Kyle Pfeiffer ’22 MTL: Advancing the art of technology leadership

Director of Research and Development at Argonne National Laboratory chose the Master’s in Technology Leadership program at Brown for his third advanced degree.

Kyle Pfeiffer

He was fresh out of college, but the timing couldn’t have been worse. 

“Graduating in 2009 at the pit of the Great Recession was a humbling experience,” Kyle Pfeiffer ’22 MTL recalls. “I had a college degree and a pretty impressive CV, and I found myself working per diem EMT jobs and waiting tables. Looking back, I think that was probably good for me.”

Pfeiffer’s post-college experience of graduating into the Great Recession left an impression. “I take nothing for granted,” he says. “I try to work harder than the next person because I know that jobs that fill the soul and the wallet are not guaranteed.”

His hard work has paid off. A series of analyst positions led to multiple posts at Argonne National Laboratory, the renowned multidisciplinary science and engineering center born out of the University of Chicago’s Manhattan Project in the 1940s. At Argonne, Pfeiffer is currently the Director of Research and Development for the Decision and Infrastructure Sciences Division. He holds a joint appointment at the University of Chicago’s Consortium for Advanced Science and Engineering.

Since joining the center in 2014, he has worked on problems of national importance, including building stronger and more resilient supply chains; hardening and protecting critical infrastructure systems; building more disaster-resilient communities; and preparing for the risks associated with climate change. He says it’s not unusual for him to pick up The Washington Post and see headlines about topics Argonne is actively engaged in, from climate change and the European energy crisis to electric vehicle adoption and COVID-19 vaccines. 

“I’m lucky in that I can say that I really do love my job,” he says. “There aren’t many places where you get to think big ideas and see their immediate implementation.”

Science translator, applications architect

Pfeiffer is a bit of an anomaly at Argonne. He works in a research leadership capacity, yet he doesn’t have a technical degree. He’s surrounded by researchers with PhDs but opted to enroll in Brown’s Master of Science in Technology Leadership program to earn his third master’s degree instead of pursuing a doctorate.

“I chose the MTL program at Brown because it was a little quirky – just like me,” he says. “It’s a joint program between the School of Engineering and the School of Professional Studies. I loved that because it fit me and the role that I play at Argonne, which is often one of science translator and applications architect. I feel like this program trained me to be the middleware between the technical and business crowds. That is proving to be invaluable.”

“ I feel like this program trained me to be the middleware between the technical and business crowds. That is proving to be invaluable. ”

Kyle Pfeiffer ’22 MTL

Pfeiffer says the faculty in the program “was extraordinary” and recalls with particular fondness the training he received from Barbara Tannenbaum, Distinguished Senior Lecturer in Theatre Arts and Performance Studies. Pfeiffer says he had always been a capable albeit unremarkable public speaker. Now, thanks to Professor Tannenbaum, he is more effective and engaging when he lectures at workshops, conferences and universities. “I did not expect that a professor from the Theatre Department would have such an outsized impact on my development in the MTL program,” he says. “So brava, Dr. Tannenbaum! And most importantly, thank you.”

He is also a big fan of the program’s cohort design, which provided him with a diverse group of friends and mentors, many of whom he is still in touch with weekly. “The Brown Admissions team does a masterful job in recruiting and screening candidates so your future classmates will be world-class,” he says.

Embracing ambiguity

Pfeiffer doesn’t point to a single moment that changed the trajectory of his career. He believes success is the product of skill, luck and presence, and that “you really need all three to get your big break or breaks.” He recalls working as a junior consultant on a contract with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help implement a Presidential Policy Directive. Through the project, he got to collaborate with individuals who later became senior-level cabinet appointees. He also presented at the White House and on Capitol Hill, and met people who helped him grow professionally. More than a decade later, “many of us are still working together, though we’re all at different companies or organizations. So there was no ‘big’ moment,” he says. “Just a lot of little opportunities of which I took full advantage.”

According to Pfeiffer, the MTL program prepares students for such opportunities by allowing them to discover their talents, polish their skills, learn new concepts and share their ideas. “If you find a little ambiguity and creativity in your workplace and academic journey to be exciting, this is the place for you,” he says. “If you are more interested in strategy and leadership, and less interested in the minutia of things like managerial accounting that are required in most MBA programs, this is the place for you.”