Alumni Spotlight: Jenna McGrath

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Jenna McGrath graduated with a Ph.D. in Public Policy in Fall 2018. Since then, she has moved out west and started working in the cyber risk sphere.

McGrath puts all of these skills and more to good use through her work with the Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management (APPAM) conference. McGrath is the returning co-chair of the national security and homeland security policy section of the conference. She joins Assistant Professor Omar Isaac Asensio as another member of the School of Public Policy community to co-chair a conference section.

McGrath told us more about her current position, work with APPAM, and life after receiving her Ph.D.

What are you up to post-graduation? What led you there?

I am currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area working at CyberCube, which provides cyber risk analytics for the insurance industry. I get to spend my time thinking about potential cyber catastrophe scenarios, who the threat actors would be, what kind of infrastructure may be targeted and why, and how the impacts could cascade across industries. The cybersecurity field is always fast-paced and never boring; I get to learn more every day about the intersection of geopolitics, critical infrastructure, and cybersecurity.

What excites you most about your work with APPAM?

APPAM is an incredibly valuable conference — not just for students and academics, but also for those involved in industry and government. The participants are always eager to learn, engage, and provide feedback critical to research and development. I presented at the APPAM Fall Research Conference for the first time in 2014 and have participated almost every year since. I have benefited greatly from presenting my work at APPAM, especially as my research evolved from energy policy to energy security.

It has been a privilege to serve as co-chair for the national security and homeland security policy track for the 2021 conference — which was postponed until March 2022 — along with Robert Greenbaum of The Ohio State University. I am honored to be asked to co-chair with Greenbaum again for the 2022 Fall Research Conference. I am particularly excited to continue to highlight research that connects disaster resiliency and response with issues relating to critical infrastructure security and emerging cyber security threats.

How do you think your Georgia Tech public policy education prepared you to succeed, both in APPAM and your current role?

The public policy courses set us up with a firm grasp of policy frameworks and underlying logic, as well as methodologies which we can then apply to our specific areas of interest. For me, the policy course load gave me a unique perspective to apply to other courses within the Ivan Allen College, especially during my time as a Sam Nunn Security Fellow, which really shaped my dissertation research. I was very fortunate when I started in the School of Public Policy, as I was involved in multiple interdisciplinary programs right from the start. My advisor, Valerie Thomas, has a joint appointment in the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial Systems and Engineering, so she was always very encouraging for our advisory group to make these interdepartmental connections.

What’s something that surprised you about post-graduation life?

The self-discipline learned as a Ph.D. student sets you up well to handle working remotely during a pandemic.

What about your work has made you particularly proud?

I am glad that so much of my day-to-day work is directly related to my interests, particularly my dissertation topic analyzing malicious threats to the electric grid. At CyberCube, I’ve had the opportunity to work on multiple projects exploring cascading grid blackout scenarios caused by a targeted cyberattack.

What’s something you miss about Georgia Tech?

I miss the campus — especially Clough Rooftop Garden — and studying with my cohort. I also loved the ease of access to so many interesting topics. There was always a seminar, guest speaker, or conference happening that you could just show up to and learn something totally new.

What’s one piece of advice that you have for students who are graduating soon?

I would suggest students keep attending conferences and seminars across campus, reach out to professors and visiting speakers, and continue to apply to new opportunities as they present themselves. Being a student allows for a unique opportunity to explore so many of your interests, and there are likely many ways to make a career out of them that may not initially come to mind. I got involved in cybersecurity late in my graduate school career, mainly because I recognized it was going to increase in importance in the career paths I was interested in, so I needed to catch up. I saw an email about the Institute for Information Security and Privacy Cybersecurity Fellowship, applied, and it helped catch me up to where I needed to be. Basically, read all of your emails.

Can students interested in pursuing a similar field reach out to you?

Yes, please do. I am always happy to talk to those considering graduate school and potential career paths, especially how to pursue interdisciplinary studies. You can reach me at my still-active Georgia Tech email:


  • Workflow Status:Published
  • Created By:gwyner3
  • Created:03/03/2022
  • Modified By:gwyner3
  • Modified:03/03/2022


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