Stephanie Davis, PhD

she/her/hers

Where to find her:

Education:

  • B.Sc. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology with a minor in Economics from Florida Southern College in 2012
  • M.Sc. in Molecular Pharmacology and Physiology from the University of South Florida in 2015
  • Ph.D. in Molecular Pharmacology and Physiology from the University of South Florida  in 2016

Current job title: Currently, I am an Executive Branch Science and Technology Policy Fellow with the American Association for the Advancement of Science who is working as a Health Scientist in the Office of Small Business Research within the National Institute on Aging Division of Extramural Activities. 

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

Although my mother would argue that I first wanted to be a geologist when I was 5 because I loved to “look at the pretty rocks,” I would argue that my experience in my Honors Biology class during my freshman year of high school is what first made me realize that I wanted to become a scientist. Three years later, I took Advanced Placement Biology with that same teacher and my experience in that class convinced me that I wanted to become a biologist. I ended up getting my Ph.D. in pharmacology, so I did end up sticking to the life sciences track. 

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

There are several individuals who played huge roles in helping me with my career development. My AP Biology teacher was extremely passionate about science and made every class a new adventure. and she was able to transfer that enthusiasm to all her students, myself included. During my undergraduate career, I was mentored by several amazing women faculty members, including my organic chemistry professor-turned-research advisor and our biology department chair, and they were very supportive when I made the decision to apply to doctoral programs. I also would not be where I am today if it were not for my second doctoral advisor (and postdoctoral advisor). I began my Ph.D. program in a very difficult lab, and I made the decision during my second year that if I could not find another lab to join, I would quit the program. Thankfully, my advisor took a chance on me and gave me the opportunity to grow and thrive as a graduate student. Finally, I credit my second “unofficial” postdoc mentor, who is a clinician-scientist with a public policy background, with supporting me as I made a pivot towards a policy-oriented career. Despite having an extremely busy schedule seeing patients, he always made time to help me with mock interviews or give me advice for speaking with legislators, and I am extremely grateful for that experience. 

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?

As I mentioned in my previous answer, I almost quit my Ph.D. program. I was in a lab that was very toxic, and when I tried to leave, the postdoc who was in charge of supervising me spread some unpleasant rumors about me throughout our department. Thankfully, I was supported by a fellowship through our graduate school, so I was able to make the case to several potential mentors that I was a “low-cost” graduate student. Everything worked out and my doctoral mentor ended up taking me on as a student after several weeks in limbo. I credit my strong support system, which includes my spouse, my family, and the friends in graduate school who became my chosen family with helping me get through this tough time. Switching labs was one of the best things I had ever done because it showed me that even the strongest students can struggle in a toxic lab environment. 

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

In addition to my experience switching labs, there are two unexpected experiences that ended up having a monumental impact on my career. The first experience was getting involved as an early career scientist leader with the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (ASPET). Although my degree is in Pharmacology, I technically did not join ASPET until I was a postdoc. However, I was drawn to their generosity with travel awards for young scientists and the numerous career development opportunities that were not present at the conferences my lab usually attended. After attending the 2017 Annual Meeting, I ended up coming back with several new connections and became involved with their Young Scientists Committee. Leading this committee has been one of the highlights of my career thus far and it has given me the opportunity to make friends with other young scientists across the country. Also, my involvement in ASPET encouraged me to apply to their Washington Fellows Advocacy Program, which became the catalyst for me deciding to pursue a career in science policy. 

The second unexpected event that positively impacted my career was when I interviewed for an internship at the University of Kentucky Office of Technology Commercialization (OTC) and ended up getting rejected the first time. Although being turned down for a job is difficult, I took the opportunity to seek constructive feedback from my interviewers and used the experience as an opportunity to improve my interview skills. I eventually ended up getting asked to join the office as an intern six months later after building relationships with the employees there. Working in technology transfer not only allowed me to combine my passion for scientific research with economic/commercial development, but it also provided me with valuable experience for my current job in the Office of Small Business Research at the National Institute on Aging. I feel more than prepared to work with representatives from NIA-funded companies after getting the opportunity to work closely with innovators at the University of Kentucky. This experience taught me that there will always be more opportunities to prove yourself and that sometimes the supposed “failures” provide excellent moments for personal and professional growth. 

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

Serving as a student leader during my undergraduate and graduate career helped me realize that I might be better suited for a career in government/policy over a bench career. Therefore, I became involved with several advocacy programs in scientific societies as well as nonprofit organizations, which provided me the experience and leadership I needed to become a Science and Technology Policy Fellow through AAAS. My placement for the fellowship allowed me to draw upon my interests in economic development and technology commercialization by allowing me to help small pharmaceutical and medical device companies develop their business plans and obtain funding through the NIH small business program. 

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

Be honest about what you want out of your career. Academia is often highlighted as the default career path for scientists with doctorates, but understand that there are so many other ways that you can use your knowledge and talents to help others. Also, don’t be afraid to reach out to people in your desired career field for informational interviews. Not only will this help you gain valuable connections, but you can also find out first hand whether a certain career path is a good fit for you.

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