Hi and welcome to my blog. I’d like to thank Bio Careers for the opportunity to lend my thoughts and opinions to career-related issues encountered by today’s bioscientist. My hope is to provide some new perspectives on what it’s like to transition through the ranks of academic science, and explore things that we often don’t think about or know that we should be doing.
Before I jump in, just a little about me. My career path is somewhat non-traditional. While I knew I wanted to be a scientist since I was in 7th grade, I did not take the bullet train to assistant professor. After high school, I took two years off from education, rather than going to college immediately. During that time, I bought and owned my own video store (unsuccessfully and I went bankrupt at 19 years old), I worked as a line cook in many different restaurants, I did auto body repair for awhile, I was a (hated) telemarketer, and I was a fitness trainer. All of that was just to earn money, and it was very unfulfilling. However, those experiences did shape how I run my lab today.
I started college by taking night classes at Bucks County Community College in Newtown, PA. Because I had to work to survive, community college was a great way to get back into education because I could take night classes. Some of my jobs also allowed me to take day classes as well, which was very important because some classes were only offered in the day. I spent three years there taking basic science courses, but also exploring philosophy, literature, and art.
After earning my AA in Chemistry, I transferred to Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. There, I had the opportunity to take upper level science courses that really got me excited by scientific discovery. I also joined Dr. David Wilson’s lab as an undergraduate researcher. In David’s lab, I studied the biochemical mechanisms of cellulases, enzymes that degrade cellulose. Conducting bench science was eye-opening for me, and the hook was in.
After graduating with a BA in Biochemistry, I stayed on as a research technician in David’s lab for three more years. I did this because, while I loved science, I didn’t know that I was ready for graduate school yet. Working in David’s lab was a transformative time for me, and I grew so much as a young scientist. By the time I went to graduate school at the University of California – San Diego, CA, I knew I would hit the ground running.
I joined Randy Hampton’s lab at UCSD and began studies that would serve as the seed for the rest of my career. In Randy’s lab, I began to explore the mechanisms of ubiquitin-mediated degradation of HMG CoA reductase, the rate-limiting enzyme in sterol synthesis. Randy just started his lab in 1995, and when I joined in 1996 I was privy to what it is like to start up a lab. That experience was incredibly important for me, and I had front row seat to what an assistant professor goes through.
After graduating with my PhD in Biology, I joined Dan Gottschling’s lab at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, WA as a postdoctoral fellow. There, I continued to study ubiquitin-mediated regulation in the cell, but this time focusing on how it is used in the nucleus of cells. The Hutch is an awesome scientific incubator, and I met so many talented and incredibly smart fellow postdocs who went on to become professors at top places throughout the world.
In 2006, I joined the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Washington in Seattle as an assistant professor. And, I have to say, I love my job! It does have its stresses, which I will talk about in future posts. But it is awesome to be able to work with brilliant graduate students and postdocs! It is wonderful to discover new science with them! I often tell my students that I can’t believe they pay me somewhat large amounts of money to do something that I would do as a hobby. Looking back at the jobs I did when I was between school just to earn money and survive, I am blessed now to do something that I love and get paid for.
So, I hope to discuss many of the things I learned along the way, and I do hope I can provide advice or help for those of you who are going through the many different stages of an academic career. I will also try to provide advice that can help those who are exploring an industry career as well.