Northwestern University: Spotlight on Women in Science & Modern Career Paths

Women in Science Career Panel, from left to right: Dr. Stacey Tobin, Dr. Sadie Wignall, Dr. Stephanie Knezz, Dr. Dimitra Georganopoulou, and Dr. Jen Griffiths.

We recently visited the Department of Chemistry at Northwestern University, where we hosted a day of educational activities for graduate students and postdocs, including a career panel of women in science who chose to follow a range of traditional and alternative career paths.  Dr. Jen Griffiths from our Washington, DC office shared insights into the world of scholarly publishing and was joined by Northwestern alumni in traditional and non-traditional careers. During this engaging, informal session, attendees were able to ask questions, learn about challenges and opportunities the representatives had encountered, and hear some great advice and tips from successful women in science.


“I realized fairly early on that an academic career wasn’t for me, and I started seeking out seminars and roundtables on ‘alternative careers.’ “


Dr. Stacey Tobin noticed that unlike a lot of her peers, she really enjoyed writing as a graduate student. “I realized fairly early on that an academic career wasn’t for me, and I started seeking out seminars and roundtables on ‘alternative careers,'” she said. “One focused specifically on science writing, and the entire panel was made up of PhDs who found careers in various types of science writing—from journalism to regulatory writing, continuing medical education to advertising.” She also joined professional organizations as a student member, including the American Medical Writers Association and the Council for Science Editors, to take advantage of their educational programs and sought outside opportunities to write. “I contributed articles to the department newsletter, and took any opportunity I could to write and edit.”  Stacey built up her reputation as a skilled writer and knowledgeable scientist before starting her own firm, The Tobin Touch.


“When I discovered that I wanted my career to focus on teaching, I found my campus program that focuses on STEM teaching opportunities for graduate students and post-docs.” 


One common thread of the discussion was the importance of pursuing opportunities outside the lab to both discover interests and talents, as well as to gain practical experience. Dr. Stephanie Knezz, Assistant Professor of Instruction and Co-Director of General Chemistry Laboratory at Northwestern University says, “When I discovered that I wanted my career to focus on teaching, I found my campus program that focuses on STEM teaching opportunities for graduate students and post-docs. I was able to implement a project at a local community college “flipping” a traditional chemistry class and working on the corresponding curriculum development for a few lessons in the course.” She says that the experience not only gave her a better idea of the duties of an instructor and but also inspired a renewed motivation to continue her degree now that she could focus on a specific career goal.


“I’ve found that networking can be a great way to learn about career possibilities, and that informational interviews can be very helpful for learning about day-to-day aspects of a career.”


Dr. Sarah Kamper now oversees intellectual property protection for various chemistry and materials technologies as Invention Manager at the Innovation and New Ventures Office (INVO) at Northwestern. “I learned about IP law through attending a career panel focused on careers outside of academia or industry.” she says. “It sounded like a great way to stay connected to science while transitioning into more translational aspects away from the bench.”  Sarah also realized the power of networking by talking with former members of her lab who worked at law firms in tech transfer. “I’ve found that networking can be a great way to learn about career possibilities, and that informational interviews can be very helpful for learning about day-to-day aspects of a career.” Sarah also suggests looking to campus groups as a way to begin networking: “If anyone is unsure of where to start, some organizations have student or young professional networking events where you can efficiently meet many people in a few hours!”


“My best piece of advice is to figure out what aspect of your science you are most passionate about, find opportunities where you can get first-hand experience delving into that aspect, and use careful time management to make it work with your research.” 


We also asked the panelists what actions they recommend students take or what was especially helpful to focus on for graduate students and postdocs. Stephanie suggested spending some time and effort to uncover your interests and finding ways to take advantage of related opportunities. “My best piece of advice is to figure out what aspect of your science you are most passionate about, find opportunities where you can get first-hand experience delving into that aspect, and use careful time management to make it work with your research.” And she added, “If you are doing something you love (even if it’s not at the bench), you will almost definitely be more efficient in the lab than if you’re coming to lab everyday with the primary goal of just ‘getting through it.’ ”

 

 

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