Professor Colleen McDonough is back at Neumann after working for the CIA for the last two years. During an interview with What’s NU? she demonstrated her fidelity to the agency, actually responding to one question by saying, “If I told you, I’d have to kill you.”
The response is a lighthearted yet deadly serious signal, popularized by Hollywood, that those who work in intelligence gathering and analysis will not share certain information. The phrase has become a standard part of the everyday American lexicon to indicate that sensitive topics are off-limits for conversation.
McDonough’s interest in the Central Intelligence Agency dates back to her time in graduate school when she met someone who worked for the agency. “There are lots of jobs for someone with your skill set,” she recalls him saying.
“When I graduated, I applied to the CIA and academic positions,” she explains. “The CIA actually called me and started the interview process in the spring or summer of 2005, but I was also teaching a class here and got a job offer to come to Neumann full time.”
McDonough bowed out of the CIA pipeline and had “an exciting career at Neumann.” She taught here in the undergraduate Psychology program for 16 years.
She became a full professor in her early 40s and didn’t see a future in administration, so “on a whim” she applied to the CIA again in 2017. “They made me a conditional offer very quickly, but the background check took nearly four years.” When it was finalized in 2021, she took the job.
“It had always been a dream of mine to work for the CIA, and it definitely lived up to all the expectations that I had. It was absolutely amazing. I love research, and the level of research that you’re able to do at the CIA is … research on steroids. It was so fulfilling and so rewarding.”
McDonough was working on a team that was doing psychological assessments of world leaders. When asked the obvious follow-up question (which world leaders), she jokingly dropped the hammer: “I couldn’t tell you who because I’d have to kill you.”
Despite her happiness with the job, she began to weigh other priorities last fall. “The commute was a real hassle,” she admits. “I drove four or five days a week from Chester County to the D.C. area. On top of a 40- to 50-hour work week, I spent another 30 hours in the car. I listened to a lot of audio books.”
The time was right for some serious reflection. “I do believe that there’s a higher order to things, and I asked myself whether I had made the right decision to leave Neumann. I went online and discovered the open position for the director of the MS in Forensic Psychology program. I felt like my work at the CIA perfectly positioned me for this job, so I called Al (Mueller) and told him I was interested.”
McDonough got the job and now directs the program, which she describes as “the intersection of psychology, criminal justice, and law.”
Before she left for the CIA, she had worked with Kristen Acosta to develop the master’s degree program. “To return as a faculty member and director of this program is very exciting for me. It is a program that I feel passionate about, and now there’s an opportunity for me to oversee it.”