What attracted you to your major?
In high school I was very good at biology and writing. After seeing the school counselor to sort out what career field would be best for me and offer the most opportunities, I decided to pursue my biology degrees. The guidance counselor recommended that I could pick up writing classes as my electives along the way.
What classes did you take in high school that you think were helpful in preparing you for your career?
I really liked and excelled in biology, science, and writing classes.
In what activities or clubs did you participate in college that helped you achieve your goals?
I was a teaching assistant for a general biology course, and I was a tutor for biology and genetics.
What courses/programs of study did you take in college to work toward your career?
For my bachelor's degree in biological sciences, it was primarily all coursework and lab work. The final year, I had an honors project where I was able to do lab work.
The master's degree in zoology was a little different. I needed to take a couple of courses because the master's was outside the area of my bachelor's degree. However, about 90 percent of my effort was in the lab conducting research.
The first year and a half of my PhD in molecular and developmental biology was 75 percent coursework. To get started, I did some additional research work. At the end of my second year, I had to take my qualifier. Studying for the qualifier was much like studying for a course. You have to find a research question that you then approach from the angle of spending the next three years studying it. There is a lot of research that goes into your qualifier. After that, it is all lab work until the end of the degree. It took me five and a half years to complete my PhD.
Did you participate in an internship/cooperative education program?
As an undergraduate I was in the Environmental Youth Core, which was a government program that hired undergraduate college students.
What are the required skills that are needed in your field?
I do genetic research, which means I spend a lot of time in the lab studying what happens to a cellular system if there is a genetic mutation. I also teach at a university, which requires me to prepare for the course, teach, and conduct testing.
What kind(s) of personalities work best in this field?
I think you have to be passionate and have endurance. You need to be able to commit—there are a lot of hours that need to be spent conducting research. You have to be very tenacious to acquire the grants for your research. You also have to be very creative; a lot of scientists are also musicians and artists.
Are there any physical demands to the job?
You need to be able to spend a great deal of time concentrating.
What are the three most important pieces of advice you would give someone who is interested in the field?
- Study the field.
- Volunteer or gain a position in a lab so you can gain firsthand experience.
- Concentrate on your long-term goals.
What do you wish you would have known about the field before you began your occupation?
I wish I would have known how little support or mentoring there would be from colleagues and supervisors. Just knowing that would have helped me be more prepared.