This story is part of CNBC Make It’s Millennial Money series, which details how people around the world earn, spend and save their money.
In 2021, Leila Kartforosh was doing important Covid-19 research as a microbiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — but she wasn’t happy with her career.
The 28-year-old’s work was crucial for tracking the spread of the disease, but she didn’t find it as interesting as the research she was doing before the pandemic.
And while she had a master’s degree in microbiology, she was only earning $67,000. To get a raise she’d have to get a PhD, which meant going back to school and taking on more student debt, which she didn’t want to do.
So in March 2022, she quit to start a new career in sales.
Leila Kartforosh, near her home.
CNBC Make It
Despite being close to paying off the $82,200 in debt that she had incurred while studying microbiology, Kartforosh is confident she made the right choice by switching fields. “I was very eager to make this jump in my career and I knew it was somewhat risky, but what could be the worst that could happen?” she tells CNBC Make It.
Kartforosh now works as a certified consultant specializing in customer management software Salesforce in Decatur, Georgia, earning $60,000 per year. It’s less than what she was making before, but the role comes with a 10% bonus and the potential to eventually earn six figures. She also earns $15,000 through her YouTube channels and blog, which brings her total annual earnings to about $81,000.
A reckoning with student debt
Kartforosh’s path into microbiology was partly born out of circumstance: As an undergrad, she wanted to be a dentist, which led to majoring in biology at Georgia State University.
However, three years into college, Kartforosh realized that dentistry wasn’t really for her. She didn’t want to switch majors so late in the game, so she finished her degree in biology.
In 2015, the year she graduated from Georgia State, she went back to school to earn a master’s in environmental microbiology. Her tuition was covered through a research program at the university, but she still needed to take out student loans to cover living expenses.
Leila Kartforosh (L) at her graduation.
Courtesy of Leila Kartforosh.
After graduating with her master’s degree in 2016, she had a stretch working various jobs before landing her position as a microbiologist at the CDC in 2018.
By then, Kartforosh had accrued $82,200 in debt, including $48,400 in student loans. The rest of the debt was from a mix of credit cards, …….