Adriana Bankston, PhD

she/her/hers

Where can people find you?

Undergrad: Biological Sciences, Clemson University, 2005

Graduate: PhD in Biochemistry, Cell & Developmental Biology, Emory University, 2013

Current job title: Principal Legislative Analyst – University of California Office of Federal Governmental Relations

What experience first got you interested in science and is that field the same one you went on to pursue?

I’ve been around science all my life, growing up in a scientific family. My original goal was to go to medical school so that I could help people with this knowledge. When I was in college, I participated in a summer research program at Louisiana State University where I worked on type II diabetes using fat cells and rodent models. After college graduation, I worked in a laboratory at Emory University which solidified my choice to pursue a research career, so I ended up staying at Emory for graduate school. 

During my PhD, I studied skeletal muscle biology with Dr. Grace Pavlath, which was an attractive field due to being able to work with muscle stem cells and rodent models of muscle disease, as well as studying the process of muscle growth and repair. 

Tell me about some people who helped or inspired you along the way, in your early training and later in your career.

My PhD advisor played a pivotal role while I was in graduate school. In her laboratory, I learned how to think about science, how to design and perform the right experiments, as well as how to write and present my scientific work in various settings. She also taught me to keep an organized laboratory notebook and manage various projects at any given time, in addition to working in teams within and outside of our laboratory. I’ve taken many of these skills into my current position. 

During my postdoc years, I also began to obtain other mentors who helped me transition out of academia, and I would advise that as a useful strategy for career exploration. Once I entered more into the science policy space, many people have offered to provide advice and guidance which was very useful when going into a new area and trying to make a name for myself in the community.

Can you tell me about any moments of doubt you had as a student or early in your career and how you dealt with it?

During my PhD studies, I was fairly convinced that I wanted an academic career. During my postdoc, however, I started thinking that maybe I could do something else. But I didn’t know where to begin and was unsure of what resources existed for me to explore my career. I ended up building that resource together with another postdoc, which was a career development seminar (https://louisville.edu/medicine/grad-postdoc/craft-seminar-series). This helped me to both meet people from various careers and begin creating a network, and enabled the local postdoc community to have a resource that has outlasted my time at the university. Ultimately, creating this resource was also the first step in discovering my own career interests, which revolved around how we are training the biomedical workforce within U.S. institutions.  

Can you share two or three surprising twists or turns in your early scientific training and your later career path.

I think the first was the fact that, even though I performed laboratory research to boost my pre-med CV at the time, once I worked in the laboratory for a summer I actually ended up going to graduate school instead.

The second was the fact that I decided to switch labs during my PhD, because I didn’t feel like I was being challenged enough in the first one. Although switching labs isn’t something that many people do, it turned out to be a really good decision.

The third is that I think I owe my current role to having done volunteer work in the higher education policy space (looking at the effect of a federal labor law on postdoctoral salaries), and to having lived in San Diego and interacting with various UC campuses where I could present this work. 

Can you give some examples of how you have incorporated your non scientific interests into your work.

My career interests developed from having been in academia and wanting to improve it somehow from the outside. The policy space turned out to be a way to examine the research enterprise from a higher up level, which is fascinating. So in a sense, my non-scientific (as in non- bench research) interests became my career path. 

Is there some advice you could you share from your own experience to help someone with a science degree who is just starting off on their own career path.

I would say to always keep an eye out for opportunities that might help you grow in your career, and don’t be afraid to take risks. Also remember that you are in charge of your career, which can be both exciting and daunting, but at the end of the day nobody will help you advance professionally if you don’t seek it out. If you know that you want to pursue a certain career path, start building those experiences early on in graduate school, and do informational interviews with people in the jobs you want. LinkedIn is also useful for examining the career trajectories of people who have the job you want and seeing how they got there.

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