Huey’s advice once more, and realized that I should not regret trying to follow my true passions.

For those reading: Firstly, I hope you enjoyed the piece. Secondly, I wish that you and everyone else in our society will be able to successfully follow their passions and find career success as well. As Professor Huey proves, the two are not mutually exclusive.

This Article was contributed by Joe Tapia, CSEE Ambassador in the office of Career Success and Experiential Education.